Apple and Microsoft were founded less than a year apart in the mid-1970s. In the following years the companies went through multiple cycles of partnership and discord. Microsoft's surprise on-stage presence at an Apple media event last week demonstrated just how cordial things have again become as the two tech giants are seemingly pleased to be in each other's good graces.
The companies' shared future in the enterprise market in large part fuels this renewed spirit of compromise. And the software, services and devices both companies sell will be increasingly complementary.
Apple hardware, Microsoft software
Microsoft's future in the business world will relate to OS and productivity software and cloud services, while Apple maintains a significant lead when it comes to software, according to Jan Dawson, chief analyst and founder of tech research firm Jackdaw.
Microsoft "makes many of the tools employees actually need … to get their jobs done," Dawson says. "Apple obviously does make alternatives for some of those tools, but in the vast majority of cases they're either inferior or simply not supported by IT departments."
MacBooks and other Apple devices will be more compelling to enterprises if Microsoft starts treating that hardware as a "first-class citizen" for new Office apps and other software, according to Dawson. However, Apple also needs to continue to make it easier for businesses to deploy those devices at scale along with the Microsoft software they need.
"Except for Windows, Microsoft's elements will increasingly need to run on Apple hardware, so the companies will definitely be working together more," Dawson says. "The good thing is that Microsoft has stopped resisting this inevitable outcome, and is instead embracing a future that's as much about third-party devices as its own devices and operating systems."
History of ebbs and flows between Apple and Microsoft
The companies may be friendly today for revenue's sake, and for future opportunities in enterprise, but the relationship hasn't been this way for long.
Just two years ago, Apple's CEO Tim Cook painted Microsoft as a confused competitor. "They chased after netbooks," Cook said during a press event in October 2013. "Now they're trying to make PCs into tablets and tablets into PCs. Who knows what they will do next?"
During the dawn of the smartphone revolution in 2007, Microsoft's former CEO Steve Ballmer told USA Today: "There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance."
And when the late Steve Jobs, cofounder and CEO of Apple, was asked what it was like using iTunes on a Windows PC at the 2007 D Conference, he said: "It's like giving a glass of ice water to someone in hell."
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