Cringely: Apple must replace Microsoft Office, buy Adobe Systems for attack on Microsoft to succeed

“Over the past three weeks, we’ve laid out in this column a sequence of clues and events that suggest Apple is planning to next year take on not only Microsoft’s hardware OEMs, but also possibly Microsoft, itself, by leveraging a vestigial legal right to some portion of the Windows API — in this case, literally the Windows XP API. This bold strategy is based on the high probability that — if something called Windows Vista ships at all next January — it will really be Windows XP SP4 with a new name. Microsoft is so bloated and paralyzed that this could happen, but what’s missing is an Apple application strategy to go with this operating system strategy, because Microsoft’s true power lies not in Windows, but in Microsoft Office. Fortunately for Apple, I believe there is an application plan in the works, and I will describe it here,” Robert X. Cringely writes for

‘We’ve been here before of course with IBM and OS/2,” Cringely explains. “The two key differences between that time and this are that Apple isn’t IBM, and this isn’t 1989. Windows is far more vulnerable today than it was then from a security standpoint. Rather than being an OS on the way up, as it was then, today Windows is the OS we tolerate. But that doesn’t mean Apple can ignore an application strategy, which for the most part means an Office strategy.”

“Office is how Microsoft makes most of its revenue, and Office is the bludgeon Microsoft uses to keep other software vendors in line. Without Office, Microsoft is just a company with an archaic and insecure OS. If Apple does go ahead to compete head-to-head with Microsoft for Microsoft’s own Windows customers, Cupertino will have to be ready in case Mac Office is withdrawn and Windows Office mysteriously breaks on Apple hardware,” Cringely writes. “Just as Apple had contingency plans for losing Internet Explorer and kept Safari secret even from the KHTML developers, and quietly planned for the contingency of an Intel/AMD switch, so, presumably, they have a contingency for the equally large problem of Office.”

“But finding an alternative to Microsoft Office won’t fully solve Apple’s application vulnerability. That’s because for its core media and graphics markets Apple is as dependent on Adobe as it is Microsoft for the general office market. And now that Adobe owns Macromedia, Apple is even more vulnerable. Adobe has already made one feint away from Mac development that required personal pressure from Steve Jobs on John Warnock to reverse. If Apple kinda-sorta embraces Windows enough for Adobe to question whether continued development for the native OS X platform is still warranted, well, then Apple WILL just become another Dell, which isn’t what Steve Jobs wants,” Cringely writes. “Steve wants Windows applications to run like crazy on his hybrid platform but to look like crap. In his heart of hearts, he’d still like to beat Microsoft on the merits, not just by leveraging some clever loophole. So he needs the top ISVs who are currently writing for OS X to continue writing for OS X, and that especially means Adobe. There’s only one way to make that happen for sure, and that’s for Apple to buy Adobe.”

Much more in Cringely’s full article here.

MacDailyNews Note: One minor mistake that Cringely makes is writing, “Apple’s Aperture photo touch-up program could die so PhotoShop could reign supreme. Hey, could that be why Apple is rumored to have this week just laid-off its entire Aperture development group?” Change “Photoshop” to “Lightroom,” which is the real (future) competitor to Apple’s “Aperture” and Cringely’s lines then make better sense. John Kheit’s excellent article for The Mac Observer, “If Apple Buys Adobe, Is the Operating System Market up for Grabs?” from December 16th, 2005 is also worth re-reading along with Cringely’s latest today. More on Kheit’s article here.

[UPDATE: 10:10am EDT: Fixed from incorrect “”]

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Related articles:
Steve Jobs: no interest in being Disney exec, plans to spend more time at Apple – April 27, 2006
Report: Apple axes bulk of Aperture team, app’s future in doubt – April 27, 2006
Buh-bye Freehand? Adobe offers Freehand to Illustrator migration guide – April 26, 2006
Adobe releases Lightroom Beta 2 for Intel-based Macs – February 14, 2006
Report: Adobe to take on Apple’s Aperture with new ‘LightRoom’ application for Mac OS X – January 06, 2006
Should Apple buy Adobe as leverage against Microsoft? – December 16, 2005
Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ ultimate goal: ‘to take back the computer business from Microsoft’ – June 16, 2005
What will users lose as Adobe swallows Macromedia? – April 19, 2005
Adobe to acquire Macromedia in $3.4 billion stock deal – April 18, 2005
Adobe prefers (and promotes) PCs over Macs – March 25, 2003


