SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 10, 2000 — It shouldn’t be difficult to spot Kevin Browne among the thousands of people at Macworld Conference and Expo 2001, Apple Computer’s annual gathering for its Macintosh line of computers. He’s the guy with two laptops — one a Mac, the other a Microsoft Windows PC.
Since taking over as general manager of Microsoft’s Macintosh Business Unit (MacBU) in 1999, Browne has quickly learned how to maximize the two computer platforms and build bridges between them — not to mention stay on a first-name basis with both Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates.
In many ways, Browne is an evangelist with two religions — and two parishes. He leads a crew of 200 Microsoft developers that creates a growing array of software for Macs. He also spreads the word about these products to the growing number of Apple diehards who are realizing the benefits of Microsoft software and hardware built expressly for the Macintosh platform.
Today, Browne goes before one of the largest-ever gatherings of Apple devotees as the first Microsoft executive to offer a keynote speech at Macworld. He expects to surprise many attendees at San Francisco’s Moscone Convention Center.
“There is a big percentage of Mac users who are aware of some of the things Microsoft does on the Mac platform,” Browne says. “But I don’t know that anybody outside Microsoft is aware of everything we do on the platform. There is software. There is hardware. There are new products coming out. There is Microsoft’s investment in products for the new Mac OS X platform.”
Browne Lives ‘Cross Platform’ to Understand Users’ Needs
Browne doesn’t just rely on feedback from Microsoft’s Mac users to understand their needs. In addition to taking two laptops on the road — the PC to do Microsoft business, the Mac to do most everything else — Browne has both Macs and PCs in his office and at home. He regularly uses Microsoft’s and Apple’s offerings for the Mac, particularly since he and his wife had twins three years ago. “I have a real reason to crank up iMovie, create QuickTime clips and manage digital photos,” Browne says.
“Since many of our customers live cross platform, using a PC at work and a Mac at home, I think I need to feel their pain and look for ways to minimize it,” he says.
The clean-cut 36-year-old brings an unorthodox background to his position as MacBU chief. Browne majored in history at the University of Notre Dame and taught himself how to use a computer in college — his roommate’s Macintosh Plus — before serving four years as a U.S. Army tank officer in Colorado.
“No enemy troops set foot in Colorado while I was stationed there,” he jokes.
Browne, who joined Microsoft in 1990 in sales and system engineering, admits he’s a little nervous about today’s speech but doesn’t think he will be in enemy territory at Macworld. He insists that Microsoft has earned its place at the Macworld podium, noting that more than half of all Mac users — 10 million out of 17 million total — use Microsoft software of one kind or another. Of these, nearly a quarter — 3.5 million — uses the Office 98 product.
“Being invited to do a keynote is just a recognition of Microsoft’s position on the Mac platform, that we are a premiere application provider for Macintosh,” Browne says. “Microsoft has made a special commitment to Macintosh, and that’s being acknowledged.”
New Software, Hardware Underscores Microsoft’s Investment in Macintosh
Since 1997, when Gates and Jobs announced a broad product and technology partnership between their companies, Microsoft has rededicated its energies and expanded its line of products for Macintosh computers — and moved beyond the old rivalries and bad blood.
The new products and efforts Browne will outline at Macworld underscore Microsoft’s commitment, he says.
“The new Outlook client is delivering to our customers the kind of Mac-first and Mac-only features we felt we had to deliver,” he says.
Outlook 2001 for Mac also offers drag-and-drop installation and an improved user interface for scheduling meetings, and — for the first time in any version of Outlook — the client arranges meeting reminders on a single screen rather than in overlapping, cascading boxes. Additionally, an information pane tells users what to do next when setting meetings and allows users to propose a time other than the one offered in a scheduling request.
The first beta version of the client is available beginning today through the download center at www.microsoft.com/downloads and at the MacTopia Web site ( www.microsoft.com/mac ). Outlook 2001 for Mac is expected to be publicly available in the summer of 2001.
