Steve Jobs today announced that Safari, the annoyingly broken browser for the Mac, would soon be appearing on Windows systems as another annoyingly broken Windows application. Aside from the obvious joy at the thought that browser compatibility testers would no longer require a Mac to do their job, is there any other import to this announcement? Well, there are a few possibilities…
One possibility is this is part of the strategy of going ever closer into direct competition with Microsoft, although Safari isn’t in the same class as IE (or even Firefox). Safari was built on the KDE Project’s KHTML layout, BTW. For a number of years there was frequent sniping between the groups – the KDE volunteers felt Apple didn’t comply with the spirit of open source (they’d take their time in submitting changes, for example) while Apple complained they weren’t quick enough fixing their bugs. I always found the latter complaint hilarious because Apple was notorious for never fixing their bugs even when they could. The source trees have diverged greatly since this initial schism (schism in open source? perish the thought), and there are dreams of somehow “mending the rift” through “unity” initiatives. But this is a lot of work for a questionable gain.
Open sourcerers are good at fractionating markets, but lousy at aggregating them. It’s just too easy for someone to run off and roll his own when he gets miffed for a potential quick gain (while wacking the older group). Fractionation totes up in the big book of life as a long-term cost hit on the entire open source market segment, and is something Microsoft loves to see.
As Apple has migrated off the PowerPC, the distance between them and a Wintel platform (Mactel?) has diminished mightily. The “next step” (yes, a pun) is moving their software onto Windows to develop an audience, so the distance between Windows and Mac becomes a matter of taste. Apple knows that eventually they have to face the harsh economics of the Wintel world. They also know Microsoft has to move the Windows franchise intact to a very broad market, while they only have to appeal to a subset of that market.
Is it better to be a remora or a whale? If they can profit from the current Microsoft open-source obsession (you know, “Get Linux”), they can do very well taking bites out of Microsoft’s market, since Microsoft prefers to fixate on one enemy at a time. If Apple gets too troublesome, Microsoft can always buy it. Of course, maybe something in that Microsoft-Apple agreement signed years ago makes this a lot easier than one might think (although nothing is ever easy around Steve Jobs).