Comment: What’s behind the Windows Safari?

Steve Jobs has sprung more surprises than Cilla Black at conference keynotes over the years, but his latest decision to foist the Safari browser into the already crowded Windows platform leaves one big question: what the hell is Apple playing at?

Comment: What's behind the Windows Safari?

Web browsers are no money spinners: just ask Netscape. So without any clear financial incentive, why would Apple go to the bother and expense of pitting Safari against the long-established Internet Explorer and the increasingly popular Firefox?

It’s not even popular in Mac circles: last month 30% of the people who visited our sister-site MacUser were running Mac OS, but only 3% were running Safari. If Safari can only tempt a tenth of Mac loyalists, what hope has it got in the Windows world?

There are several theories on Apple’s motives:

1. It’s smoothing the transition to the iPhone, which will also boast Safari. This is the most plausible theory, but is using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut. Lack of familiarity with the browser is hardly likely to put someone off buying an iPhone. It’s not as if the Safari interface is wildly different to any other browser. At best, it will provide browser continuity across an iPhone user’s different devices, and allow plug-ins to work across all platforms.

2. Apple wants to give Microsoft a bloody nose. Anyone who witnessed the recent Jobs/Gates keynote would be forgiven for thinking the pair were about to elope. But having spotted that Firefox has created a sizable dent in IE’s market share, perhaps Jobs has seen an opportunity to further erode the old foe’s dominance?

What’s more, by gaining a foothold in the Windows market, Apple may be able to convince web software developers, online banks and the like to make their sites compatible with Safari.

Yet if Jobs thinks Safari will replicate iTunes’ success on Windows, he’s deluded. It was the iPod that drove adoption of iTunes, not the strength of the software. Safari doesn’t have a killer application behind it.

3. It’s paving the way for Mac OS X on PCs. With iTunes and now Safari freely available to PC owners, is Apple attempting to hook users on its software with the long-term goal of moving Mac OS X to the PC? After all, now that Macs run on Intel processors, it wouldn’t take much effort to port the OS across.

Yet, this still seems highly unlikely. Mac OS X is the jewel in Apple’s crown – make it cross platform and the only thing that differentiates Mac hardware is its pristine design.

What do you think Apple’s motives for moving to Windows are? Add your comments below.

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