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Monday, November 12, 2007, 05:30 am PT (08:30 am ET)

Road to Mac Office 2008: an introduction


Microsoft Launches its Mac Apps on the PC

Two years after being surprised by the submarine launch of Word for DOS, Apple signed a new agreement with Microsoft for exclusive delivery of Excel for the Macintosh over a two year period. Gates tied the agreement into the expiring Applesoft BASIC contract as a way to kill Apple's MacBASIC, as noted in An Introductory Mac OS X Leopard Review: Developer Tools. Gates also demanded Apple provide a free license to Microsoft for the use of Macintosh technology in Windows 1.0.

That agreement proved to be devastating for Apple, because Microsoft subsequently used it to deliver its Mac-like environment for DOS as a way to port its Mac applications to the PC. While Microsoft had demonstrated Windows 1.0 in 1983, it didn't actually ship the product commercially until late 1985 (below), after signing its licensing agreement with Apple. Historical revisionists like to suggest that Microsoft independently delivered Windows 1.0 and Word for DOS in advance of the Macintosh, and trained Apple in how to use the mouse.

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The Windows environment was largely worthless without any real applications to run on it. When the two year exclusive period for Excel expired in 1987, Microsoft shipped Excel 2.0 (below) with Windows 2.0. Apple sued Microsoft over the use of additional Mac technologies not covered under the earlier license, including the invention of Regions, which enabled the use of overlapping windows. That lawsuit continued into 1994, at which time the court ruled that Apple's original 1985 agreement had been too vague in what it covered, and largely dismissed the entire suit for that reason.

While Microsoft's Multiplan for DOS never got much attention, the prospect of running a graphical Excel on standard PCs did, and Microsoft began eating into Lotus' market share. In 1989, Microsoft shipped Word for Windows, and then in 1990 shipped Windows 3.0 along with PowerPoint for Windows.

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Microsoft Develops Windows for OS/2

While Microsoft continued to make most of its money from Mac applications, it had entered into a partnership with IBM in 1985 to develop a replacement for DOS called OS/2. Microsoft and IBM planned to migrate the Windows environment to run on the new foundation of OS/2, effectively transferring Apple's technology directly to IBM, part of the reason Apple sued Microsoft over its look and feel lawsuit; Apple did not sue Atari, Commodore, Acorn, and a variety of other vendors offering graphical user interfaces.

As development of OS/2 continued, Microsoft began to describe it as "Windows Plus." It also developed "Windows Libraries for OS/2," also known as WLO, and used these to port Word (below) and Excel to OS/2. Microsoft advised DOS application vendors—including Lotus and WordPerfect—to port their applications directly to OS/2's native libraries instead.

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At the same time however, Microsoft was deeply invested in its own solo plans to deliver a new operating system. In 1988, Microsoft hired Dave Cutler and his team of operating system developers from Digital, and began work on what would eventually ship as Windows NT. When asked if Microsoft would develop for Jobs' NeXT computer, Gates revealed his disinterest in anything outside of Windows by answering, "Develop for it? I'll piss on it."

Microsoft continued to ship Office apps for OS/2 into 1992, and advertised OS/2 compatibility for Windows NT when it was released in 1993. At the same time, it clearly had no interest in maintaing support for OS/2. This effectively led existing DOS developers into a blind alley, allowing Microsoft to promote its own applications on the PC as the only options available for Windows users. Some Microsoft supporters now claim that the entire DOS software industry simply failed to deliver Windows applications on time. Additionally, while WordPerfect could complain about rival word processors bundled by Apple and NeXT, it could not complain to Microsoft, which was pointedly and intentionally competing against WordPerfect.

Windows 3.0 Gets Bundled on PCs

Sales of Windows 3.0 began to quickly take off after PC makers—lead by Zenith—began to ship Windows 3.0 pre-installed with new PCs to compete against Apple. No earlier versions of Windows had ever been pre-installed on new PCs before.

In reviewing Windows 3.0, John Dvorak noted, "I think Windows 3.0 will get a lot of attention; people will check it out, and before long they'll all drift back to raw DOS. Once in a while they'll boot Windows for some specific purpose, but many will put it in the closet with the Commodore 64."

As sales of Windows 3.0 increased, Microsoft publicly pulled out of its OS/2 partnership with IBM, leaving DOS application developers invested in a system without any future. That enabled Microsoft's own Word and Excel to eclipse WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3 on the PC, as noted in Office Wars 4 - Microsoft’s Assault on Lotus and IBM. Microsoft even began bundling Office 95 licenses with new PCs, further destroying any functional market for third-party Windows software in any industry Microsoft chose to enter.

Microsoft's Mac Applications Stall: Office 4

Microsoft delivered new major versions of Word on the Mac every two years in 1985, 1987, 1989, and 1991 (below, Word 5 was $495), and matched this with new versions of Excel in 1988, 1989, 1990, and 1992. In 1990, Microsoft bundled Word, Excel and PowerPoint into a package called Microsoft Office for the first time, seven years after the original release of Apple's Lisa Office.

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As sales of Windows 3.0 increased, however, Microsoft shifted its interest from the Mac to its own platform. 1991's Word 5.0 for Macintosh had been highly regarded, but it lacked some of the features Microsoft added to the parallel release of Word for Windows 2.0. Hampered by maintaining separate versions for the Mac and Windows, Microsoft decided to develop a single, cross-platform code base for Word under the code name Pyramid.

Facing competitive pressure from WordPerfect however, Microsoft decided to scrap plans to rewrite a unified Word code base, and instead simply ported its existing Word for Windows 2.0 code to deliver Word 6.0 for Macintosh. Microsoft ran into a series of problems related to differences and limitations in the classic Mac OS, which led to the near infamous reputation of Word 6 (as Microsoft's developer Rick Schaut described in Buggin' My Life Away : Mac Word 6.0).

In part, this was because it required more resources; it had been designed to run on Windows, and was now competing for attention on the Mac against Word 5.1, which was custom written for the Mac and designed around its peculiarities. However, Word 6 was also criticized for simply being different. Some significant improvements Microsoft delivered were hated by existing users simply because they required the user to unlearn earlier, more complicated ways of performing the same tasks.

Microsoft Focuses on Windows

Shortly after the troublesome release of Office 4 for Mac in 1993—which included Word 6, Excel 5, and PowerPoint 4—Microsoft put development for the Mac on hiatus and focused on Windows. Microsoft then delivered:
  • a 16-bit Office 4 for Windows in 1994.
  • a new 32-bit version of Office 4 for Windows NT in 1994 which ran on MIPS, PowerPC, and Alpha in addition to PCs.
  • Office 95 with the release of Windows 95 in late 1995, which jumped internally to Office 7 to match the version of Word; there was no Office 5 or 6.
  • Office 97 in late 1996, also called Office 8.

During the period where Microsoft gave up on the Mac, WordPerfect released significant updates that incorporated support for unique features of Apple's System 7 (below, running WordPerfect 3.5). The company then abandoned the platform in 1996 and announced it had no interest in ever returning.

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Nisus also capitalized on Microsoft's absence in the Mac market to deliver updates to Nisus Writer (below).

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On page 3 of 4: Apple's Claris; Apple, Microsoft and the New MacBU; Office for Mac 98; Office for Mac 2001; Office v.X; Office for Mac 2004; and Apple Launches iWork.