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How Apple, Not Microsoft, is Tech's Biggest Bully


Customers have taken a back seat to Apple's business clout.

What a difference a decade makes.

Back in the late-'90s, Microsoft (MSFT) was widely regarded as the biggest bully in tech -- and understandably so. Commanding unbeatable market shares in operating systems, computer gaming, and web browsing, Gates and Co. were able to rule the Silicon Valley playground from Redmond, Washington -- choosing who it lends its toys to and who even gets to play at all. Development was sloppy, support fell by the wayside, and user requests were barely noticed.

Because of its egregious behavior, Microsoft became the target of extensive litigation and was slammed with monopoly accusations and antitrust cases. As such, it fired back with equal vigor, confidently defending itself without fixing what was already broken.

While Microsoft still leads in the computing sectors, its persistent consumer neglect over the last few years has led much of its fan base away to greener pastures -- mainly to a company that claims to hold convenience and usability as its highest regards. The thorn in Microsoft's side for years is currently referred to as the company to beat, the one with the muscle, the leading name in tech.

And now, Apple (AAPL) is well on its way of becoming the headstrong, yet vulnerable Microsoft of the late-'90s.

With its Google grudge match, FCC investigation, App Store dictatorship, and senseless product abandonment, Apple has adopted the similar air of untouchable superiority -- dictating which companies and products pass through its walls at the expense of accessibility and, ultimately, the user.

On Monday, Photoshop peddler Adobe Systems (ADBE) announced its much-anticipated Flash Player 10.1 will be available by year-end or early-2010 for a slew of smartphones. BlackBerry (RIMM), Palm (PALM), Google Android (GOOG), Windows Mobile, and Nokia (NOK) phones will all be able to access virtually any Flash-based site and run without any hiccup or glitch.

Can you guess who the holdout is?

Despite reported collaboration between Adobe and Apple, Flash continues to be the bane of iPhone users -- for very good reason. Countless sites implement Flash into their design -- and have done so for years -- which leaves iPhone users in the lurch should they want to access them while on the go.

Tech analysts are racking their brains as to why Apple continuously denies its customers this basic function. Daniel Ionescu at PCWorld gives three possible reasons: Apple is betting on a different standard (namely HTML 5), iPhone's conflicting OS won't allow Flash compatibility, or Apple simply doesn't want Flash on the iPhone. And Larry Dignan at ZDNet proposes it might be a security issue.

Whichever the reason may be, the public outcry for Flash on the iPhone is too loud to ignore, and yet Apple continues to do so while touting other iPhone features -- ones which are steadily bleeding into competing smartphones.

Sound familiar?

Pushing the imperious Microsoft analogy even further, this week Apple is once again threatening to sue another company over allegations that the company's logo is too similar to its own. Australian supermarket chain Woolworths finds itself in the scope of the mighty litigious brand over its stylized W apple, which Apple considers congruent enough that "consumers may not be able to differentiate between the two brands."

Funny, it didn't seem to be a problem when Apple used a similar logo to Apple Records -- which The Beatles founded in 1968.

The bad press against Apple has grown exponentially this year -- almost to the point of overshadowing the breakthrough advancements the company has made in its computer and mobile device lines. Its user base has grown tired of its stubborn and unwavering exclusivity. What will it take for Apple to finally wise up, open its doors, and allow more access to its resources and products?

Well, let's just see how Windows 7 does this month.
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