The difference that 15 years makes

There are some great passages in this Salon article — written at Apple’s nadir — about ex-Apple programmers working for Microsoft. In those areas where a contrast is drawn, I think most would agree that Apple now bests Microsoft.

Some choice parts:

And of course Microsoft is determined to keep developing Mac versions of its Web browser to press its struggle for market share with Netscape.

I wonder how many members of the current youth could conceive of the browser situation in 1997, where Netscape was the incumbent.

How do these software artists feel about working for the company that the public and the media, if not they themselves, often picture as an all-devouring Evil Empire?

I wonder which company would today come to mind if you asked people to identify the “Evil Empire”?

“Working for Apple is a very frustrating experience because Apple is extraordinarily good at inventing things, but extremely bad at competing,” Eames explains.

Surely, the situation is diametrically opposite now.

At Apple, according to Eames, “There are smart people at the bottom and sometimes smart people at the top. But generally, that middle zone is where there’s not a lot of smart people.” At Microsoft, on the other hand, the intelligence is evenly spread from the bottom up. As a result, “I think that projects here are killed a lot quicker if they’re stupid,” Eames explains

Ditto. Compare the iPhone and iPad to Windows 8 and Surface.

Today’s Microsoft also has cash to burn on research and development in sums no other company can match.

It is astonishing how much has changed. According to Forbes, Microsoft currently has $68.31B cash on hand; Google has $48.09B; and Apple has $137.11B – literally more than twice as much as Microsoft. (Out of interest: Facebook has $9.63B; IBM has $11.13B; and, perhaps surprisingly, Oracle has $33.41B).

At Microsoft, programmers will not only have the satisfaction of their product reaching the mass market, but they’ll have the full force of the company’s powerful marketing team behind them — an area in which Apple has often fumbled.

It says a lot when no-one could seriously write such a thing about Apple now.

In addition to keeping developers happy with product shipments and subsequent promotions, Microsoft also offers the security of a large, stable and growing company.

Obviously written before the advent of the terrible system known as stack ranking.

At the same time, there are 20 million Mac customers. The population of Mac customers is still growing, and 20 million is a good-sized nation.”

Apple sold 33.8 million iPhones in FQ4 2013 alone.

Kawasaki maintains that the best Mac developers are better serving Apple by working at Microsoft. “The biggest problem that Apple faces today is that people think we’re gonna die. If Microsoft keeps coming out with great Mac software, and Microsoft has a huge Macintosh effort — and that makes people think that even a company as smart as Microsoft and as big as Microsoft isn’t abandoning Macintosh, so Macintosh must be viable — then people will think, ‘It’s OK for me to buy a Macintosh.’”

It truly was a different world.

Capps talks excitedly of his latest work, expanding user interfaces into new dimensions: “Everybody thinks the user interface should have these stupid icons and gray desktop and all that stuff. And that was a limitation of the technology. So few people realize that that was a kind of a compromise — what you could do with technology in 1984. …

… “You look at what IBM and Dragon have demonstrated with their latest releases, this stuff is kind of useable. And everybody that knows anything about user interfaces realizes that an interface is going to have to be built around speech. So if I had to put my bets on who can define an interface around speech, it would be Microsoft,” Capps says.

I think Google is in the lead on this one, with Apple within closing distance but still second.

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