Is Apple trying to be Microsoft‾

Mike Davis/Ovum
07 Apr 2008

This Easter, besides getting a noticeably smaller amount of eggs than in previous years, I got a present from Apple in the form of the Safari browser for my work PC - and my home PC, and my children's PC. The interesting bit is that like all the best gifts I hadn't asked for them.

As a Mac and PC user I have personally always found Apple's Safari to be a "cleaner" product than Microsoft's Internet Explorer, or even Mozilla Firefox, so the release of version 3.1, which could be installed on Windows-based PCs, was for me very welcome.

However, to ensure that it wasn't just the fans of single-button mice that downloaded the software, Apple used its Software Update tool, which is conveniently bundled with iTunes, as the promotion method. The next time a Windows iTunes user goes to play or save music or video, they are presented with a dialogue box with the Install Safari option checked by default.

This approach, while not unexpected, has parallels with Microsoft previously including Internet Explorer and Media Player as part of the Windows operating system. It also provoked anger from John Lilly the CEO of Mozilla, who reportedly accused Apple of undermining "the security of the whole web".

Of course Lilly has another interest in that Firefox has Google as its default search engine for which it gets rewarded by Google. Safari also has Google as the default engine and if the Apple browser gains significant presence Mozilla will lose money.

There were a few hiccups for Apple in the rollout. The first being a series of reported crashes of PCs requiring reinstall - although all three in my house went right first time.

And then some clever Italians spotted that Apple hadn't updated its End User Licence Agreement (EULA) to reflect the Windows deployment. The text is still saying "This Licence allows you to install and use one copy of the Apple software on a single Apple-labelled computer at a time". While a tad embarrassing I am sure Apple's lawyers will charge the company a lot of money for the rewording.

It is the "domination by default" that marks the release as having the feel of an uncompetitive action, something that Microsoft has been regularly accused of.

But maybe, just maybe that is not so bad. I once asked the CEO of a small software vendor, how he would measure success for the business. His reply was, "when I get an anti-trust law suit". Apple has already had those regarding iTunes and getting one for Safari would illustrate that Microsoft's desktop dominance is not guaranteed for perpetuity.

Mike Davis, Senior Analyst

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