So Much for Industry Maturity

Opinion: Developers defend themselves against technology's midlife crises.

Like a bunch of, pardon the expression, desperate housewives, developers are getting dumped left and right by partners to whom theyve given the best years of their lives.

Last week began with Apple Computer Inc. telling developers that theyd better be using Xcode for their Macintosh software development -- because other tool sets wouldnt offer one-click recompilation for future Intel-processor Macintosh systems. So much for the strategic support that Apple received from Metrowerks during the initial transition from 680x0 to PowerPC processors, and the same toolmakers follow-up support for the further transition to OS X.

Ironically, the most recent version of Metrowerks CodeWarrior suite for the Macintosh dropped long-standing polyglot support for Java to focus only on C/C++ and Objective-C. The irony is that Java code, well-supported on the OS X platform, will be the least disrupted by the forthcoming processor transition. I spoke last week with Victor Luk, product manager at Maplesoft in Waterloo, Ontario, about the substantial role of Java code in Maplesofts multiplatform Maple 10 mathematical tool kit: "Weve done some testing with this new architecture for Macintosh, and our preliminary results show that the portability claims of Java are met there. Theres definitely a validation of our Java decision," Luk told me.

It will be interesting to see if this months tenth annual JavaOne conference in San Francisco gains further vigor from this reminder of Javas role as a buffer against IT vendors hot flashes of platform angst.

When Apples Xcode made its debut with the release of OS X 10.3, it was clear that CodeWarrior would be hard-pressed to compete with such a polished and platform-enabling tool kit that came free with the operating system. That coffin lid was certainly nailed shut when key developer opportunities, such as writing new Metadata Importer modules for OS X 10.4 "Tiger," were marked as Xcode territory. CodeWarrior for Mac is now "temporarily unavailable," according to the Metrowerks Web site.

Its thus additionally ironic, it seems to me, that Apple – with its carefully cultivated image as an alternative to the Microsoft monolith -- is now constructing a developer tool stack even more monolithic than Microsofts Visual Studio. When Apple doesnt merely put Metrowerks at a disadvantage, but actually trumpets the difficulties that Metrowerks developers will face unless their first step is to move to Xcode, what does that do to the likelihood that any other toolmaker will ever make a major commitment to any of Apples future platforms? Just asking.

By the way, has anyone at Apple noticed that their own Web site continues to bash the Intel processor architecture as fundamentally inferior to that of the PowerPC? Buy your intrinsically superior G5 machine while you still can, and remember that Apples best friends are as changeable a list as that of any teenager.

But Apple isnt the only company leaving developers feeling a little bit abandoned. Developer interest in the "Ajax" model of asynchronous JavaScript plus XML is driven, at least in part, by the perception that Microsofts Internet Explorer basked in developers attention and reveled in their reliance on its unique behaviors -- only to leave them hanging when IE evolution essentially ended, with Microsofts attention being turned to the "Internet in everything" environment and application architecture of Indigo and Longhorn. Make no mistake, Im a big fan of using the Web as an element of applications rather than confining it to the general-purpose window of a browser -- but Im also impressed by the performance of applications like Google Maps and the lightweight model of Apples OS X Dashboard.

Its options like Java and Ajax that keep me from feeling desperate about future developments.

Tell me whats calming you at