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Thoughts on Flash

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[W]e cannot accept an outcome where developers are blocked from using our innovations and enhancements because they are not available on our competitor’s platforms.

Sometimes I wonder why this is so hard to grasp. Having played the underdog role for so long, Apple has learned this lesson the hard way. Perhaps the most high-profile case is that of Microsoft Word.

Word version 5.1a on the Macintosh is considered by many to be the best version Microsoft ever released. Word (and Excel, etc.) was originally developed as a Macintosh application, and was one of the best applications available on the platform in its early years. Then, in 1993, Word 6.0 came out and changed all that.

In 1991/1992, Microsoft was developing a new version of Word for Windows. It was decided by the product manager that it wasn’t worth keeping two completely separate code-bases for the application, and so after the Windows release, the Macintosh version was to be rewritten based on the Windows version’s source code.

The result was considered to be the single worst version of Word on the Macintosh ever. It looked and worked like Windows software rather than Macintosh. Microsoft even had to release a downgrader to let buyers of version 6 revert back to version 5.1.

The next Windows version of Word debuted in 1995, named Word 95. Since they were required to use the completed Windows source code for the Mac version, the Mac Business Unit wasn’t able to deliver a compatible revision until 1998, five years after the last Mac release. In the interim, Windows got yet another version, Word 97.

Since that point, the Macintosh versions have lagged behind the Windows versions by 1-2 years. Only recently has the Mac BU been given authority to attempt Mac-only features; even so, the latest version of Office for Macintosh brings over another Windows-based UI paradigm in the form of the ribbon. The most recent version is being written in Cocoa, for the first time, which should help with some issues— but we’ll have to see how many items use standard Windows behaviours over standard Macintosh ones.

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