No Mac Is An Island

Ready or not, it's now up to third parties to make Apple's OS initiative a success.

At its recent Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple Computer turned up the pressure on third-party Mac developers to expedite porting their applications to Mac OS X.

In the process, the company has neatly turned the spotlight from its own development efforts to the state of applications tuned to the new operating system.

Ready or not, its now up to third parties to make Apples OS initiative a success.

Repeating his Freudian metaphor of years gone by, CEO Steve Jobs warned that the Mac OS X train had now left the station and that software makers who fail to jump now risk being left in the dust by competitors who are prepared to make the switch.

Apples development partners - and veteran Mac watchers such as my compadre Stephan Somogyi - note that despite Apples rhetoric, the Unix-based OS remains a work in progress, and the company has yet to provide the tools developers need to rise to Apples challenge.

Nevertheless, the die has been cast. The Mac maker is now shipping the next-generation OS on every new box (albeit not as the default system software), and (ready or not), the onus now falls on applications developers to frame their responses.

And for those of us who take an interest in the platform, much of the focus moves from Apple to those developers, who do indeed have an opportunity to alter the balance of power in key Mac market segments.

Take Mac Web browsers, a playing field dominated in recent years by Microsofts Internet Explorer. As Daniel Drew Turner pointed out in a story last week for eWeek, Mac OS X appears to offer a opening to a roster of contenders built for the new OS, including OmniWeb 4.0, iCab and Mozilla.orgs Fizzilla. (Opera Software, which last week delivered the first Mac version of its namesake browser as a Classic application, said it will offer a browser Carbonized for Mac OS X within the next few months.)

No doubt aware of this threat, Microsoft has been working hard to keep IE in sync with Mac OS X. But while IE still enjoys a disproportionate share of the Mac pie - similar to its cut on Windows - Im intrigued by testimonials on the Web from Mac users whove taken the OS switch as an opportunity to try out the new browser offerings and have become acolytes.

On a related note, Mac users are still waiting for a Carbonized version of Microsoft Office. While Microsofts Mac Business Unit has made few bones about the fact that its first Mac OS X-native iteration of the productivity suite will put in at least a preliminary appearance at Julys Macworld Expo/New York.

My sources, however, indicate that the transition has been less than seamless: The moving target of Carbon APIs and other tools has made the task of synchronizing the feature set of Offices core applications with their Windows counterparts a tortuous one indeed.

In the meantime, StarOffice for Mac OS X continues to take shape under the auspices of the Open Office project. A dark horse? To be sure, but Im interested to see what inroads can be made into todays Mac productivity market by a project unencumbered by the legacy of Mac Classic programming.

Ill cite one more example, this time featuring two veteran Mac players. Macromedia stole a march on other established Mac developers in April when it rolled out a Carbonized version of FreeHand 10, the latest generation of its flagship vector-illustration application.

Specifically, Macromedias move puts FreeHand way out in front of Adobe Systems Illustrator program, the other big Mac contender in vector-based drawing.

Adobe is the undisputed heavyweight in Mac graphics applications, and its Photoshop program remains the de rigeur showcase of Mac system performance at Apple keynote events. However, the company has been muted when it comes to articulating a timetable for delivery of Mac OS X-native versions of its core graphics packages. If the market balance swings decisively toward FreeHand in the coming months, I suspect it could profoundly affect the urgency with which Adobe counters Macromedias foray into Mac OS X.

Apple may not have facilitated the switch to its new platform, especially (and paradoxically) among those longtime developers whose roots are sunk most deeply into the bedrock of Mac legacy code.

Nevertheless, the profound change in the Macs OS architecture has shaken up the game board and left Mac loyalists unusually open to considering the advantages of those applications that exploit the new ecosystem to its fullest.

Mac veteran Matthew Rothenberg is managing editor of Ziff Davis Internet.