Russell Shaw at ZDNet suggests this morning that a "key" motivation for Apple in releasing the Safari Web browser for the PC was to prime the pump for the rollout of the iPhone, which of course will feature Safari as its built-in Web browser. (Shaw may stretch context a bit when he quotes a more extensive Om Malik post, which suggests that Apple is trying to introduce the masses to its basic interface metaphors through multiple channels, to tear down resistance to out-and-out ditching Windows.)
Seems to me that releasing a browser port as part of a marketing campaign just a few weeks before the launch of a $600 device is, well, pretty sloppy marketing -- and Apple is seldom accused of that. And candidly, very few observers think Apple will have trouble selling the iPhone, massive price tag and slow AT&T network not withstanding.
I tend to agree with Malik to some extent, but I'm also beginning to wonder if this is not simply the first step toward Apple embracing the reality that's looming over all the big traditional tech players -- very soon, computing will be entirely about applications that are delivered online and can run anywhere, independent of OS and hardware compatibility constraints. Our own Rob Enderle blogged recently about how simplified, embedded operating systems are the coming wave; he's not alone in this projection, and I'm increasingly excited.
The idea of holding out any piece of software -- a nifty Web browser, any of the iLife applications, a visually bloated task bar -- in hopes of driving a user to buy your hardware has simply stopped making sense, particularly in the Google era.
A piece I cited yesterday by Computerworld's Michael DeAgonia (I re-read it again this morning) notes that the Safari browser port also comes with a complete Windows version of WebKit, Apple's framework for app Web access in OS X. To quote DeAgonia, "hmmmm." Many observers says that the Safari on PC release is largely aimed at getting developers to write iPhone apps. What it will encourage is the creation of apps that can run happily on the iPhone and Windows -- not a logical move for a company intent on clinging to its closed hardware business.
Ultimately -- and by ultimately, I'm thinking within a decade or so -- the quandary addressed by Malik of getting users, particularly consumers, to make a wholesale switch to a computing platform will be a moot question. The fight will be over which video-purchasing service you use, which video-mail service you use, and -- of course -- what advertising-driven information hub you favor.
As a relapsed Mac guy -- I actually grew up on Macs and bought an old Performa model, before I figured out that no computing device was ever going to make me cool -- I'm actually encouraged by the prospect that I'll increasingly have the option to pick and choose Apple services (and for that matter, anybody's services) as I see fit.
That may not please the Mac fanatics, whose cool-kids-club mentality Shaw blames for much of the anti-Safari backlash, but for the rest of us, it's pretty good news.