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Safari for Windows… but WHY?

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Steve Jobs & Company must have known that releasing a Safari browser for the Windows platform was going to result in some serious blowback: vulnerabilities, outrage and of course, the mocking. And as expected, the digerati responded with scorn and outrage.

John Lilly, COO of Mozilla, didn’t mince any words when he mocked Jobs vision of a Safari-IE duopoly. “Steve asserted Monday that Safari on Windows will overturn history, attract 100M new users, and revert the world to a 2 browser state. That remains to be seen, of course. But don’t bet on it,” he wrote. [digg=]

However, the big question is why would Apple attempt such a thing?


After all, even Mozilla’s Firefox with all the community and developer support, Google dollars and the buzz hasn’t been able to unseat Microsoft from the top of the browser perch.

The “why Safari for Windows” question has been on our minds ever since the announcement was made. There are several theories out there, though none of them quite convincing.

Challenging Microsoft and developing Apple suite of Web Apps are two that are also doing the rounds, though our dotMac experience doesn’t inspire much confidence in Apple’s web app abilities. Some suggest that this could easily add and additional $25-to-$50 million in revenues via a deal with search engine like Google.

Robert Cringley, in his latest migraine inducing and interesting polemic suggests that AT&T is the real reason why Jobs & Co., released Safari. He points out that Jobs wants to sell AT&T not only the iPhone, but also Apple TV as a set-top box and anything the New AT&T wants in order to paper over its lack of bandwidth problems.

Shiny Apple things can help buyers overlook the fact that AT&T is currently behind the faster cable connections when it comes to offering higher speeds, and its 3G network is still a shadow of Verizon and Sprint’s 3G networks. Still it is hard to believe that Ma Bell will let AppleTV cannibalize its multi-billion dollar investments in U-Verse IPTV service. Cringley, however still doesn’t offer a convincing answer to the question:

Why did Apple really release Safari browser for Windows?

My guess is rather simplistic – in fact too simplistic.

Apple is looking for switchers: people who just are fed-up of PCs and want Macs, but are not ready to make the jump because they are not familiar with the UI and the interface. Every time I ask someone why aren’t you switching to a Mac, they show fear of having to relearn everything. What if Apple gives out small doses of Apple experience, slowly trying to overcome their fear of re-learning?

How about this: there are nearly 300 million people who have downloaded the iTunes software and most are running it on their PCs, and not everyone of those millions owns an iPod. Most of them know the Library Browser metaphor (CoverFlow) and the iTunes interface.
Safari for Windows offers gives people a chance to try web browsing. (Apparently a million copies have been downloaded in first 48 hours, so there is interest in this browser.) When the iPhone launches, there is going to be huge crush of curious onlookers who while may not buy an iPhone, are likely to idle over to the Macs and find something familiar, thus making them overcome their fear of switching.

PS: I am sure, my theory won’t make much sense to you all, but I would love to hear your reasons.

77 Responses to “Safari for Windows… but WHY?”

  1. It may be Google ad revenue, it may be a warm Welcome! to potential switchers, it may be a test environment for Windows-based developers (are therean left ;-) ), but I think the big plan is something different …

    The SDK for the iPhone is no SDK. The platform is Safari. So every iPhone “app” will work on Mac OSX and now on Windows too.

    It’s a new incarnation of Java’s motto “write-once-run-everywhere”.

    Bye egghat.

  2. Ami Ganguli

    One possible issue is the coming ogg video codec in Firefox 3 and (I think) Opera.

    If Ogg becomes widely supported, then the main video standards on the web will be Windows Media and Ogg. There’s very little room for three widely supported standards, so Quicktime will probably suffer.

    … Ami.

  3. I also Agree with Marc, but more specifically, they want to make sure that develeopers are writing code for Safari into their sites. Not just because of an iPhone, how many people actually do heavy surfing on a thing without a keyboard. This is more than about JUST the iPhone, Steve Jobs is not happy that Bill Gates took his cookie away, and now that Bill Gates is moving on to better things in life, Steve Jobs will try to take back what was originally his, the PC. I wonder how many chairs will be thrown then?

