SALON Daily Clicks: Newsreal

One industry sage thought he was joking when he suggested Microsoft buy into Apple. Boy, was he surprised.

Topics: Microsoft, Department of Justice, Apple, Steve Jobs,

“Here’s the most intriguing thought of all,” wrote Al Perlman in a column headlined “A Simple Idea to Save the Apple Line” in the July 21 issue of the trade magazine Inter@ctive Week. “The one company that could best ensure the continuation of the Apple line is — ta da — Microsoft.” Perlman, the publisher of the weekly, went on to suggest that Microsoft buy out Apple “and set up the Apple operating system as a boutique-like alternative for specific types of customers.”

Ha, ha, very funny, responded the kinder readers. Other responses from Mac zealots ran along more murderous lines. Well — ta da, not to mention the gasps and boos of the Apple faithful at Macworld Expo in Boston — Microsoft and Apple went quite far in that direction with the shock announcement Wednesday that Microsoft was investing $150 million in the ailing computer company. Microsoft also promised to continue producing software for the Macintosh operating system for the next several years.

What did Perlman know that the rest of the world didn’t even suspect? Salon spoke to Perlman on his car phone soon after the announcement was made.

How serious were you when you suggested Microsoft buy into Apple?

It started out relatively tongue-in-cheek, but as I was writing it I thought, “Well, maybe this isn’t completely far-fetched. So maybe I’ll just put it out there and see what people think” There was no omniscience on my part. I certainly didn’t know anything, that’s for sure.

And the reaction …

It was staggering. My e-mail box was absolutely flooded. We’ve never gotten that kind of reaction from anything we’ve ever written in Inter@ctive Week. About 10 percent thought it was actually a reasonable idea. About 90 percent thought it was lunacy. But about 90 percent took it seriously, which really surprised me. I never in my heart believed this was real, if you know what I mean.

Apple stock jumped about 35 percent after today’s announcement. I must ask you this: Did you happen to buy any Apple stock in the past couple of weeks?

No, but I wish I did.

How did you feel when you heard Steve Jobs’ announcement?

I was shocked, especially having written the column and gotten all these letters and knowing how volatile an issue it is among the Apple community.



Now that it’s more than just a joke, do you still think it’s a good idea?

Overall, yes, for Apple and its customer base. This is sort of what I was getting at when I wrote the column in the first place — having Microsoft as an ally and a partner was the safest way to secure the future of the Apple line. I’m sure there are going to be a lot of Apple customers who are going to be very upset because it’s selling your soul to the devil. But if their stock price jumped 35 percent, then obviously the financial community thinks it’s a good thing as well. As an Apple customer, I’m pleased. As an Apple shareholder I’d be real pleased — but I’m not (laughs).

When Bill Gates’ face loomed on the video screen at Macworld Expo, there was a chorus of boos. Could this move backfire? Could Mac loyalists say, I’ve had it with Mac once and for all?

Yeah, but what are their choices? Their only other choice is to go to Microsoft. If you’re a Mac loyalist and this is repugnant to you, think of the alternatives. I think they’re equally, if not more repugnant.

Some people think this is the beginning of the complete absorption of Apple into Microsoft. Is that likely?

Personally, I don’t think so. And that’s why I thought, when people read my column, they wouldn’t have taken it 100 percent seriously. One, the Justice Department would not allow it, and, two, I don’t think Microsoft would want that kind of scrutiny from the Justice Department because it would really force the Justice Department to examine Microsoft’s role in the whole operating systems market.

What does Bill Gates want from Apple then?

He already owns the market, so having something out there that is an alternative is not the worst thing in the world for him. It keeps the illusion of competition, I guess. It also supports the part of the development community that’s working on the Mac platform. And Bill Gates is very concerned about the development community.

Why?

Because the future of his company is based on the development community. He doesn’t develop every piece of software out there, as much as he might like to. So the health and vibrancy of the development community is critical to the future of Microsoft, which is why Microsoft spends so much time and attention on courting the development community.

And he also got Apple to make Gates’ Internet Explorer the default Web browser on the Mac, which can’t make Netscape too happy.

Right. It’s not like Bill Gates is doing this out of the goodness of his heart. Or his affection for Apple.
Aug. 7, 1997

Microsoft and Apple: What does it all mean? Join the speculation in Table Talk.

Andrew Ross is Salon's executive vice president.

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