In Jan­u­ary, dur­ing Steve Jobs’ Mac­world keynote speech announc­ing the new Intel Mac­in­tosh­es, Microsoft made a “com­mit­ment” to con­tin­ue to devel­op for and sup­port the Apple Mac­in­tosh plat­form. In true Microsoft style, they con­ve­nient­ly did­n’t explain how deeply that com­mit­ment went. Now we know.

Microsoft have decid­ed to kill their Vir­tu­al PC prod­uct, remov­ing a vir­tu­al­i­sa­tion option from Mac OS at the same time that sim­i­lar func­tion­al­i­ty is being fold­ed into Win­dows Vista. They are aware that vir­tu­al­i­sa­tion is quick­ly becom­ing a killer fea­ture, and they’ll be damned if they allow any­one else to have it. For­tu­nate­ly (and prob­a­bly prefer­ably), VMware will be made avail­able for the Apple Intel plat­form. There’s also Par­al­lels, but they still do not have any serv­er-ori­ent­ed prod­ucts.

In addi­tion, Microsoft will also be remov­ing Visu­al Basic sup­port from Office for Mac. If you can’t stop sup­port­ing some­thing, why not crip­ple it instead? Many busi­ness­es are depen­dent upon VB script­ing, or exchange files with people/organisations that make use of it, so this is a major blow indeed for Apple. Such a defi­cien­cy will be sub­tle: peo­ple will pur­chase Office for Mac expect­ing it to work with files cre­at­ed in its Win­dows coun­ter­part (or vice ver­sa), and will be sore­ly dis­ap­point­ed. This has already been occur­ring for a num­ber of years, but the prob­lem is becom­ing increas­ing­ly acute.

Ulti­mate­ly, the best solu­tion is to remove our depen­den­cy on pro­pri­etary for­mats and lan­guages, for they are the root cause of this mess. OpenOffice.org already does what most peo­ple require, and in some cas­es it does it bet­ter. It even has grow­ing sup­port for Visu­al Basic for Appli­ca­tions. OpenOf­fice is tru­ly look­ing like a bet­ter Office than MS Office. The OpenOf­fice file fil­ter­ing sup­port devel­op­ers work hard to sup­port all the MS Office for­mats they can find (peo­ple have count­ed over 20 dif­fer­ent ver­sions of the Word .DOC for­mat alone), which is more than I can say about the MS Office pro­gram­mers, who are noto­ri­ous for break­ing com­pat­i­bilty with old­er ver­sions. Using the Open­Doc­u­ment for­mats (which are now an ISO stan­dard) assures that your data will be acces­si­ble on many dif­fer­ent plat­forms for many years to come.

The main stum­bling block to OpenOf­fice adop­tion on Mac OS is the Win­dows-like inter­face and its reliance on X11 for dis­play. There is work being done on a native Aqua ver­sion, but in the mean­while there is NeoOf­fice.

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