Mar 98 Viewpoint
Volume Number: 14 (1998)
Issue Number: 3
Column Tag: Viewpoint
by Eric Gundrum
The Feel of Macworld Expo
Once again, another Macworld Expo is behind us. As with past Expos, this one had its own, unique feel. There were noticeable holes where vendors seemed to have pulled out at the last minute, and the show was noticeably smaller than past years (mostly due to vacancies created by the clone vendors going away). Even so, end users visiting the show were as excited as ever. End users who haven't been spending much money on their Macs in recent years are doing so now. It seems as if the changes Mac OS 8 has brought us has revitalized user's attitudes towards their Macs.
Sometimes we developers forget the excitement we had when we first began attending Macworld Expo. I remember my incredible thirst to learn everything I could about the products available for the little computer known as Macintosh. Over the years, I've begun to feel like there is nothing new to see. Macworld Expo was becoming a drag. A few years ago this feeling was alleviated by the Expo Greenhouse. This was a collection of a few dozen small booths packed very tightly in a small space; first time exhibitors were able to show their products for a tenth the cost of even the smallest regular booth. (Stations were subsidized by volunteers, sponsors and Expo management.) The Greenhouse was where the new products were shown; the Greenhouse was where all the cool products were shown. Unfortunately, there was no Greenhouse at January's Expo, and I missed it very much.
Although the Greenhouse was missing, there were still plenty of cool products at the show. They just took more work to find. Having some of the bigger vendors not at the show made it that much easier, because the smaller ones weren't being overshadowed so much. A bit of this is happening in our industry, too. Some of the larger Mac software publishers seem to be turning their attention to other markets, saying the Mac market now is too small for them. However, their inattention to their many loyal users who helped them grow their companies so large is opening new opportunities for upstart new developers.
The main reason I go to Macworld Expo is to meet people. Over the years I've developed strong friendships with many developers around the world. The San Francisco Expo is one of four annual events where I have a chance to see old friends in person. (The others are MacHack, WWDC and the Boston Expo, now the New York Expo.) I enjoy the personal contact on the show floor and at parties with the people I spend so much time exchanging mail. As a developer, I'm lucky that I have these four events. Most end users have only one: the Macworld Expo closest to them.
For end users, Expo represents a chance to see and compare all the tools in one place. As an end user, I was out shopping for a new video card. Expo was about the only place where I could compare cards from different vendors side by side, and I could discuss how well the different cards performed with those who know them best: the game developers. For end users, the show is a great chance to see all the tools in one place and meet their creators, for vendors it is a chance to sell interesting new products to a very hungry market, and for developers it's another chance to catch up with old friends.
Another tidbit I've been hearing recently is that Mac software publishers who are developing Windows ports are deciding that good Windows programmers are too hard to find. They seem to think that training a good Macintosh programmer how to write good code for Windows is a lot easier than training a dime-a-dozen Windows programmer how to write good code.
I can see the logic of this: Macintosh programmers are Macintosh users first, and programmers second. As users, we understand how frustrating it is to use a poorly designed application. Consequently, we spend a lot of energy figuring out the best user experience possible, and we spend time exploring our ideas and opinions about user experience with other users and programmers. In short, we care about our users because we know how they feel about using their computer. The result is that we generally build software that is easier to use. Hopefully someday the users of Wintel machines will notice how much harder they have to work to get things done without a Macintosh.
What's Happening with Rhapsody
We still are a bit too early to be seeing Rhapsody software at Expo. As far as I could tell there weren't any mainstream Macintosh software publishers showing or even talking about Rhapsody versions of their products. The most I saw of Rhapsody was in Apple's pavilion and the Rhapsody developer tools in Developer Central. Yet, many of the mainstream Macintosh software publishers are advertising for Rhapsody engineers.
Apple has been noticeably quiet about Rhapsody in recent months. They seem to have learned about the dangers of over-hyping new technologies before they are shipping. Mac OS 8 is still going strong, and many Macintosh software publishers are having great success riding the sales wave. No one wants to rock the boat with premature talk of Rhapsody. This is all very good.
Nonetheless, Apple is still working very hard on Rhapsody. At least, they were in January. Many people have told me most Mac OS applications run in the Blue Box (Mac OS compatibility layer) without any problems. Apple may have us on the road to a transition to Rhapsody as smooth as was the transition to PowerPC.
Rhapsody represents some very nice technologies long needed on the Mac, including protected memory, more powerful system APIs and better development tools. Soon Apple should be releasing the Premiere version of the new OS for end users. That will be the first true test of user's interest in Rhapsody, and it will be an opportunity for Apple to learn more about what features are important to users, and what features are not.