If You Dont Build It, They May Never Come

Cross-platform support should be a given as we move to more computing platforms. So why isn't it?

During the last several months, Ive expended quite a few keystrokes chronicling my move to Linux on my home and work systems.

Overall, the experience has been a good one—the software I needed to do my daily Web browsing, e-mail corresponding and story writing was readily accessible, and allowed me both to work as Id been accustomed to on Windows and to develop new ways of working, as well.

However, some snags remain. For instance, I was accustomed to wiling away my work hours to the strains of my personalized Yahoo LaunchCast radio station.

LaunchCast is a good example of the sort of cool things you can do with the Internet: you get to listen to a radio station shaped by the ratings youve applied to a massive catalog of songs, albums, artists and genres, and Yahoo gets to sell the ads that are interspersed throughout your day of personalized programming.

If you arent familiar with it, I suggest you give it a shot, provided youre running Windows with Internet Explorer, or a pre-OS X Mac with Netscape 4.5 or 4.7. This brings me back to my Linux boxen, which, despite no small amount of effort, remain LaunchCast-less.

Launchcast streams music in Windows Media format, which, until recently, couldnt be played on Linux or related systems.

Now, I realize that desktop Linux users represent a small minority of Yahoos audience, and Mac OS X users, while significantly more numerous than those running Linux, are also dwarfed by Windows user base. Development resources arent cheap, and it only makes sense to target the majority.

What puzzles me, however, is why companies such as Yahoo build products and services in such a way that not only gives preference to the dominant platform initially, but which also limits the possibility of these products ever spreading to other platforms.

Apples OS X, the batch of so-billed "user-friendly" Linux distributions from Lindows, Xandros, Lycoris and others, and the enterprise desktop Linux efforts of Sun, Red Hat and SuSE wont tear down the Windows monopoly tomorrow, but it seems clear that weve entered a world of more, not fewer, computing platforms.

From cell phones to PVRs, and yes, maybe someday, even to an Internet appliance glued to front of your fridge, were finding Internet clients almost everywhere, and these devices arent all running a single platform.

Im reminded of generally sketchy cross-platform support we found in our evaluation of Web collaboration products last summer. The common explanation given for what ranged in the products between mild Windows-bias to absolute Windows-centricity was that cross-platform support wasnt what customers were asking for.

Maybe theyre just looking elsewhere.

Its a chicken-and-egg scenario, I know, but it seems safe to say that to hedge ones product success and longevity bets, preserving a path to cross-platform support should be a development action item from day one.

Technical Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at jason_brooks@ziffdavis.com.