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.

 
AAPL
$100.89
Apple Inc.
-0.65
MSFT
$45.01
Microsoft Corpora
-0.17
GOOG
$577.86
Google Inc.
-2.34

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

BBEdit 10.5.12 - Powerful text and HTML...
BBEdit is the leading professional HTML and text editor for the Mac. Specifically crafted in response to the needs of Web authors and software developers, this award-winning product provides a... Read more
Microsoft Office 2011 14.4.4 - Popular p...
Microsoft Office 2011 helps you create professional documents and presentations. And since Office for Mac 2011 is compatible with Office for Windows, you can work on documents with virtually anyone... Read more
TextWrangler 4.5.10 - Free general purpo...
TextWrangler is the powerful general purpose text editor, and Unix and server administrator's tool. Oh, and also, like the best things in life, it's free. TextWrangler is the "little brother" to... Read more
BitTorrent Sync 1.4.72 - Sync files secu...
BitTorrent Sync allows you to sync unlimited files between your own devices, or share a folder with friends and family to automatically sync anything. File transfers are encrypted. Your information... Read more
Cyberduck 4.5.2 - FTP and SFTP browser....
Cyberduck is a robust FTP/FTP-TLS/SFTP browser for the Mac whose lack of visual clutter and cleverly intuitive features make it easy to use. Support for external editors and system technologies such... Read more
Tinderbox 6.0.3 - Store and organize you...
Tinderbox is a personal content management assistant. It stores your notes, ideas, and plans. It can help you organize and understand them. And Tinderbox helps you share ideas through Web journals... Read more
Adobe Photoshop CC 2014 15.1.0 - Profess...
Photoshop CC 2014 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $19.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous Photoshop customer). Photoshop CS6 is still available for purchase (... Read more
Adobe InDesign CC 2014 10.0.0.70 - Profe...
InDesign CC 2014 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $19.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous InDesign customer). InDesign CS6 is still available for purchase (... Read more
Adobe InCopy CC 2014 10.0.0.70 - Create...
InCopy CC 2014 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $19.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous InCopy customer). InCopy CS6 is still available for purchase (without a... Read more
Adobe Illustrator CC 2014 18.0 - Profess...
Illustrator CC 2014 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $19.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous Illustrator customer). Illustrator CS6 is still available for... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Appointment With F.E.A.R. (Games)
Appointment With F.E.A.R. 1.02 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.02 (iTunes) Description: Travel back to the 1980s as a superpowered defender of justice in this all-new edition of Steve Jackson's... | Read more »
8bit Doves (Games)
8bit Doves 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: “I dove it” – Pocket Gamer “They told me I could be whatever I want, so I became a flying hobo” – Cactus Wolf “Let’s you crash into... | Read more »
Madden NFL Mobile Review
Madden NFL Mobile Review By Blake Grundman on August 26th, 2014 Our Rating: :: FINALLY GETS IT RIGHTUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad It looks like EA Sports has finally discovered how to tread the line between free-to-... | Read more »
Superhero Workout Review
Superhero Workout Review By Jennifer Allen on August 26th, 2014 Our Rating: :: SUPERCHARGEDUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Want a workout with a kind of story tied into it? Superhero Workout is what you’re after.   | Read more »
Star Wars: Commander Review
Star Wars: Commander Review By Jennifer Allen on August 26th, 2014 Our Rating: :: CLASH OF THE FORCEUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad It’s a lot like Clash of Clans, but the use of the Star Wars license means you don’t... | Read more »
Ridge Racer Slipstream Update Adds New C...
Ridge Racer Slipstream Update Adds New Cars, Challenges, and Tracks Posted by Ellis Spice on August 26th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Infinity Blade III: Kingdom Come, the Fi...
Infinity Blade III: Kingdom Come, the Final Update, Set to Arrive September Posted by Ellis Spice on August 26th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Furious Climber Review
Furious Climber Review By Jordan Minor on August 26th, 2014 Our Rating: :: REACH FOR THE STARSUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Furious Climber’s rough packaging can’t ruin its awesomely awkward gameplay   | Read more »
Don’t Forget the Milk – Let Heap, the Gr...
Don’t Forget the Milk – Let Heap, the Grocery List App, Help You Stay Organized While Shopping Posted by Jessica Fisher on August 26th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
MZR Review
MZR Review By Rob Thomas on August 26th, 2014 Our Rating: :: MAZED AND CONFUSEDUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad How quickly can you escape from MZR’s neon mazes of doom? Why not find out for yourself?   | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Life Inventory iOS Apps – Learn to Know Thyse...
James Hollender’s Life Inventory apps s are now on sale with 20% off thru Labor Day, 09/01/2014. This is a great opportunity to get started on that Moral Inventory you’ve been putting off doing for... Read more
Pocket Watch, LLC. Reveals Cloud Server For P...
Beaumont, Texas based Pocket Watch, LLC. has announced the availability of its new ActivePrint Cloud Server Powered by Raspberry Pi. With this small standalone box almost any USB printer or available... Read more
902it Simplifies Area Code Changes For Nova S...
The east coast Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island are phasing in 10 digit telephone dialing, to be fully in place by November, in order to accommodate a second area code to... Read more
Boomerang iPad Stand Mounts Your iPad Anywher...
Boomerang, a Mountable Stand with Multiple Viewing Angles, is now available for iPad Air. Boomerang combines several functions that aim to expand your iPad’s potential in one, elegant product. The... Read more
Retina MacBook Pros available starting at $10...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 13″ and 15″ MacBook Pros available starting at $929. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free: - 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pros (4GB RAM/... Read more
Apple 27-inch Thunderbolt Display (refurbishe...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 27″ Thunderbolt Displays available for $799 including free shipping. That’s $200 off the cost of new models. Read more
Apple offers free $25 iTunes gift card with p...
The Apple Store is offering a free $25 iTunes Gift Card with the purchase of a $99 Apple TV for a limited time. Shipping is free. Read more
Apple’s 2014 Back to School promotion: $100 g...
 Apple’s 2014 Back to School promotion includes a free $100 App Store Gift Card with the purchase of any new Mac (Mac mini excluded), or a $50 Gift Card with the purchase of an iPad or iPhone,... Read more
iPhone Camera vs. Top Tier DSLR In Picture Qu...
If you’ve wondered just how good the iPhone 5s’s 8 megapixel rear-facing camera is in terms of image quality, The Verge has posted an excellent feature that should remove any ambiguity on the matter... Read more
Apple Announces Limited iPhone 5 Defective Ba...
Apple says it has determined that a very small percentage of iPhone 5 devices may suddenly experience shorter battery life or need to be charged more frequently. The affected iPhone 5 units were sold... Read more

Jobs Board

Senior Event Manager, *Apple* Retail Market...
…This senior level position is responsible for leading and imagining the Apple Retail Team's global event strategy. Delivering an overarching brand story; in-store, Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
Project Manager / Business Analyst, WW *Appl...
…a senior project manager / business analyst to work within our Worldwide Apple Fulfillment Operations and the Business Process Re-engineering team. This role will work Read more
Position Opening at *Apple* - Apple (United...
…customers purchase our products, you're the one who helps them get more out of their new Apple technology. Your day in the Apple Store is filled with a range of Read more
Position Opening at *Apple* - Apple (United...
**Job Summary** Being a Business Manager at an Apple Store means you're the catalyst for businesses to discover and leverage the power, ease, and flexibility of Apple Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.