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Oct 95 Crabbs Apple
Volume Number:11
Issue Number:10
Column Tag:Crabb’s Apple

An Open Letter to Guy Kawasaki

I’m not doing Windows Manager for PCWeek!

By Don Crabb

Note: Source code files accompanying article are located on MacTech CD-ROM or source code disks.

Dear Guy,

I’m glad you’re on board as the Apple Fellow in charge of developer evangelism, and I suspect that other developers are, too. Even those who gripe privately that “Guy’s too full of himself to help us.” Frankly, they don’t know what the hell they are talking about.

If the majority of Mac developers were half as smart and half as clever as you, I wouldn’t be writing this open letter today. I’d be sitting back and watching all those insanely great Mac apps rolling out of the disk duplicators and filling the Best Buys, the Circuit Citys, and the CompUSAs of the world. And Apple would be on top of the world, smirking down on Bill Gates and his Windows 95 three-ring circus.

Insanely Great or Just Insane?

But, of course, that ain’t happenin’. Instead, we get a few very good products developed for the Mac, using the Mac’s technologies, driven by a Mac mindset, and pushing the state-of-the-art of personal computing. Products like Live Picture, NisusWriter, FaceSpan, Rae Assist, CodeWarrior, and Scripter.

And we could expand this circle to include a couple of dozen other good programs that come from the Mac, live on the Mac, and won’t exist on Windows 95. Unfortunately, that circle is getting smaller. 4D will soon be a Windows product. FileMaker Pro already is. So are ClarisWorks, PageMaker, Illustrator, and a pile of others that only a few years ago were Mac-only.

For a variety of reasons, Mac developers just aren’t writing those blow-your-socks-off apps anymore just for the Mac. Many developers see writing for only the Mac as insane, not insanely great. If killer Mac apps get created at all, they’re being created in a multi-platform world. The interfaces are designed to be malleable. A couple of tweaks here, a couple of widgets there and BINGO! you have the Windows version of your Mac app. Or the Motif version. Or the OS/2 version.

Which may help make a few more short-term bucks for those developers than they’d get developing only for the Mac world, but it’s death to Apple and eventually will be death to the Macintosh.

Defining Superiority

In the Windows world of today, the Macintosh still holds on because it does offer a difference to its customers. Even with Windows 95, the Mac still offers a superior interface and OS technologies that Microsoft may never choose to rename or copy.

But if the Mac can’t claim superior applications because of these tightly-coupled OS services, what will the Mac advantage be? Why will customers buy Macs? Why will developers write any software for them? If you’re an independent developer, why not just bag it now, and get on the Windows gravy train?

Apple 101

Of course, Apple’s answer to developers has gone something like this:

• Because so many applications live on Windows, the competition there is tougher. Even though Windows’ market share is roughly five times the Mac’s, the application competition is even keener.

• Apple is now pushing solutions to its customers, which gives developers new opportunities to target these same customers.

• The PowerPC, CHRP, and cloning will increase the Mac OS market share.

All of these answers make sense at some surface level, but they don’t stand up well to closer scrutiny.

Let’s consider them, one by one. First, the Windows competition argument. It might be true if Mac developers were contemplating only switching to Windows and not developing a generic application that can be fit to both OS’s. In the “let’s develop for both” world of developers, the competition argument is moot.

The solutions argument is a no-brainer, but it’s also an argument that Microsoft has made to its developers for years. Come to us, Microsoft says, and we’ll help package your products with our solutions and get them to customers. And if you’re really lucky, we’ll eventually buy your small company for big bucks and make you part of us. The entire Microsoft Home series has been architected just this way. If you’re a small developer on the Mac side, you aren’t likely to see Apple publish your product - although Claris Clear Choice has started this.

The expanding market share argument holds lots of promise for widening the Mac sales base, but it also holds the greatest pitfalls for what constitutes a Mac. When you have CHRP clones, will they all take advantage of all the Mac OS services? Will they all run Copland? OpenDoc? Will some also run Windows 95, NT, OS/2, and UNIX? What will this mean to the Macintosh user experience? And where will the Mac OS be once it is decoupled from the hardware, as CHRP promises to do?

While expanding market share is good, under this scenario, Guy, Apple starts to look a lot like Microsoft, except without Microsoft’s head start and without Microsoft’s huge lead in the applications market. How will you paint the expanding marketplace picture in such a way as to keep developers focused on the Mac, when it will become difficult to say just what a Mac is?

Expectations of a Special Place

Of course, I don’t expect you to fix all the stuff Apple has screwed up for the past eight years. Neither do other developers who have a clue. But customers are not going to be so forgiving; and it’s ultimately the customers whom you have to convince, through your efforts to get developers to make the Mac a special place again.

Let me share with you a part of a letter I recently received from a long-time Mac customer to give you the gist of what I’m talking about here:

“My first computer was a Mac Plus, purchased in 1989 in the days when you could count the number of Mac models on one hand - and even understand the differences! I subscribed to both MacWorld and MacUser and really enjoyed following the technology. Two years ago I ‘upgraded’ to a Performa 400 (Mac LC II) which I’ve maxed out at 10 Mb RAM and an upgrade card with an 030 chip and co-processor. This fall I’ll be upgrading to a new machine. Except this time it will be a Pentium with Windows 95 pre-installed, probably from Gateway 2000.

“So it’s not a Mac. Who cares? To stay with a Mac I’d need to get completely new hardware and software anyway. Think they’re going to support the 680x0 world more than a few years more? Besides, there are about seven times as many new CD-ROMs out for Windows as for Mac, and gobs more software. Even Windows 3.1 is close enough to a Mac for most of the things I actually need, and Win95 will be that much better. Furthermore, many of the Web browser companies are not going to be coming out with Mac versions. For home use, it makes lots of sense.

“I’ve used both Macs and Intel machines for several years now. While I’d hate to set up an Intel machine on a network, I don’t have to. My company does. We have a help desk that figures out all the weird stuff. Furthermore it’s not that hard to set one up for standalone home use. Plus I’ll finally be able to dial into my company’s Banyan network when I telecommute from home. The interface software for that only comes in an Intel version, too.

“I don’t feel badly about Apple. There are a lot of suits running around there who have made a bunch of money the last several years at the Mac users expense. The suits have treated the engineers who actually made the cool stuff like hired hands. I hope the engineers all find jobs working for someone else doing more cool stuff, and I’m sure the good ones will.

“Once Win95.2 is out, I’m gone, Don. And I bet I’m not going to be the only one. I wouldn’t be surprised to find you writing the Windows Manager column one day for PCWEEK.”

Guy, you can argue with the specifics in this letter, but you cannot argue with personal conclusions. Your job, more than anything else, is going to be to help Apple’s developers and Apple’s own engineers make the cool stuff again. And make it pretty damn soon, before we, like the writer of this letter, are all gone.

And before I have to write a goddamn Windows Manager column each week! Gimme a break!


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