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Bill Brown

A complicated man.

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I wasn’t there and IANAD, but the software announcements made at the keynote struck me as worrisome. When Apple pre-empted Watson with its Sherlock program, I brushed it off as Apple’s prerogative because Sherlock 3 was a natural evolution. I wish Apple would have bought him out or licensed it from him, but what are you going to do.

However, the inclusion of robust Samba and Active Directory support, though super terrific and all, leaves little market for Thursby Software, Objective Development, and ADmitMac. Sure, these are all adults: they had to know that their positions weren’t fixed and that they could be displaced by any newcomer with a better widget.

I also understand that including these things with the operating system increases the value and viability of that operating system. But is Macintosh ever going to escape it’s lack of software stigma if Apple keeps taking over developer’s markets? Apple’s bundling of software with the operating system does not establish a de jure barrier to entry, but it would be naive to think that it doesn’t crowd out development. Apple itself should know this well from its experience being drubbed by the 800 lb. software gorilla. Macintosh users are fiercely loyal and usually assume that anything Apple produces is better than the other stuff out there.

I remember when someone was telling me about Roxio’s Toast CD burning software. I’m no audiophile, but I do consider myself a power user. Steve was suggesting that Toast was a better program for many applications and described several examples of what those situations would be. I was flabbergasted. It was inconceivable to me that Apple’s iTunes wouldn’t be the best of breed application. Steve proved it well enough and it has really opened my eyes to re-evaluate all of Apple’s iLife applications.

You have to understand that, as a consumer, I think all of this bundling is wonderful. The less software I have to pay for, the more money I have able for other materialistic ends. But there’s a part of me wondering if Apple’s innovative streak isn’t sucking the winds out of other’s sails and stifling development in other avenues that Steve Jobs regards as wrongheaded.

I like the approach of open-source software in this regard. If you don’t like the way a project is heading, make your case or fork it if comes to that. With Apple (and the other major operating system purveyor), you don’t really have that option. Well, you do, but you’re fighting an uphill battle and the vendor could always come up with a vacuum-inducing app for your market share. If an open-source project founders or the developers lose interest, you can always resurrect it yourself or pay to have it resurrected. If a closed-source vendor does that, you’re pretty much stuck with obsolete software—e.g., Macromedia Spectra.

Steve Jobs, in his keynote today, made several announcements of Panther features that were previously viable apps or could have been viable apps: the new Finder, iChat AV, the iSight, fast user switching, FileVault, Font Book, built-in fax support, and even Xcode. That’s just the stuff that was announced; supposedly there’s over one hundred new features in Panther.

He also took some jabs at developers in the audience. I noted with glee his punchiness with regards to Microsoft, but he also denigrated the iBot team and offered a backhanded compliment to MetroWerks. I bet that there were more than a few developers in the audience who were thinking about Steve’s famous directness and the viability of their business models.

Should Apple focus on core operating system foundations? Probably. It’s made a good business working on it, but it’s the small developers—small being smaller than Apple, which is just about everyone in the audience—that make a platform vital. Microsoft mostly understands this and their MSDN package reveals a lot more detail to the companies in the Windows orbit than Mac developers would dream of. Partly that comes from a greater amount of resources, but it’s also largely cultural. Microsoft releases vaporware and Apple releases, umm, releases and please cease talking about anything that hasn’t been announced publicly.

It’s a very hard task to restrict your gluttonous appetite, but I think that there’s a larger end in sight. The G5 release would have done enough to excite converts; this diversification will inevitably lead to the shuttering of many fine software houses. Perhaps they couldn’t compete, but is it in Apple’s best interests for them to not have the opportunity? I would definitely say that Apple is well within its rights to overwhelm and bully its developer community, but I don’t think it’s the wisest move.