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Microsoft expected to stay with Mac

There has been apprehension among Mac fans as to whether the software giant might drop its support at some point in the future. An upcoming event should put their fears to rest.

When Bill Gates appeared by satellite at the Macworld Expo five years ago to announce a pact with archrival Apple Computer, it was one of the most dramatic moments in Mac history.

Gates' image on screen towered over Steve Jobs, who was on a Boston stage, as the two announced a deal in which Microsoft would invest $150 million in Apple. Microsoft also agreed to continue developing Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer for the Mac for five years.

With that deal coming to an end this summer, there has been some apprehension among Mac fans as to whether Microsoft might drop its Mac support at some point in the future.

A Microsoft event next Wednesday in Mountain View, Calif., should put those fears to rest. Kevin Browne, head of Microsoft's Mac Business Unit, is expected to reaffirm Microsoft's commitment to the Mac, but the two tech giants are not expected to sign a new pact, according to sources familiar with the companies' plans.

"They are clearly dedicated to the platform," said one source familiar with Microsoft's planned announcement.

Microsoft has declined to discuss its future Mac plans ahead of the event. However, a recent invitation to reporters seems to support the notion that it will announce new support for the Mac.

"As Microsoft's five-year technology agreement with Apple Computer comes to a close, there have been questions about the company's commitment to the Macintosh community," the company said in the invitation. "Browne will discuss the significance of the technology agreement as well as what Microsoft .Net means to the Mac (Business Unit)."

Wednesday's event is likely to be much less dramatic than that Macworld Expo show in Boston five years ago, but important nonetheless. Apple executives may be in attendance, but are not expected to play a major role in the event.

For many Mac owners, it took the release of the Mac OS X-ready version of Microsoft Office last fall before they would upgrade to the new operating system. Microsoft is said to have one of the largest development teams for the Mac of any company besides Apple.

The Mac is important for Microsoft as well. Aside from benefiting from the millions of potential customers for Microsoft Office and other titles, Microsoft could use the Mac as one of many devices to work with its .Net strategy, the company's framework for Internet services.

Apple and Microsoft can play nice, but they have their disagreements as well. Apple has opposed a settlement proposal that would have Microsoft end civil antitrust litigation by agreeing to donate roughly $1 billion in software, services, training and cash to schools over five years. Apple contends such a move would hurt the Mac's ability to compete in the all-important education market and says Microsoft should donate all cash and let the schools choose how to spend the money.

Also, Apple decided in December that it would use a site from Microsoft rival AOL Time Warner's Netscape unit as the default home page on new Macs.

Despite their differences, Apple and Microsoft executives have suggested in recent months that the two companies don't need a new agreement to cement their relationship.

In a February interview, Apple Senior Vice President Phil Schiller said Apple and Microsoft had not even discussed a new contract.

"There aren't any other developers that have multiyear contracts to deliver products to the Mac," Schiller said at the time. "Adobe doesn't. Macromedia doesn't. Quark doesn't."