Is Apple behaving like Microsoft?

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By LongHook
March 12, 2002

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As a developer, here is my $0.02.

It can be very aggravating if you feel like you're competing with your development "partner". You've always got the nagging suspicion that your developer relations don't want to help you out THAT much. This is what happened, to a large extent, when SGI purchased Alias|Wavefront. It alienated a lot of developers from the SGI platform -- developers that felt that they MADE the SGI platform viable. They continued to half-heartedly support it, but when they got the opportunity, they jumped ship to NT and didn't look back.

The issue really isn't if Apple is competing with its development partners (which is why the "but what did iTunes steal sales from?" argument isn't particularly relevant), it's whether Apple starts to give the wrong impression to developers.

In another post in another thread someone made a suggestion that, if Microsoft ditched Office for the Mac, Apple should purchase that team and do it themselves. Once again, on the surface this makes sense, but it really does send the wrong message to developers considering the Apple platform.

The typical counterargument I've seen is "Well, if you're a good developer, then you won't mind competing against another product."

Competing against another product is fine, but when you're competing against another product by the same people that are supposed to help you deploy on their platform, well, it gets a little unnerving. In addition, with such a (relatively) small market share, often times you won't go into that market unless you feel that there's a niche that's not being served well.

So say you have some small shareware developer that wants to make something like iPhoto. Maybe this developer even has some ideas to make a product quite a bit better than iPhoto. Now she has to look at iPhoto and ask herself:

- do I want to compete against Apple?
- do I want to compete against a free product that has better distribution than my own?
- is what I'm offering going to be SO much better than what's freely available that users are willing to pay even a modest amount?
- is the total user base large enough that, given a large percentage are happy with iPhoto and thus won't "upgrade" to my product, it will still be economically advantageous to develop this product?

In general, the answers to the above are going to be No, No, No and No.

DAVE from Thursby is a good example of how Apple could have done things much better. The Thursby guys have been a huge part of the Apple "environment" because they offer a very valuable tool. But then OS X.1 comes out with half-assed SMB support, which hurts DAVE's sales, but also hurts Apple because their implementation of SMB is asinine, at the best. They offered something just good enough to limp along with, but not so bad that someone will necessarily buy DAVE.

Apple should have just purchased DAVE/Thursby outright, or at least licensed it for inclusion into their distribution. This would have benefited everyone, and it would have sent a strong message to the latent developer community that, if you make a good product, Apple would rather integrate it than compete with it and thus drive you away from their platform. Of course, they have to be careful that they don't screw someone over by doing this (cf. Microsoft bundling the Central Point Tools in DOS, directly hurting Symantec/Norton).

All this puts Apple (and similar vendors) in a difficult position -- they need to attract users with good software, but they need to attract developers with good opportunities. It's a tough line to walk. For example, Windows should REALLY have CD-R burning built into it. Partly because the existing CD-R packages just plain suck, and also because it's a fundamental capability that I think every user expects. Don't make it so good that it competes directly with NERO or Roxio, but make it good enough so that when I install a new CD-RW drive that I can start burning ISO images right away.

Okay, to wrap this up: imagine if OS X had all the basic tools necessary integrated from the outset. You had a good editor, spreadsheet, music player, movie player, paint program, etc. It would be a very compelling sale to the consumer, but it would probably end up hurting Apple worse in the long run because developers would shy away from the platform and it would be significantly more costly for Apple to develop all that software in house. If Apple goes too far in bundling software, they'll get stuck in the worst case scenario -- burning cash developing software that no one else will bother to write because they don't see it as viable.


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