Special Report: Developers jumping back to Mac

"We're jumping ship from Wintel back to Mac."
Written by Lisa M. Bowman, Contributor

It seems the flow of developers has been so strong in the other direction - from Mac to Wintel - in recent years, it's hard to believe this former Apple and NeXT developer when he says he plans to swim upstream. But after listening to developers at Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, California this week, it seems that currents are changing.

"They've done a couple of things that have made me waver, but all in all, I think they're back," said developer Stephen Cravey with the Houston-based start-up, LeapWare. Lee Brintle, a developer with US middleware company, Leapfrog said he's coming home to Mac after defecting to Wintel for a while. "A lot of guys were jumping ship," he said. "They didn't want to be the last guy left aboard turning the lights out. Not any more."

Apple's return to profitability is the biggest reason for the renewed faith in the company. Both Apple executives and independent developers are quick to tell you that. "Whenever we talked to developers and asked them, 'What's the most important thing we can do to help you?' " said Avie Tevanian, Apple's vice president of software, "they said, 'Become profitable.' Because that will help everyone feel the company is viable, and they'll buy more Macs." Carlos Maldonado, a developer with the Institute of Technology in Monterrey, Mexico, agreed with that sentiment. "It ensures the future of the company," he said. "You can trust this company won't sink."

With two quarters of profitability under its belt, Apple is luring back developers. This year's conference attracted about 3,500 of them. And those folks are key to the company's future. Although it's introduced a series of funky new machines in recent weeks - including the snazzy iMac - the company is sunk if users can't find the software to run on them.

The company did try to placate developers this week with promises of its new Mac OS X, due to ship in fall of 1999. The platform will combine the underlying features of the upcoming Rhapsody OS with the Mac OS 8. The announcement will make it easier for Apple heavyweights such as Adobe to tailor their programs to the new OS without rewriting a lot of code. Such companies were going to have to do major overhauls of some applications to make them compatible with Rhapsody. At the same time, smaller companies gearing up for the Rhapsody release will be able to continue what they were doing all along.

Still, some longtime users and developers are scarred from the roller coaster ride they've taken with the company. They want so badly to believe that Apple's back, but they need more proof, increased revenues, more unit sales. "I think there's still a little bit of skepticism," said Shirley Grant, of the Council for Education Technology, who came all the way from Glasgow, Scotland, to her first developers conference. "We're hopeful, but we're waiting to see what happens."

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