Browne says he will use his keynote to officially introduce Office 2001 for Mac to West Coast Mac users, following its unveiling on the East Coast last October at Macworld New York. “We want to provide a picture of how Office 2001 can make your work life so much more productive,” Browne explains. “We want to show what all the excitement is about.”
Office 2001 includes Project Gallery, a task-based starting point that is common to each application, designed to make it easier for users to start and complete projects. It also includes tools to simplify management of Excel lists, merge email in Word and combine previously separate PowerPoint slide, outline and notes views.
Another goal of Browne’s keynote is to remind Apple users that the many Microsoft keyboards, mice and other devices are now fully compatible with their Macs.
“All of our devices can operate using USB (Universal Service Bay) connections, and all Macs today have USB ports,” Browne says. “Microsoft also offers some great software drivers that enable Mac users to take advantage of all of the features offered by these devices.”
OS X Applications On the Horizon
At Macworld last year, Microsoft promised to create a lineup of products for the latest Mac operating system, Mac OS X. During Jobs’ keynote at this year’s Macworld, Microsoft will offer an update and a demonstration of Office software running on Mac OS X.
“We are still fairly early in the development. We have a lot of work to do,” Browne says. “But we want to show our customers that we are dedicated to creating quality Mac OS X applications.”
Although Apple has told its users that it takes as little as two weeks to create applications that run on Mac OS X, “we think that is just the starting point,” Browne says. “There are so many opportunities to make applications better on Mac OS X. We are going to take advantage of those opportunities.”
He said Microsoft expects to have its first Mac OS X applications available by fall, though Mac OS X users need not wait until then to use Microsoft software. Those who purchase Office 2001 can upgrade to Office for Mac OS X for $149 — half the regular price, Browne says.
Passion of Apple Users Inspires Browne, MacBU
There’s another reason Microsoft is taking extra time with its Mac OS X applications: The company knows how passionate and vocal Mac users are.
“If you release a bad product, such as Office 4.2 for Mac, Mac users let you know,” Browne says. “But if you release good products, such as Office 98 and 2001, Mac Internet Explorer 5 and Mac Outlook Express 5, they let you know that, too.”
Browne and other current MacBU employees worked on Office 4.2 for Mac before joining the unit. The negative reaction inspired many to take their current jobs. “We wanted a chance to right a wrong,” says Browne, who joined the unit in 1997 and became general manager two years later.
Browne thinks they have more than righted the Office 4.2 wrong with the success and overwhelming praise garnered by subsequent products, including the Best Internet Client Software prize that Outlook Express 5 Macintosh Edition earned at last year’s Macworld Eddy Awards.
To ensure the MacBU continues to respond to Mac users, Microsoft gives the unit almost unprecedented independence. The MacBU chooses the software and features it adds to its products largely based on feedback from Mac users. Considerations about the Microsoft brand name and overall computing platform are secondary, Browne says.
As proof, he cites the decision to integrate database software from FileMaker — a Microsoft competitor — into Macintosh versions of Office rather than Microsoft’s own database software. “With our Macintosh products, the mandate is to do what the customers are asking for today,” Browne says. “Among Macintosh users, FileMaker is king, so adding links to FileMaker’s databases in Mac Office was the right choice for the platform.”
Browne recognizes gaps in Microsoft’s offerings for Mac users and says the MacBU is striving to fill them. He points to Microsoft’s Office software for Macintosh as an example. The success of Office for Mac OS X, he says, is important to the overall success of the new Macintosh platform. But he wants Microsoft to also create Mac software more suited to consumer uses such as writing letters and managing digital photographs, in addition to typical Office tasks such as creating spreadsheets and professional documents.
“With each release, we are trying to listen to what people are telling us and improve on the things they find lacking,” Browne says. “We also are emphasizing those things people have told us they like, such as the drag-and-drop simplicity of installing Microsoft products on Macs and the exclusive features we include in our Mac versions of these products.”
As for Apple fundamentalists who still might question Microsoft’s dedication and ability to create quality software for the Mac, Browne offers a simple challenge: “Just try our products… We plan to keep improving our products and make them the kinds of applications that everyone wants to use on their Macintosh.”