"Dear Don," the letter began, "Why are there so many cool programs, games etc. for PCs (which I thought were for business) and very few for Mac? Your syndicated column today [Oct. 1] at www.suntimes.com about the program which helps you create photo effects [Photo Artist] caused me to write this. It sounded great, until the end of the article when I saw it only good for Windows users. Why is that?"
Market share and perception of the market, for the most part, is determining what software -- if any -- gets written for the Mac. Developers don't want to waste development time and effort on developing directly for the Mac or porting Windows applications (especially games, which are dependent on graphics widgets like DirectX and specific 3-D hardware accelerators not always available on the Mac) if they don't see a healthy dollar return.
The trouble is many of these same developers are also simply not paying attention to what has happened with Apple over the past year. Nor are they paying attention to what is happening with Apple now -- poised as it is to show another big quarter of profits, while boasting the No. 2 best-selling PC in the world with its iMac, a computer that Apple will have to shoot itself in the head not to sell a million of by year's end.
Game, set, match
If I were a developer, I'd like a piece of the gaming action on the iMac or on the new G3 desktops or on the new super-fast G3 PowerBooks. But I wouldn't even know to go for that action if I was working from old data and preconceptions -- the same old data and preconceptions that many of my colleagues in the general press still labor under.
You see, Apple, circa October 1998, simply is not the same company it was a year ago. It has fixed a slew of problems, although its operational goofs and manufacturing missteps still linger. (How could they not be able to fill high-end PowerBook orders for months, for example?) The two most important fixes the company has made are to its image and to its product line.
But despite quantum leaps in marketing, product design and product quality, the perception lingers among customers and developers that the Mac is a second-rate platform that is only worth buying or writing software for targeted reasons.
Apple's move back into the consumer space with the iMac could alter this perception back to the good (from the point of view of Mac folk, that is), but it's gonna need some help from its third parties.
That's why it's time for Microsoft to get serious -- beyond Internet Explorer and Office 98 -- about writing software for the Mac. Microsoft is the attack dog that other software vendors will follow. But it is also time for the big game vendors to get serious about producing a pile of new and ported titles that thrive on the Mac OS.
For both to happen, however, Apple has to keep pushing the iron out the door, fix its remaining production gaffes, and make the Mac platform a no-brainer for its developers.
If I were a betting man, I'd bet that Apple pulls it off.