  1. My only fear for Apple is if Micro$oft, even though now slipping slowly, instead will start a fast downward spiral
    and then desperately use their huge cash reserve to make Adobe an offer they cannot refuse. Adobe is THE important issue for both sides. They own the future of the internet.
    Apple buying Macromedia was a no brainer and they blew it. Sure it would have tested their relatonship with Adobe, but it would be much better than the relationship with MicroSoft if or when they own Adobe.

  2. I don’t know… Adobe is a Windoze company now, and its generally uncharacteristic of Apple “buy out, or up” preexisting companies. I didn’t say Apple never has done that, but its generally not their style. When they want to provide the market with a product (hard or soft) they mostly invent it, produce it, and sell it – its the Apple way – so far.

  3. Apple makes its money from hardware.
    Steve is not a software-type guy. He likes the gadgets.
    Apple will not buy Adobe.

    Apple is plowing full speed ahead to make sure that Apple runs Windows programs. The switch to Intel chips and Bootcamp lead the way – the path is quite clear where Apple is going.
    Will it work? No idea. But the Apple tommorrow is not the Apple you knew 2 years ago.

  4. ‘Asked about the resulting controversy, Stephens told a reporter: “[A] new fact has now become painfully clear to me: you don’t say you have the Ph.D unless you REALLY have the Ph.D.”‘

    Damn, I hate it when FACTS get in the way of my personal fantasies.

    Back on topic, Apple needs to tread carefully. It has many of the pieces in place but not enough to dictate terms with anyone. It appears that Apple is playing the game well enough to not repeat its mistakes of the early 80’s.
    BTW, I don’t think Apple can afford to purchase Adobe. Better money may be spent developing replacement applications in house.

  5. In case Mac Office is withdrawn??

    If Cringley had done a minimum of research, he might remember that Apple and Microsoft just signed a new agreement to keep Office for Mac around for a minimum of 5 new years.

    He might also remember that Apple is supporting Microsofts new, open XML file formats.

    My take is that Apple will not challenge MS office until ECMA has standardized the proposed MS Offfice XML formats and implemented them in the Windows version of Office. Then the ground is open for Apple to rewrite Office – Apple style, but use Microsoft’s XML file formats for data storage.

  6. Office is the bigger issue. Adobes applications work with industry standard file formats and formats that are fully published (jpg, gif, psd, pdf, flash, etc) and Apple could easily design apps to work with those. Office, on the other hand, has proprietary file formats that can be changed at will by MS. This is the problem. They need to figure this one out.

  7. Apple buying Adobe is a bit like Apple buying Palm: it already has the capacity to build a better product, so why would it waste the money?

    And Apple ain’t ditching OS X – it’s the crown jewel that stops it being just another Windows OEM.

    Like Steve himself said, “We have to let go of the notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose.” Market share (which, incidentally, is on the way up) isn’t as important as a profitable and viable ecosystem, which the Mac has.

  8. I seem to remember talk of ‘should Apple buy Adobe’ about 10 years ago. Anyway, “Cringley” fails to mention and factor in Server 2003 and Exhange as major Microsoft products. Microsoft’s enterprise solutions is what keeps people buying Windows for their home computers. Think about it, Windows is in their face all day at work and so when it comes time for these lemmings to buy a home computer what do they choose? They buy what they know and what they know is what they use at work. If Apple really wants to take down MicroSoft they have to develope an Exchange killer.

  9. Georgy Porgy: M$ buying Adobe would never pass EU anti-trust muster (it would probably be ignored by US regulators). Apple buying Adobe might not pass EU muster either (and might catch the attention of US regulators).

  10. Apple is not going to be so stupid as to let Mac users have to rely on reverse engineering MS Office file formats, when they per date have full access to those formats and hence Office documents.

    So no, there is absolutely NO point in challenging Microsoft on Office right now.

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