Compete With What?

August 3rd, 2006

Paul Kafasis from Rogue Amoeba made some interesting observations about the possible impact virtualization could have on Mac developers.

Virtualization is technology, rumored to be present in the forthcoming 10.5 release of Mac OS X, that would allow Windows applications to run natively and transparently in the Mac environment. Paul’s thoughtful analysis reveals that Mac users will benefit because of the increased flexibility, and Windows developers will benefit because of the new potential market. Where does that leave Mac developers? I definitely think Apple should spend at least a few hundred thousand dollars researching this on our behalf. Protect us, Apple! Still, the threat of Windows developers suddenly having access to our customers doesn’t scare me too much.

Such an outcome wouldn’t increase the competition so much as the noise. Look at the situation today on the Mac. It’s relatively easy (in my not-so-humble, unproven opinion) to identify products on the market that can be vastly improved upon, put in the hours to build a better solution, and market it directly to the customers. The problem even today is not “being better than the competition,” but reaching the customers who give a damn about your being better. This basic rule won’t change with an influx of new developers.

Take some popular class of application as an example: the 2D vector art editor application. There are at least 10, probably 100 of these apps available on the Mac, and they range in quality from developer examples like Sketch to expensive commercial apps like Illustrator.

Of these 10 or 100 existing apps on the Mac today, I’m guessing from my experiments that only about 2 or 3 are actually really useful. Therefore the competition pool is only 2 or 3 products, regardless of how much noise there is.

Now with virtualization we’d probably get 1 or 2 additional “really useful” apps, although their usefulness would probably be diminished by their Windows-esque UI. Anyway we’d also get probably 10-times as many “non-competitors.” More noise. These products attract users’ attentions but don’t ultimately satisfiy them. So they make it harder for the user to identify your working product.

On a side-note, one could consider the opening up of Mac OS X to linux/unix as a test-run of such a strategy. Essentially for the past 5 years, Linux developers have had open access to the vast installed base of Mac users, but they haven’t made much headway in driving Mac developers out of business. I think it’s reasonable to assume that if Mac users are not interested in free alternatives that don’t cut muster, then they will be even harder to woo with paid ones.

Bottom line? Optimistically I think that better products will win. The problem is cutting through the noise, and technology seems to be on our side. The growing popularity of blogs and “peer editorializing” seems like a natural match for promoting quality products and thereby elevating them from among the noisy ineffective ones. To the Mac developer’s advantage, there are already complex systems in place for distributing Mac propaganda. The online news sites and download trackers that many Mac users frequent are going to be hesitant to embrace and recommend lackluster Windows software – because they themselves are Mac users who know the benefits of native software.

Even if we assumed that the best Windows developers could acquire Mac style, and truly understood what Mac users want, their Windows apps will always be at a disadvantage on the Mac platform. The trend from Apple is increasingly to differentiate Mac OS X by adding technologies with a system-wide impact. Spotlight integration, for instance, will likely not come for free with a “virtualized” Windows app. Furthermore, the development tools and APIs from Apple are getting more and more powerful all the time, in ways that are precisely tuned to work well with differentiating features of Mac OS X. It wouldn’t just be difficult for Windows developers to try to compete with this, it would be a colossal waste of their time!

It’s easy for me to be cavalier about this because I don’t yet make my living from direct software sales, but I’m inclined to think that Windows developers, with their platform-inappropriate styles and habits, will have a hard time competing against Mac developers – even the worst of us.

Bring on the crappy software! It can only make ours shine brighter.

12 Responses to “Compete With What?”

  1. Johnmcl Says:

    Nicely put.

    When the whole concept of virtualization came up I worried about the ‘OS/2’ death (OS/2 could run win apps in a little box. It was the perfect excuse for developers to not develop OS/2 native versions which ultimately helped lead to it’s demise)

    The difference was that OS/2 didn’t have the user community, developer community or aesthetics OSX has. My current thinking (in line with you) is that allowing windows to run in a window is a good thing. I think the average person will quickly start to realize that ‘yes, I can run this windows app I’ve used for years on my Mac but, wow, the Mac equivalent is so much better’ — In the cases where this doesn’t hold true (for example I think Picasa on windows is better than iPhoto on Mac) it will open up opportunities for enterprising developers.

  2. Andrew Says:

    Top attitude mate… Bring it on.

  3. amaksym1 Says:

    Compete With What?…


  4. Dave Parizek Says:

    While it may work out great, it is a huge huge huge gamble though. If it gives some of the major developers an excuse not to develop separately for the Mac, and /or if it discourages (even a bit) innovative independent Mac development, then instead of increasing market share it could decrease it! –Even to the point making such a decision could lead to the demise of the Mac. Making a double or nothing bet seems like a stupid move for a company riding high like Apple right now. Why take such a risk? The risk / reward scenario doesn’t seem sensible to me.