  4. This decision left me scratching my head as well. But I’ve taken it a bit further. Everyone is questioning why Apple has developed a windows version of Safari, but is it even smart/necessary fro Apple develop a browser for the mac platform (or even Microsoft developing IE for Windows)? Where is the revenue stream in developing a browser? Why not cede the market to the independents in Mozilla, Camino, and Opera? They offer a superior products for free and I’m sure Apple could edit version of the upcoming Firefox Mobile for the iphone. More here:

  5. If there were a bunch of Apple Web apps that only worked (or only worked well) under Safari, would that explain this move?

    If they come out 6 or 12 months from now, isn’t Apple’s Windows browser a necessary step now anyway?

  6. I think Marc hit the nail on the head.

    As an aside, all the years I worked in sales & marketing, I became pretty good at reading “casual” remarks + body language. Watching The Steve comment on .mac, I think there’s more to come down that avenue, as well. For computers not the iPhone.

    Like many newbies to the Mac side of the OS street, I slid into using iBlog+.mac for my personal blog. It’s so damned easy, I stayed with it. Since Monday and the WWDC, Apple must have started applying more server horsepower to .mac. Publishing runs noticeably faster.

    I agree with Om that .mac is a poor 2nd cousin – but, let’s see if the Google influence continues to grow.

  7. Eddie has the developer issue dead on. A big part of this is getting web apps designed to work on Safari, which ties into the repeated emphasis on the iPhone having a full version of Safari.

    As with iTunes, it can enable people to use common functions across a PC and an iPhone. People get used to using Safari on the computer and their phone, which further ties them to Apple. It makes the iPhone more valuable. It makes the switch from PC to Mac easier.

  8. Also: perhaps most of the iPhone interface is based on safari (even Apple said at the WWDC that the best way to build apps for the phone would be developing web sites), thus (who knows) we may even see a Safari for windows mobile mimicking (part of) the iPhone interface or a windows based development tool for the iPhone….

  9. Dumb question – how many windows apps rely upon IE for web connectivity? Could a dual platform (dual browser) OS goal by Apple require a similar internet link?

    This isn’t a browser war, it is an OS interoperability war and Jobs let the cat out of the bag during the D5 interview that Apple really is a software company first, using great hardware to support it.

    Could Apple be using a browser (bundled with Quicktime and iTunes) as another incremental step to get more developer support ahead of the coming of a PC version of OS X? Hope so.

  10. I’ve explained why I think they are doing so right after they released Safari at my blog so I assume I must be the first person with this view, if not the only. First, OSX isn’t nearly as secure as Windows becuase it’s not in the hands of poor Russian 15 year olds who have nothing better to do than try to hack systems so they can earn money. Second, the browser is the most easily hacked vector into the browser. When porting Safari over to Windows, Apple is “Hardening” their browser and will keep doing so until they feel comfortable releasing the real monster, OSX86, to best buy as a software package that users can upgrade and build all themselves. Of course you’ll still have the option of buying a very cool looking hand crafted Mac from Apple, but folks like me with two video cards will be able to boot into OSX as well.

  11. Apple released Safari for Windows to encourage development of web-based apps for the iPhone. And, at least three web-based iPhone apps have been released this week. So, the strateg may work.

    Converting IE or FireFox users to Safari or getting more web developers to test their work with Safari are just gravy, just icing on the cake. The iPhone is what made this happen and what really matters when it comes to Safari.

    Marc :-)

  12. I think you are missing the #1 candidate for the reason behind Safari for Windows: iPhone.

    Remember that iPhone uses Safari 3 engine behind the scenes, all over the UI. Also, they are allowing web apps as a first-and-half class application on iPhone.

    So, this is why: Safari IS THE SDK ‘LIGHT’, targeting the wider audience of developers in the world.

    Now, if you want to develop for iPhone, you just need Safari… ;)

  13. I think the reason to release the Windows Safari is even simpler than that.
    Apple needs to have Safari working right on the majority of the sites on the Web, specially the Web 2.0 applications.
    What is the best way to increase the relevance of the Safari platform?

