TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Cross Platform
Volume Number:11
Issue Number:3
Column Tag:Inside Info

The Platform Problem

Going cross-platform for the wired generation

By Chris Espinosa, Apple Computer, MacTech Magazine Regular Contributor

Listening to Microsoft pitch their cross-development environment for Macintosh reminds me that I’ve been working on solving the platform problem for over three years now.

In case you joined late, the “platform problem” is the dilemma that an industry faces when there’s one dominant standard, and a number of minority players who can’t unseat the dominant player because of the huge infrastructure supporting the standard. Having more than one platform makes it look like things are competitive, but the reality is that the minor players really don’t have a chance to gain on the dominant standard in the markets it dominates.

Intel vs. everyone else is a good current example; so is Windows vs. OS/2, Mac, UNIX, Novell, NextStep, etc. The dilemma I face is how to help developers continue to make superior products for the Mac OS, even though the customers and the industry infrastructure favor the Windows platform.

And you’ve seen a lot of attempts by Apple to solve this. Against DOS, it was less of a problem, because there were so many things in the Mac OS that just didn’t exist on the DOS side. With Windows, that differentiation is small enough that many customers perceive that the Mac’s difference is a liability, not an asset. So to bridge the gap between Mac and Windows, we’ve tried running the Windows OS on Mac hardware; porting the Mac OS to Intel hardware; writing a new cross-platform OS from scratch (Taligent CommonPoint); creating a complete application framework to encourage cross-platform applications (Bedrock); creating a cross-platform component application technology (OpenDoc); doing a cross-platform framework for OpenDoc (OPF); building cross-platform APIs (QuickTime) and media playback platforms (Kaleida Media Player); and the current favorite, licensing the Mac OS to clonemakers to expand the Mac OS market share. We’ve done these alone, with partners, and through joint ventures. Some we’ve shipped; others were killed before they got too expensive. (And a couple just got too expensive without being killed!).

Through all of this, Apple’s OS market share has remained at pretty much exactly what it was in 1983, after the ascendancy of the IBM PC and the beginning of the IBM clone market. Maybe cloning will change that (after all, so many smart people told us to do it ten years ago that they must be right!). But maybe there is something else that will change the rules and make this API war irrelevant.

Think about what we would like to be able to do. Write something once and deploy it on many platforms. Have a common programmatic interface, but take advantage of the native user interface of each machine. Integrate smoothly with the underlying OS. Be lightweight. Be accepted as a common industry standard, neither monopolized by a single company nor designed by a committee. Support all of the cool new technologies, like multimedia and networking. And be quick about it - we can’t wait until 1997 to have it running.

Well, there may be an answer: the World Wide Web.

I’ve been cruising the Web recently, and I think it’s remarkable how platform-neutral it is. By reading the file names in the HTML source code you can see which hosts are on a Windows OS, which are on UNIX, and which Mac; and it’s clear from the credits on some home pages that a tremendous variety of Sun, HP, IBM, SGI, DEC, Dell, Compaq, Apple, and other equipment is being used as hosts. The Web is an incredibly huge heterogeneous environment running a single application that looks the same to the end user, regardless of the combination of client and host.

This may be the great equalizer that renders the API wars obsolete. Already I can see a large number of applications that I use in my work life that could be implemented as a combination of FTP, Gopher, Archie, and WAIS services, front-ended by a home page. I’ve seen Web pages that are very nice forms-based front ends to Oracle, DB/2, and Sybase databases. When I use these pages it’s clear to me that they are fulfilling my cardinal rule of computing: they’re helping me get my work done without my noticing what technologies are being employed to do it.

It is said that on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog; well, nobody knows you’re a Performa, or an Indy, or a Presario either. This is crucially important. Microsoft made Windows a phenomenon by changing the definition of what constituted compatibility with the industry standard. Before 1992, being a clone of the IBM PC AT defined compatibility; after 1992, running Windows did. If in 1995 the definition of compatibility is “can browse the Web,” a huge emotional weight will have been lifted from the personal computer industry. The Mac can be industry-standard-compatible without running Windows!

Of course HTML and WAIS and Gopher aren’t an API. Can they grow to be one? Perhaps. Is the growth process in reasonable, safe hands? I trust the people who built the Internet more than I trust the people who built the Pentium. Can the Web software form a solid layer of abstraction that masks underlying differences in OS and hardware? For many applications, yes. For all? Of course not.

