Mac software makers must always look over their shoulders, waiting for the moment when Apple will disrupt their business model. With the annual Macworld Expo on the horizon — often the place where such bad news is first heard — what are some of the software categories that may receive Apple's attention?
As I wrote earlier this month, Apple's venerable Sherlock search application is really dead. I mentioned the scandal that surrounded the introduction of Sherlock 3.0; it stirred up the community by competing directly against Watson, a third-party product released less than a year before by a small developer named Karelia.
So, I was surprised to hear Sherlock used as a verb in a recent Mac Software Business podcast from the Mac Developer Network. The host, Steve Scott, talked with developers Marcus Zarra of Zarra Studios (the maker of the seSales POS point-of-sale software) and Gus Mueller of Flying Meat (the maker of VoodooPad among others). Scott was asking if developers should sell a range of products rather than focusing on a single title.
Here's the exchange from the podcast:
Zarra: "You're safer with a portfolio of applications. Some day you're going to get Sherlocked — Apple is going to come out with a competing product. Even though it's a hit product, all your sales are going to disappear because there's a free version from the mother ship."
Mueller: "Sherlock is the perfect example, and [Karelia] then getting hit again with iWeb. Another recent example is Time Machine. You have no idea if Apple is going to come out with something that people are going to go for."
As the pair mentioned in the podcast, Karelia has survived two such "Sherlock" lightning strikes, one with Sherlock and the other for iWeb, which somewhat competes against Karelia's current Sandvox CSS authoring tool. (BTW: Sandvox wins the duel.)
But what companies and products will Apple Sherlock this year?
Here are a few guesses at software categories that are likely (or unlikely) targets:
WMA support. A very plug-in for QuickTime is the Flip4Mac Windows Media Components for QuickTime. It lets users play Windows Media files (.wma and .wmv) in the browser as well as in a Mac OS X player application.
These files are also produced by many portable flash recording devices used by businesses. I have one myself and it's a multistep process getting audio into iTunes.
In addition, anything that helps switchers from Windows may be on the minds of Apple marketing and sales managers.
Housekeeping applications. One issue Mac users ask when looking at upgrading to Leopard is what can be done with all the garbage floating around their current system. There are lots of bits and pieces of code from installations past and just ancient stuff.
There are a number of commercial and shareware products that can examine questionable files and even automate their removal, such as Noodlesoft's popular Hazel. It uses a rules-based interface to create filters that can trash or archive documents and files.
This is a category that Apple might move into, since it's a natural companion to Time Machine. Housekeeping lets you clear out space quickly and Time Machine can recover any files that you shouldn't have tossed.
Security. While the original Mac OS as well as Mac OS X have flown seemingly forever under the malware radar, Apple may want to be seen to be more proactive about security.
Microsoft Exchange client. Yes, I know that real Exchange support won't be Sherlocked, but a fellow can dream, right?
Apple keeps sending signals that its customers can do without Microsoft Office. Its iWork suite has addressed some parts of the competition, but not all the pieces, especially support for Exchange servers. The Mail and iCal sync with Exchange is a joke; I've never found them to be reliable.
At the same time, Microsoft's level of Exchange support for the Mac has been terrible. There's no hint of "feature parity" when compared with the "real" Windows Exchange client Outlook. But users have complained about performance and antiquated code.
For example, here's a slice of a recent post on tracking down a troublesome memory leak from the blog of John Nack, a senior engineer at Adobe Systems:
I've traced the problem, I think, to Microsoft Entourage and Rosetta. I can boot up my system & see a nice big swath of unused memory (all green) ready to rock. Almost immediately, however, the blue "inactive" memory slice starts ticking upwards, at a rate of several megabytes per second. I rebooted my machine this week, then took a shower; when I was done, here's what I saw (note the blue). I'm running just a Web browser on a system with 3GB of RAM, and yet I'm down to 16MB free? Super!
The problem seems to be that the invisible Entourage "Database Daemon" app bleeds memory like a stuck pig. Killing the process arrests the inexorable growth of the blue inactive memory. I don't know whether the fault lies with Entourage or with the Apple Rosetta emulation technology on which it runs. Doesn't matter much to me, though: my expensive computer bogs terribly as a result.
Right, it doesn't matter. If it's Entourage, it's a shame; and there's no good reason why an important app such as Entourage should still be using Rosetta.
Microsoft's Mac Business Unit expects to change this situation with the introduction of Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac at the Macworld Expo in January. The GM was released to manufacturing mid-December, so it will happen on the show floor.
The Mac BU team appears to have done many good things to Entourage. We can only hope so, since the last version was released some 4 years ago. I perceived an ironic twinge as an Office user over the post's title: "It's about time."
Check out the related post: Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit: Love the sinner, hate the sin. However, when you scroll down to the comments underneath the Entourage blog post, many Mac users in an Exchange environment say they want a full Exchange client. Or they want a Mac application that can integrate perfectly with an existing Windows Exchange workflow.
Despite the arrival of Entourage 2008, a "real" Outlook client could be an opportunity for Apple to keep switchers coming as well as give a boost for the Mac in the enterprise.