Virtualization is technology, rumored to be present in the forthcoming 10.5 release of Mac OS X, that would allow Windows applications to run natively and transparently in the Mac environment. Paul’s thoughtful analysis reveals that Mac users will benefit because of the increased flexibility, and Windows developers will benefit because of the new potential market. Where does that leave Mac developers? I definitely think Apple should spend at least a few hundred thousand dollars researching this on our behalf. Protect us, Apple! Still, the threat of Windows developers suddenly having access to our customers doesn’t scare me too much.
Such an outcome wouldn’t increase the competition so much as the noise. Look at the situation today on the Mac. It’s relatively easy (in my not-so-humble, unproven opinion) to identify products on the market that can be vastly improved upon, put in the hours to build a better solution, and market it directly to the customers. The problem even today is not “being better than the competition,” but reaching the customers who give a damn about your being better. This basic rule won’t change with an influx of new developers.
Take some popular class of application as an example: the 2D vector art editor application. There are at least 10, probably 100 of these apps available on the Mac, and they range in quality from developer examples like Sketch to expensive commercial apps like Illustrator.
Of these 10 or 100 existing apps on the Mac today, I’m guessing from my experiments that only about 2 or 3 are actually really useful. Therefore the competition pool is only 2 or 3 products, regardless of how much noise there is.
Now with virtualization we’d probably get 1 or 2 additional “really useful” apps, although their usefulness would probably be diminished by their Windows-esque UI. Anyway we’d also get probably 10-times as many “non-competitors.” More noise. These products attract users’ attentions but don’t ultimately satisfiy them. So they make it harder for the user to identify your working product.
On a side-note, one could consider the opening up of Mac OS X to linux/unix as a test-run of such a strategy. Essentially for the past 5 years, Linux developers have had open access to the vast installed base of Mac users, but they haven’t made much headway in driving Mac developers out of business. I think it’s reasonable to assume that if Mac users are not interested in free alternatives that don’t cut muster, then they will be even harder to woo with paid ones.
Bottom line? Optimistically I think that better products will win. The problem is cutting through the noise, and technology seems to be on our side. The growing popularity of blogs and “peer editorializing” seems like a natural match for promoting quality products and thereby elevating them from among the noisy ineffective ones. To the Mac developer’s advantage, there are already complex systems in place for distributing Mac propaganda. The online news sites and download trackers that many Mac users frequent are going to be hesitant to embrace and recommend lackluster Windows software – because they themselves are Mac users who know the benefits of native software.
Even if we assumed that the best Windows developers could acquire Mac style, and truly understood what Mac users want, their Windows apps will always be at a disadvantage on the Mac platform. The trend from Apple is increasingly to differentiate Mac OS X by adding technologies with a system-wide impact. Spotlight integration, for instance, will likely not come for free with a “virtualized” Windows app. Furthermore, the development tools and APIs from Apple are getting more and more powerful all the time, in ways that are precisely tuned to work well with differentiating features of Mac OS X. It wouldn’t just be difficult for Windows developers to try to compete with this, it would be a colossal waste of their time!
It’s easy for me to be cavalier about this because I don’t yet make my living from direct software sales, but I’m inclined to think that Windows developers, with their platform-inappropriate styles and habits, will have a hard time competing against Mac developers – even the worst of us.
Bring on the crappy software! It can only make ours shine brighter.