For more than two decades, Microsoft and Apple have had the technology industry's most high-profile (and occasionally most rancorous) rivalry. But today, I doubt that either of them considers the other its chief rival.
If you could sequester Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in their respective offices, close the door, and ask (off the record) for the name of their top rival, I suspect both of them would give you the same answer: Google.
For that reason alone, you'd think Microsoft and Apple would be more likely than ever to collaborate (and that's certainly a possibility). However, it's also easy to forget that the two companies have a long history of working together and developing products for each other's platforms. They are traditional frenemies.
Microsoft's recent release of Office for Mac 2011 (more on that in a second) is only the latest example of times when the two have been on the same page. These are still the exception rather than the rule, but we've come up with a list of the 10 best collaborative moments between the two companies.
10: Microsoft launches Outlook for Mac in Office 2011
With Office for Mac 2011, released on October 26, Microsoft has once again made the Mac OS X version of its world-dominant productivity suite jibe a lot more closely with the latest Windows version. This is in contrast to several Mac editions that diverged wildly from their Windows counterparts in recent years. But by far the most significant part of Office 2011 is that it brings back a version of Microsoft Outlook for email and Exchange syncing, replacing the Mac-specific Entourage (a horribly buggy piece of software). This makes the latest Macs much better equipped to function in the business world.
9: Apple and Microsoft spurn Blu-ray for digital downloads
Both Apple and Microsoft have been under pressure for the last couple of years to get on the Blu-ray bandwagon. Microsoft has been under pressure to put Blu-ray in Xbox 360, and Apple has been under pressure to put Blu-ray drives in Macs. However, both have resisted and have responded with the same reason why: Blu-ray is an expensive temporary solution and the future of high definition video is digital downloads. While they may not have consulted each other on this issue, the fact that each has taken up the same position has made it easier for the other to stick to it. It has also kept the movie industry from forcing consumers to buy more discs rather than offering the cheaper and more convenient option of digital downloads.
8: Apple makes Safari available for Windows
Steve Jobs once jokingly compared Apple making software for Windows to "offering glasses of ice water to people in hell." A few weeks later, Apple launched a version of its Safari Web browser for Windows. Although Safari has never taken off and gained big market share on Windows, it does have a niche appeal to those who like the sparse UI and quick loading times. It also represents one of Apple's most open initiatives, the WebKit browser engine that powers Safari. Apple refined it from earlier technologies and then turned into an open source project that has since been used by Google, Nokia, Palm, BlackBerry, and others.
7: Snow Leopard connects to Exchange
In Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard), Apple integrated support for Microsoft Exchange into its built-in apps: Mail, iCal, and Address Book. Unfortunately, this required Exchange 2007 or later on the backend, and the integration was a little buggy. Still, it was another step toward making Macs more friendly in the many businesses that are run on Microsoft software in the server room.
6: Boot Camp installs Windows on Mac hardware
In 2006, Apple switched the Mac platform from proprietary PowerPC processors to standard Intel x86 chips — the same ones that had traditionally powered most Windows PCs. Later that year, the company released Boot Camp, a free utility that allowed Windows XP to be installed on the new Intel-based Mac hardware and dual booted with Mac OS X. (Boot Camp later supported Windows Vista and then Windows 7.) Naturally, Microsoft didn't object because Boot Camp required a Windows license.
5: Microsoft licenses Exchange ActiveSync for iPhone
When the original iPhone was released in 2007, its primary accomplishment was a touchscreen user interface that made smartphones accessible to more than just the email-junkie professionals who had previously owned BlackBerry and Palm Treo devices. However, the first iPhone was not very useful. It had limited software and it couldn't easily connect to corporate email. Apple fixed both of those problems a year later with version 2.0, the iPhone 3G, by opening up to third-party developers and licensing Exchange ActiveSync from Microsoft so that iPhone could connect to Exchange email, calendar, and contacts.
4: Microsoft invests $150 million in Apple
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1996 and soon became the interim CEO, one of the things he emphasized to Apple employees was to stop thinking about the past and Apple's old rivalry with Microsoft and start thinking about the future and how Apple could move forward in bold new ways. At Macworld 1997 in Boston, he sent the same message to Apple fans when he announced a deal with Microsoft that would bring a close to Apple's legal action against Microsoft over Windows, provide a $150 million Microsoft investment in Apple, and bring a multi-year guarantee that Microsoft would continue to develop software for the then-ailing Macintosh platform. To the Apple fans who booed Jobs when he brought in Microsoft chairman Bill Gates via video conference to announce the Microsoft deal, Jobs said, "We have to let go of the notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose."
3: Internet Explorer becomes the default browser on Mac
As part of that 1997 deal, Apple agreed to make Microsoft's Internet Explorer the default Web browser for Mac. At the time, Microsoft was in a pitched battle with Netscape for Web browser supremacy. It's easy to forget that Internet Explorer 3.0 for Mac was a decent piece of software at the time, because Microsoft had a lot of engineers working on IE. Later, IE would get a well-earned reputation for being slow, bloated, and buggy, after Microsoft won the browser war and lost interest in it. But in 1997, having two great Web browsers available for Mac (three if you count Mosaic) was a good thing, especially on the eve of the iMac and with lots of new consumers buying computers to connect to the Internet.
2: Apple makes iPod compatible with Windows
A year after Apple debuted the iPod in 2001 as an accessory it hoped would buoy Mac sales, the company realized the iPod had much greater mass market potential and decided to make it compatible with Windows computers as well. That development, combined with the 2003 opening of the iTunes Music Store selling songs for 99 cents, set the iPod on a course to become one of the best-selling consumer electronics products of all time.
1: Microsoft develops Word for the original MacintoshWhen Apple developed its forward-looking Macintosh computer in the early 1980s to combat the IBM PC, which was outpacing the Apple II, Microsoft was one of the early believers in the new vision. Gates took a chance on Jobs' graphical user interface and agreed to be one of the early application developers. The result was Microsoft Word, which would eventually be one of the computing world's most popular applications. Gates said, "One of the most fun things we did was the Macintosh and that was so risky. People may not remember that Apple really bet the company." Of course, the collaboration on the Macintosh also led to Microsoft developing its own competing platform, Windows, which later became the source of the bitter rivalry between the two companies.
Jason Hiner has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about how technology is changing the way we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.