Having worked at and read extensively on these two fine corporations, a few differences come to mind, that over time I hope to commit to writing. Here are some disclaimers:

  • There is no confidential information contained in anything I write
  • The thoughts expressed represent solely my opinions
  • Nothing I write is designed to present either of these companies in a particularly positive or negative light. I’ve played for both teams - I don’t play favorites.
  • On to today’s thoughts: relationships with Independent Software Vendors (ISVs).

Perhaps it is Steve Jobs’ ego, or simply the Apple corporate philosophy, but the “whole widget” thing can indeed be taken to an extreme at the company a little too easily. Too many times, now, we’ve seen software from Apple that closely resembles functionality offered by third-party shareware developers for the platform. To old Mac users all of these examples are familiar, but I’ll spell them out for the others:

Back in the days of yore, users wanted a way to more easily search for things online. Web browsers were not the panacea that they are today, and people still preferred the desktop application experience over the clunky AJAX-free web application. Enter Watson, which did awesome things like search movie listings, eBay auctions (back when people used eBay), the phone book, and other useful sources of information. It was not long after Watson was released that Apple introduced Sherlock 3. Sherlock offered much of the same functionality that users had clamored for, but came free with Mac OS X.

Apple introduced Dashboard and its widgets with Mac OS X 10.4, providing users with an easy way to access tiny bits of information quickly. Konfabulator had been available for about 2 years before OS X Tiger’s release, or about 1 year before any information had been made public by Apple about Tiger’s feature set.

Even today many user’s love the easy access interface of Quicksilver on their Mac. While it does many, many things, I couldn’t help but feel like Apple making application matches the first result in a Spotlight search wasn’t meant to take some users of Quicksilver who use it solely to quickly launch an app and bring them back into the Apple fold. All of these incidents stirred up some level of outcry from developers, but people are always willing to forgive Apple with time. I don’t find any of these incidents bad, per se, but they speak more to Apple’s perceived desire to keep users running an all-Apple system as much as possible.

I feel like Microsoft lives on the other side of the fence in ISV-land. You can see how every decision they make is designed to keep ISVs happy, so that their platform will continue to thrive with diversity. Microsoft is a company with a lot of brilliant, capable people - but why is it that Windows Mobile tends to suffer so much in public opinion? I think a lot of it stems from the relationship with ISVs and OEMs. I have no doubt Microsoft could have produced much of the same experience that software like Pocket Informant used to offer, or the slick, custom experience that HTC, Sony, et al. have been able to produce on their Windows Mobile (or Windows Phone, excuse me) handsets. By keeping the Windows Phone experience relatively vanilla an ecosystem of software development is able to grow and diversify.

Microsoft is, first-and-foremost a platform company. Whether you look at their enterprise or consumer offerings, everything makes more sense when examined in this light (except the Zune, sorta). The rationale with which many business decisions are made definitely seems to center, “What’s best for the platform?”