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Daniel Eran

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photo Is Microsoft Vista the new QuarkXPress? Part IV
Seriously Underestimated
Take another look at Quark's fumble: prior to releasing InDesign, Adobe had a product that couldn't seriously compete in the professional desktop publishing market. But Adobe did have strong positioning with complimentary design products: Photoshop and Illustrator. If anyone was in position to challenge Quark, it was Adobe. They knew what was wrong with PageMaker, and they had insights into what designers wanted in a desktop publishing package. Starting from the ground up, Adobe also had an advantage of building from a clean slate.

Adobe incubated their fledgeling InDesign 1.0 product within the safe haven of their loyal customer base, thus avoiding a major offensive against Quark until Adobe was ready to deliver a serious product. But it was Quark who supplied the perfect timing for Adobe's launch by spectacularly failing to deliver anything that could counter InDesign's challenge.

It didn't help Quark any that InDesign was so eminently comparable to their flagship product. Every minute and every dollar Quark spent on pimping their new release was matched many times over by the publishing industry (and every designer with a blog) making the obvious, and often unflattering, comparison with Adobe's InDesign.

Enter Microsoft. Struggling to manage a the difficult job of planning a significant new release of Windows, Microsoft paid no mind to potential competition in the desktop space. Instead, the company has been focusing their attentions upon the server threat from Linux, issuing white papers and paying research organizations to issue reports proclaiming that Microsoft products are cheaper overall when compared to free alternatives.

In the same way that Quark was familiar with Adobe, Microsoft recognized Apple and the Mac OS as a partner and complimentary revenue source, but discounted Apple as real competition in the desktop OS space. Prior to Mac OS X, Apple's desktop product was a weak, aging alternative to compare against Windows 2000, and particularly so when judged against Microsoft's future plans as outlined in Whistler and Blackcomb.

Microsoft was familiar with the technology Apple acquired from NeXT in the final days of 1996; Microsoft and the rest of the industry (including Apple) had been trying to copy various elements of NeXT's technology for the last decade.

It was not at all obvious at the time that Apple would be able to tame the tiger of NeXT's object oriented development kits and successfully deliver a real product. IBM, Canon, and Sun had already taken a shot at using NeXT's software and each had failed to doing anything with it. Further, Apple had "beleaguered" tattooed into its corporate forehead by a jeering and unsympathetic media.

It therefore wasn't all that shocking that Quark initially dismissed Apple's Mac OS X as a development target. But once Quark realized that the ball was indeed rolling for Apple's new OS, and that they had missed it, it wasn't a trivial effort to try to catch up again. Adobe not only beat Quark to Mac OS X, but achieved a sufficient maturity with InDesign on the new system before Quark even announced plans to get started.

Microsoft's last significant new desktop operating system, Windows XP, was released in 2001; at that time, Apple hadn't even delivered Jaguar yet. In the four years since, Microsoft has issued two service packs for Windows XP, while Apple has released three major retail versions of Mac OS X (and more than a dozen minor updates); Apple's next retail version, Mac OS 10.5, is scheduled for release around the same time as Microsoft's Vista.

Microsoft's struggle to deliver the next Windows desktop is a difficult enough challenge without the media's incessant, and increasingly unflattering comparison with Apple's Mac OS X. The unfortunate codename of Longhorn (a bar at the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort) was first pitted against Apple's Tiger, and then against Leopard.

The splash of Tiger, which shipped on time with the promised features intact, was difficult enough. But being compared to a future Leopard product, which nobody outside of Apple even has a clue about, leaves Microsoft helplessly in the inevitable position of being disappointingly overshadowed on a grand scale.

Part V > Competition is Good

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