Apple's Last Stand

The death of Internet Explorer for Mac (something you were thinking about back in January), while a really bad thing, might actually be a good thing for Apple. It certainly could work well as a part of Steve Job’s “Autonomy Plan”.

In your previous article, written shortly after Apple hired Dave Hyatt to lead the development of Safari, you wrote:

If there is doubt about Apple’s goal for software independence and for Apple-made software to be king on Mac OS X … just keep your eye on Steve over the next year.

Indeed, this process began when Safari was launched, but Apple has kept the momentum going with the new version of the iTunes Music Store which, when paired with the iPod, OS X, and the new line of portables, finally gives consumers a quantifiable reason to genuinely prefer Apple again, despite their higher prices.

It’s not enough that Apple be compatable in performance and capability. Apple needs to offer people a compelling reason to make the switch — or to remain on the platform. People need a justifiable reason to prefer Macs again.

In the previous article, you also wrote:

Apple has learned a big lesson from relying so heavily on Microsoft for the last few years. It’s breaking away, moving forward on its own. By creating Safari, Apple isn’t just delivering a good browser for Mac OS X. There’s more at stake.

Apple’s days of relying on others to determine its success are over, and Safari is the first step toward true independence.

Apple is declaring that, indeed, Mac OS X will have a great browser, and that this great browser must come from Apple itself. Understanding this point is key in understanding Apple’s new direction toward independence and control of its hardware, its software, and most importantly, its future. This is crucial to Apple’s success in a time where success is far from a guarantee.

Not depending on other companies to create their software is the first step. Controlling and containing what software exists for their platform is the second step. Because Apple wants the best browser on its platform to be made by Apple (thereby severing its reliance on external sources), it must either eliminate or control any and all competition.

By nabbing Chimera’s creator [Dave Hyatt] they gain a smart, browser-savvy developer. But more importantly, they gain the mojo of the Chimera project itself. Hyatt is part of Apple now. Without him, Chimera will die (or at least suffer), and Safari will rise as the best browser for Mac. This is precisely what Apple wants.

Again, having only one decent, reliable, compliant browser for its platform, and having that browser be made internally is key to Apple’s success (even if it’s bad for web developers interested in standards compliance). This tactic of controlling or creating the software for your platform works brilliantly for Microsoft. Like it or not, Microsoft absolutely owns its user-base. As Internet Explorer becomes a part of the OS rather than a stand-alone browser, users of older Windows operating systems (such as Windows 2000 and 98) who want a new version of Internet Explorer have to actually dump their old OS and upgrade to a newer version, not due out until 2005 (Zeldman explains in detail why this is a very bad thing).

But in the end, Microsoft winds-up controlling its Windows users, and until recently, it was controlling Apple’s users as well. Of course Apple didn’t much like this, and needed to react. Steve only had two options here: either control the competition, or eliminate it. Well, nobody controls Microsoft (apparently not even the US government), but, at least on a platform-level, Microsoft can be eliminated.

Sure, Apple is taking a big risk here, but it’s a calculated risk, and one it needs to take. True autonomy and independence from Microsoft is what Apple is after, and it’s the only way it will ever be able to come back into its own. It might also destroy the company, forcing Apple into a world where it must create all of its own software. BeOS went down that road, and died along the way.

Apple has already set things in motion, and it needs to see them through to the end. If the innovations continue as they have, there’s a good chance they just might turn things around for a big win.

We’ll have to wait and see.

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