As we move into the final weeks of Apple's Fiscal Year 1999, should the Mac faithful (OK, I hate that name and its implications, too, so I promise this will be the last time I use it) be happy or sad, hopeful or disheartened, or somewhere in between?
By all accounts it as been a good year to be an owner of a Macintosh computer. Apple, as a company is stronger at the end of this FY than it was at the beginning. You can buy more interesting Macintosh computers now than you could a year ago. You have a better OS than you did a last year with Mac OS 8.6. You have first-rate upgraded systemware, like QuickTime 4.0, to further tie together the entire Macintosh computer experience. And, you've got Mac OS X to look forward to during the first half of calendar 2000.
Although if you are a Mac OS tools and utilities vendor, you might not find the prospect of Mac OS X quite so enticing as do the hoi polloi.
Since the Mac OS X is really a Mach kernel with NeXTStep guts driving a Mac OS compatible set of processes, those same tools and utility vendors are in a world of hurt. As one engineer from Des Moines-based CE Software told me, "unless Apple changes how Mac OS X works with existing 8.6-compatible utilities, we're screwed. QuicKeys just can never work under Mac OS X. Never."
If it were just QuicKeys that would be disabled by Mac OS X, it would be a shame, but not a catastrophe. But Mac OS X's compatibility (or lack, thereof) with a handful of key Mac utilities has been called into question recently. "We know we don't work with Mac OS X or even if our key utilities make sense under Mac OS X," a senior techie at Casady & Greene, makers of such key Mac OS utilities as Conflict Catcher, told me recently.
Indeed, utilities from Mac stalwarts like Connectix, Aladdin Systems, Alsoft, MicroMat, Symantec, and others may not work under Mac OS X (or may not make sense). Utilities that make the Mac a more reliable and stable platform may simply not work under Mac OS X, or they may not be needed.
In the later case, that's a loss for the vendor, but not for Mac consumers, especially if the vendor devotes their energy to creating a new utility that we will need under OS X. In the former case, though, Apple needs to do a better job of working with its utility vendors, since Mac OS utilities have always added to the value proposition of the Mac.
Compared to Windows 98 (which is better than Windows 95 in this regard), the Mac OS has always been more customizable and enhanceable thanks to its OS design. As told by a number of Mac software developers, the design of OS X simply does not allow them as much leeway in improving the OS experience with their own utilities.
While neither Apple nor Macintosh standard computing will live or die because QuicKeys, RAMDoubler, SpeedDoubler, Conflict Catcher, or other utilities can't run under Mac OS X, it is another brick in the wall that keeps Apple and Mac users away from the computing mainstream.
Let's hope Apple does a better job of communicating with its utilities and tool vendors about these OS X developer issues (which, to date, Apple has done a dismal job of doing) from now until the release of OS X.