  14. I saw if first on Gizmodo but it’s all around the place. The most logical reason for me is that if “3rd party apps” on the iPhone are going to be AJAX web apps viewed through the iPhone’s embedded Safari browser, your development options are going to be limited if only Mac users have access to Safari.

    Give Safari to Windows developers and you’ve just vastly increased your potential developer pool. If the iPhone eventually takes off on the Windows platform as well as the iPod has, Windows developers are going to want to get their web apps on the iPhone.

    This fits nicely for me. It also has the side-benefit of attracting the Mac-curious like me who are seriously considering making their next computer a Mac but just haven’t fully committed yet (actually, I have committed – I just haven’t been able to justify a new computer to my wife yet :> )

  15. To ensure website/Web 2.0 compatibility
    In a world where websites are becoming even more important and with Web 2.0 and AJAX are now becoming complicated applications.

    As a Safari Mac user I’m very used of sites missing features (Gmail on Safari is missing Google Talk integration etc. etc.) and whilst it may be that Safari doesn’t support all the hooks that FF2 and IE7 has I’m sure that the simple fact that a lot of devs in companies (or at least the media companies I’ve worked on) work on Windows.

    So I think that it’s common for people to check IE7 and FF compatibility but not Safari compatibility. I worked on the website of a major UK broadcaster and we didn’t routinely check the site for Macs… As to why, I don’t know – a lot of people there were just Windows heads.

    But if these same devs can just fire up Safari on Windows, making their site work for Macs without a Mac is easy enough.

    For use in iTunes?
    In the age of Web 2.0 the iTunes Store pages are looking a bit tired – so if you have a cross platform web engine that could be used in iTunes and have lots of fancy web 2.0 things going on, that might be quite useful…

    And yes, I think that the ‘taste of a Mac on Windows’ will be important too – problem is that if you don’t like IE7, FF2 is so good that Safari is a bit superfluous to requirements…

  16. I choose to accept the most simple explanations. I think it is about the web browsing experience on Mac and the iPhone.

    There are still lots of sites that do not work well with Safari, and Apple encourages users and developers to report those sites so it can go to the developer to fix the problems.

    I suspect Apple must spend a lot of time on this problem and is concerned about the web browsing experience with Safari. By releasing Safari on Windows, they get a potentially much bigger audience using Safari for a relatively small investment. And more Safari hits in the web server logs will encourage web site developers to be more Safari friendly.

    By the way, John Gruber suggests there is a lot of money to be made from the Google search referrals

    So, Apple must spend money on Safari for Windows development, but they get revenue from Google search referrals and if the share of Safari increases, they reduce the amount of “web site bugs” that get reported and the amount of time their developers must test those and work with the site developers to get them fixed.

    Seems like a pretty good investment return.

  17. The main reason is that for Safari to work as the 3rd party app platform, web applications need to work with it. Currently, a lot of web apps do not work with Safari. Releasing Safari 3 to windows platform gives web apps developers as testing platform (there are far more developers on Windows machines than Macs).

    Secondly, the hope is that Safari can gain marketshare to make it worthwhile to web app developers to make their apps work with Safari.

  18. Personally, I doubt Jobs and Co actually expect to pick up significant share — or convince PC users to switch to a Mac based on the Safari experience.

    The key is the iPhone, where the entire ‘3rd party API’ consists of it running full Safari. By making Safari easily available to PC developers they’ve effectively provided an environment for them to write iPhone apps without needing to buy a mac or iPhone just to see if it will work. I think they could just have easily labelled it ‘iPhone widget tester for PCs’.

  19. Cringley is a bit of a madman. Apple isn’t going to be able to co-opt AT&T. I think loads of people have somehow missed that the Safari 3 announcement was made at a DEVELOPER’s conference. The target audience was DEVELOPERs.

    Obviously Om Malik and Cringley and many others are not developers. If you guys were developers then you’d understand why Safari 3 is so critical and strategic to Apple’s ecosystem.

  20. I think it’s obvious they need to get windows developers on the iPhone train, and Safari will probably be needed for testing apps.

    They don’t really care about average users (at least for now…)