Nothing will ever eliminate the differences in processor opcodes, system calls, and implementation details that make cross-platform programming such a pain. Programmers get paid to bridge those differences elegantly. The point of the Web becoming the next platform is that the popular mind will be saved from having to worry that those differences make a difference. The fear of buying a minority standard will be greatly decreased if all computers are assured a high level of basic functionality and interoperability through the Web. Then we can let Mac be Mac, Windows be Windows, and turn Mac vs. Windows from a worldwide religious feud back into a simple design preference among engineers.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Can PokeMatch help you find love with Po...
The unofficial Pokemon GO companion app space has exploded almost as fast as the game itself over the last few weeks. Aspiring app developers, many of them working solo, have given us apps that locate Pokemon, keep track of the server status, and... | Read more »
How to get started with Prisma
If there's one thing people like to do more than taking pictures with their smartphones, it's tinkering with those photos in some way. Numerous apps have sprung up over the last several years that allow you to use filters and special effects to... | Read more »
6 Pokemon GO updates you can expect, acc...
Pokemon GO had a scheduled appearance at this year's San Diego Comic-Con for a while, but it was only relatively close to the show that it was upgraded to a spot in Hall H. That's the biggest venue at SDCC, one usually reserved for the largest... | Read more »
How to evolve Eevee in Pokemon GO
By now, almost everyone should be hip to how to evolve Pokemon in Pokemon GO (and if not, there's a guide for that). Just gather enough candy of the appropriate type, feed them all to the Pokemon, and evolution happens. It's a miracle that would... | Read more »
CSR Racing 2: Guide to all game modes
It might not seem like there are all that many ways to go fast in a straight line, but CSR Racing 2 begs to differ. [Read more] | Read more »
Bulb Boy (Games)
Bulb Boy 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Multi-award winning 2D point & click horror adventure about a boy with a glowing head. | Read more »
5 top free emoji keyboard apps
If we're not at peak emoji yet as a society, it feels like we definitely should be. The emoji concept has gone far beyond what anyone in Japan could have envisioned when the people there unleashed it on an unsuspecting world, but the West has... | Read more »
How to unlock more characters in Disney...
One of the big charms of Disney Emoji Blitz is seeing a wide variety of beloved Disney and Pixar characters transformed into smiling emojis. Even someone like the sneaky Randall from Monsters Inc., who probably never cracked a smile on film, is... | Read more »
Cubway (Games)
Cubway 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Cubway is a journey with an abstract story of lifecycle of rebirth, called Samsara. Guide the cube through the long way full of dangers... | Read more »
Colorcube (Games)
Colorcube 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Turn pieces and blend colours in this minimal yet visually stunning puzzler.Over 200 handcrafted and challenging levels. Features... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

External Keyboard Innovations For iPad Pro (1...
I’m an input device aficionado. With non-touchscreen computers, which includes all Macs, the keyboard and mouse or trackpad are the tactile points of interface between user and machine, and the... Read more
GSK Rheumatoid Arthritis Study Leverages iPho...
Global healthcare products company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) says that since 2014 they have begun transforming the way they conduct research, by leveraging state-of-the-art digital technologies — a... Read more
Clearance 12-inch Retina MacBooks, Apple refu...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2015 12″ Retina MacBooks available starting at $929. Apple will include a standard one-year warranty with each MacBook, and shipping is free. The following... Read more
13-inch Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to...
B&H Photo has 13″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to $150 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY tax only: - 13″ 2.7GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro: $1199 $100 off MSRP - 13″ 2.7GHz/... Read more
13-inch 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air on sale for...
Amazon has the 13″ 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air on sale for $200 off MSRP for a limited time. Shipping is free: - 13″ 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air (sku MMGF2LL/A): $799.99 $200 off MSRP Their price is the... Read more
13-inch 1.6GHz/256GB MacBook Air on sale for...
Amazon has the 13″ 1.6GHz/256GB MacBook Air on sale for $200 off MSRP for a limited time. Shipping is free: - 13″ 1.6GHz/256GB MacBook Air (sku MMGG2LL/A): $999.99 $200 off MSRP Their price is the... Read more
Free iOS Business App notably* Helps Service...
PayStudio Inc. has introduced their new business app notably* 1.0, developed for iPhone and iPod touch. notably* was specifically developed to help service and trade professionals go digital and... Read more
27-inch iMacs on sale for $200 off MSRP
Amazon has 27″ iMacs on sale for $200 off MSRP including free shipping: - 27″ 3.3GHz iMac 5K: $2099 $200 off MSRP - 27″ 3.2GHz/1TB Fusion iMac 5K: $1799.99 $200 off MSRP - 27″ 3.2GHz/1TB HD iMac 5K... Read more
Mac Pros on sale for $200 off MSRP
B&H Photo has Mac Pros on sale for $200 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax in NY only: - 3.7GHz 4-core Mac Pro: $2799, $200 off MSRP - 3.5GHz 6-core Mac Pro: $3799, $200... Read more
Save up to $600 with Apple refurbished Mac Pr...
Apple has Certified Refurbished Mac Pros available for up to $600 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each Mac Pro, and shipping is free. The following... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions, Willow...
Job Description:SalesSpecialist - Retail Customer Service and SalesTransform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Evangelist - JAMF Software (United S...
The Apple Evangelist is responsible for building and cultivating strategic relationships with Apple 's small and mid-market business development field teams. This Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - APPLE (United...
Job Summary As an Apple Solutions Consultant, you'll be the link between our future customers and our products. You'll showcase your entrepreneurial spirit as you Read more
*Apple* Professional Learning Specialist - A...
Job Summary The Apple Professional Learning Specialist is a full-time position for one year with Apple in the Phoenix, AZ area. This position requires a high Read more
*Apple* Picker - Apple Hill Orchard (United...
Apple Hill Orchard, Co. Rte. 21,Whitehall, NY 9/7/16-10/228/16. Pick fresh market or processing apples Productivity of 60 boxes and 80 boxes processing fruit per Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.