August 6th, 1997. Before a packed, rapt audience at the Macworld Expo, Steve Jobs took command of the the stage and uttered the words that reversed Apple’s direction and fortunes forever: “We have to let go of the notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose.” Since that time, Microsoft has proven that for Microsoft to win more, they have to create better Macintosh products. This they have done, and done really well.
Irving Kwong works as Product Manager for the Macintosh Business Unit at Microsoft. Recently I had the chance to ask Irving some questions about the MacBU, as it is called. Now Irving is a great guy, a real Macintosh fan, and he works for Microsoft. Does that sound like a contradiction to you? Some Mac traditionalists may say yes, but after observing Microsoft’s renewed dedication to writing excellent Macintosh applications, I would have to say no.
After all, in the past two years Microsoft has released some of the best programs you can get for your Mac, such as Office 98, Internet Explorer 4.5, Outlook Express 4.5, and a hot new Mac website titled MacTopia! Let’s not forget that Microsoft is in business to make money, and the Macintosh is one of the hottest selling computers on the market. In any case, I really enjoyed speaking with Mr. Kwong, and here’s what we discussed.
Can you tell us what the Macintosh Business Unit is at Microsoft?
The MacBU is a group of 200+ Mac specialists responsible for delivering Mac products like Office, Internet Explorer and Outlook Express.
I have read that everyone in the MBU at MS are die-hard Mac users. True?
Very true. We have assembled a group of Mac specialists who spend 100% of their time, day-in and day-out, thinking about how to solve Mac users’ everyday problems and building the best applications for the Mac. This is the largest team of Mac developers outside of Apple in the world, who are focused only on developing Mac applications from the ground up specifically for the Macintosh OS.
You know what many Mac users think about Microsoft. If you could educate these people, what would you want them to know about MS that they don’t know?
We want the Mac community to know that we will continue to do more for them. We’ve released three products now from the MacBU as well a website, Microsoft MacTopia http://www.microsoft.com/mac, dedicated to Mac users. Because of these products, attitudes have really changed over the past year. Customer support and feedback has helped us deliver innovative products and has motivated us to continue being a leader in the developer community.
How is it that your group has created some of the best programs available today on the Mac? From Office 98, Outlook Express, and Internet Explorer, you all are cranking out some terrific software.
Thanks a lot! It’s great to hear the positive feedback. We work very hard to understand Mac customers and spend a lot of resources doing Mac-specific research. This enables us to build software that fulfills customers’ expectations, and hopefully goes beyond expectations. Unlike other companies which port their Mac software with a subset of features from their Windows versions, we strive to do more and offer more to Mac users by developing Mac-first, Mac-only features like Drag and Drop installation and AutoFill in Internet Explorer.
What can Mac users look forward to in the future from Microsoft? An Office2000 release? Outlook Express 5.0? MIE 5.0?
We have lots of exciting things already on the way. Unfortunately, it is too early to talk about most of them. We are busily working on the next version of Office, however it will not be called Office 2000 for the Mac. We are on a leap-frog release schedule, alternating releases with our Office for Windows counterpart. This is a strategy which began with the release of Office 98 Macintosh Edition, which has seen an overwhelmingly positive response from customers, selling over 1 million copies worldwide in only its first year of availability. We wanted to release a version of Mac Office that offered innovations not found in Office 97 for Windows, while making compatibility between the suites a top priority. Our next version of Mac Office will have identical file formats and continue offering compatibility between our Mac and Windows versions. Internet Explorer and Outlook Express 4.5 have had a record breaking customer response, with more downloads in the first four months of availability than all previous versions combined. We will be continuing in this same direction with the next releases of Internet Explorer and Outlook Express coming this summer and fall.
One of my favorite programs is Word 98. I literally love this program. However, there was something I wanted to address. When Steve Jobs announced that MS and Apple were committed to each other at the Macworld Expo in 1997, it seemed that a short time later that MS released Office 98. For such an innovative program suite, and knowing the time frame most high caliber programs like this take to create, I was wondering how long MS had Office 98 in development?
I love Word 98, too. It’s easy to sometimes forget about all the technology that’s transparently working in the background, like auto-spelling and grammar checking! Office 98 Macintosh Edition was in development for about two years. The partnership announcement helped us collaboratively work with Apple on technologies in Office 98, as well as co-marketing activities.
Have you all ever actually met Bill Gates?
Not yet, but I hope to soon! Members of the team here in the MacBU have met with Bill Gates quite often about the Mac business. He has been really supportive, and offered insight and advice on building a successful Mac business here at Microsoft.
What do you think the crowning achievement for the MacBU is? What stands out that you can point to and say, “That is who we are, what we are capable of doing.”
Without a doubt, Office 98 Macintosh Edition. This is the watershed product for us. Customers from around the world helped create and confirm that Office 98 is the product they wanted us to deliver. The research and design goals from Office 98 can be seen in all current Internet products and future products for the Mac.
Many thanks go to Irving Kwong for taking the time to answer a few of my questions. And thanks to Microsoft, too!