Apple's and Microsoft's secret pact for tech domination

15 years ago, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates agreed to let Apple own the client and Microsoft the back end to thwart antitrust probes, newly discovered emails say

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At the same time, Apple licensed key back-end technology from Microsoft, adopting Exchange ActiveSync in both iOS and OS X, instantly making Exchange servers the preferred security and management system for mobile devices. Apple competitors like Google's Android and, in early 2013, BlackBerry adopted EAS, as did Microsoft Exchange rivals IBM Lotus and Novell GroupWise, cementing Microsoft's monopoly server monopoly. Also, Microsoft held back from exploiting EAS fully on Windws Phone for sveeral years, again giving Apple devices the client-side advantage while preserving its back-end dominance.

Apple has also cleared the path for Microsoft's dominance in office productivity software, providing its iWork suite that is cheaper than Office but not as full-functioned. Office remains the main productivity suite for OS X, and Apple has not provided a significant update to iWork in four years. Apple's iWork dominates on iOS (though, perhaps complicating the Apple-Microsoft arrangement, Google's Quickoffice has provided a major challenge), while Microsoft has been absent with a good version of Office on even its own Windows Phone platform. Perhaps that suggests any agreement on preserving Office's dominance didn't extend to mobile devices, or the shoe has yet to drop. After all, the latest version of Office 365 now works reasonably well on the iPad, and some pundits have suggested that the lack of Office on iOS lets it appear as if Microsoft has at least one competitive advantage for its Windows 8 tablets.

The pattern is very clear: Microsoft's competitive responses to Apple client technology has been both late and inadequate, marketing hype aside, enabling the shift now under way from Windows PC to Macs and iPads. Apple's adoption of Microsoft back-end technology and limited competition with Office has not only neutralized Microsoft's back-end competitors but given Microsoft nearly full control of that market.

This pattern supports the apparent intent of the secret Jobs-Gate agreement. Antitrust concerns around Microsoft in the United States have evaporated, while Apple and Microsoft have solidified their positions in complementary segments of the technology industry. That's not proof of a secret agreement to divide the market, but it makes for a convincing argument.

Just in case it's not clear by now: April Fools!

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