Microsoft Can Learn from Its Big Mac Sales

My Microsoft Watch colleague Joe Wilcox is reporting today on some rather eye-catching Apple/Microsoft numbers:

“Here’s a big number: 20 percent of Microsoft Office’s U.S retail sales are the Mac version, according to NPD. Here’s another: Mac users account for 10 percent of retail Windows Vista Business and Ultimate sales.”

It doesn’t surprise me that Office for the Mac sells well. There aren’t many alternatives to Office for OS X—Apple’s recently rounded-out iWork ’08 is still rather young, and doesn’t yet fit as neatly with OS X as it does with Linux or Windows.

What’s more, like the rest of us, Mac users live in a thoroughly Microsoft-dominated computing environment, so picking up a copy of Office along with your shiny new Mac probably strikes switchers as a safe bet.

What I find more interesting is the volume of Windows Vista buyers who appear to be picking up a copy of Windows to run under VMware Fusion or Parallels Workstation for sort of a mega-lifeline to Windows.

In his post, Joe asks whether it’s smart for Microsoft to aid Apple’s cause by continuing to build software for OS X. I contend that Microsoft would be better off if it did just the opposite—start worrying less about owning users’ computing environments and start focusing on selling people what they want on the platforms of their choice.

If OS X, with its estimated 5 percent market share, can account for 20 percent of Office’s retail sales, and if a significant share of Vista purchases are going to users who wish to run the OS simply as a virtualized application layer, it’s worth asking how many dollars Microsoft is leaving on the table by limiting its cross-platform efforts.

I know that I’ve been enticed at times by Microsoft Office, just not enough to quit using Linux on my home and work systems. For instance, when Office 2003 came out, I was enamored with Infopath, but I couldn’t get past the application’s platform limitations.

As a result, I more or less forgot about Infopath, and today, people are wondering why no one’s heard of the application.