    If it does work to increase market share, then the best products will win, giving Mac developers an advantage, and an opportunity to maybe double their market. One of the advantages of developing on the Mac will get harder – marketing – maybe – because of all the extra noise. One of the things I hate about Windows is just that finding software that does what I want is so much harder just because you have to wade into so much more noise = super time consuming and annoying…

  5. Simone Manganelli Says:

    Interesting and intriguing argument. The point, however, is moot, because Phil Schiller has already publicly denied that Leopard will include virtualization technology, saying it would expend way too many resources.

  6. Jeff Says:

    One key thing to remember is that virtualisation will *not* re-layout any dialog windows that an application creates. Its not possible for the system to magically switch a Windows BUTTON control with an OSX button control without the dimensions changing, or the look and feel being crap.

    Native Mac applications will look like production software, Windows apps will look like either (a) Windows apps or (b) really badly written shareware (you know the kind I mean)

  7. Nathaniel Says:

    I don’t think it’s much of a risk, much less anything like OS/2. The problem with OS/2 was that aside from a few major applications and utilities, there were no native applications available for most users to compare. So they wound up running Windows apps and never saw any advantages that native apps could bring.

    The Mac is as much the opposite of that situation as could be possible. There is no other non-windows system that has as many fully-finished, polished and well-integrated apps as the Mac OS. It will be easy for users to download a Mac program and a Windows program and run them side by side and if they both have comparable features, the value of a native app will be clear.

    The only situation where users won’t do this, and where developers might make windows-only software is in areas where nobody makes Mac software anyways. If you have the choice between a Windows app and no app at all, of course the choice is clear — just as it was with OS/2. But if you have the choice of a native app vs a non-native app, you basically have the existing situation with much Java software.

    If the Java app is dramatically better than a native app, or if the Java app is the only solution avilable, obviously you’ll use it. But if both java and native apps are avilable with similar feature sets, the native app almost always wins in the market. There’s no reason to expect this situation would be any different at all if we replaced Java with Win32 apps.

  8. Adrian Says:

    I think Nathaniel has missed Dave’s point…

    What would happen for example, if Adobe (or Microsoft) decided not to develop a native version of something like Photoshop (or Office), instead figuring that as they have no real competition people will still be forced to use their software whether it is native or not… I think it is probably at that end of the market that this biggest concern lies…

    In my field there are lots of (crappy) apps with no Mac equivalents so even though it I hate using them the advent of Windows-on-Mac is a very helpful thing… just as long as the gamble pays off.

  9. Chucky Says:

    I agree with Simone that this is a moot point.

    However, were it actually to occur, the effects would be far more dire than Daniel realizes. The destruction of OS X would be much slower than the destruction of OS/2, because of the base of loyal users. But effective built-in virtualization would make Windows software a hit with new users, and cross-platform versions of big commercial software would die off pretty rapidly.

    Over time, many OS X users would be running many Windows apps. And because of this, the competitive advantage of native software would massively erode.

    The real danger for OS X developers would be what would happen in 3 years, not in 6 months.


    I think this is unlikely to happen not only because of Schiller’s statement, but also because of what Steve values. Determining WSV is a crucial element in Apple predictions. And I don’t think Steve is interested in seeing the extinction of all of his Mac OS / NeXTSTEP / OS X gui heritage, even if you could make the (debatable) argument that it would make financial sense for Apple.

  10. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Lately, my feeling has been that Adobe is dropping the ball. As I play around with various Mac OS X “native” applications that are capable of pushing PDF to the clipboard, for instance, I’m increasingly annoyed by the fact that Adobe apps of all suspects are slow or incapable of correctly accepting PDF pastes. I recently wrote a Nodebox-based script to copy graphics to the clipboard as PDF. I thought I’d use Photoshop to composite the final result, but it was way too slow and unfriendly. I finally opened the base image in Pages of all thing, and pasted my PDF clipboard annotations in without fuss.

    This is actually a great example of how everything “old” is falling behind and everything new, compatible with Apple’s development standards, is moving ahead. I long for a Cocoa-savvy equivalent to Photoshop. It’s getting creakier with every passing day.

  11. Rhonabwy » Blog Archive » my WWDC predictions Says:

    […] I suspect Paul is overly concerned in his fears about what Virtualization will do to the platform, I’m a little more with Daniel in his opinions. Of course, what I want it for is to run a light linux system to check through my own release processes… Yeah, I’ll get a copy of Windows on there somewhere, but frankly, that’s not as important to me. Karen on the other hand… she’s really excited about it – but at this point I think she’d be just as happy with Boot Camp. […]

  12. Mark Says:

    If the windows devs do raise their game and manage to bring mac style to their apps, surely this is good for the market and what is good for the market is good for the consumer.

    However if you’re asking windows devs to actually develop a stylish version to run under emulation, whilst you may not have to redevelop code because of whatever lepoard voodoo is taking care of that, you’re still going to have to bring a second UI. Is this then still asking them to run parallel development which they’ve been avoiding all along anyway.

    If they don’t think the mac platform is a worth market to develop an entire second package, will they merely for a different UI ?

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