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Oct 00 Viewpoint

Volume Number: 16 (2000)
Issue Number: 10
Column Tag: Viewpoint


By Neil Ticktin, Publisher, MacTech Magazine

Mac OS X... Are We There Yet?

I'm sit here today, having just received my copy of Mac OS X beta, and I begin to wonder, as you probably are... what's going to happen with this? When will developers make the jump to X? What does the future hold for us as developers? Now, while I won't profess to being a soothsayer, I'll take the plunge and put my opinion in print for the world to see.

Apple is Serious... this time

The developer community has been burned by Apple's promise of a modern operating system since, say, the early to mid-1990's. Yes, it has been that long. We've been through the original System 8 (not the one that shipped), Copland, rumors of the BeOS, Rhapsody, Yellow Box, and more. Time and time again, Apple has simply not delivered the promise of a "modern operating system". Some were technical problems, some were business problems... and some were just plain old change in direction.

So, why should we believe that this time Apple is going to make this happen?

Two reasons: Steve Jobs and Public Beta. Steve Jobs can't stand to be publicly humiliated. He's stood up saying, "the train has left the station", and that (paraphrased) we're moving forward with Mac OS X, not as a multi-prong strategy, but as a single strategy for the future. Now, whether they ship Q1 2000 or Q2, I don't know... and it doesn't matter in the long run. Steve Jobs will make sure it ships in one form or another, relatively early on next year. He just won't stand for it being otherwise.

How do we know that this isn't just some promise as we've heard before? A public beta. Not only does the general public have tangible evidence in its hands, but early reports are that it runs fairly well... a good indication that we're, in relative terms, close.

Of course, there's always a third reason why things are different this time. Apple has moved into the arena of other, very profitable OS vendors... they are charging for a beta! :) But seriously, you have to believe that they will follow through this time since they are bold enough to charge for the beta.

Yeah, Yeah... I'll Wait

There are already a lot of developers moving to X. But, some of you are holding back. This may be an important mistake, but not for the reasons that you are thinking.

It's pretty clear that the Classic environment on Mac OS X (i.e., the environment responsible for running non-carbonized Mac OS 9 applications) is going to work well. So, yes, your customers can run their Classic apps under X.

The issue is that launching the Classic environment takes time... and frankly, even if it can do something about it, Apple has no incentive to make it launch faster. Your customers will quickly learn that they want to avoid launching the Classic environment if they have a choice.

That's where you come in... you can make their experience with your product a good one, or you can set yourself up for them being disappointed in the Classic situation and blaming your product.

Bottom line: customers will want native and carbonized apps so they can avoid Classic. Now is the time to start working on it.

But I Have So Much to Do!

If you are like me, you have a million things to do, and not enough time to do them. Working on a new version of your application for an operating system that is technically not shipping, just hasn't bubbled up on the list. So, why should you move forward today?

First, I'm not going to tell you what you should do with your project... that's your call to make. Only you have the information to make such a decision. Though, there are a few things to consider.

Anecdotally at least, carbonizing is relatively easy. For example, a typical app could easily take as little as 2 weeks to carbonize to get it up and running. A bit longer to iron the issues out, and then of course testing. But, this is not a several month project, as it may seem.

More importantly, there are other benefits to carbonizing. Let me explain.

The things that slow folks down the most when carbonizing their apps typically are their own bugs. Many engineers are thrilled because they are re-writing bad code that they've wanted to get to for a while, but haven't had time.

Writing code that is properly carbonized actually turns out to be a good way to debug and test your program - and may result in lower QA or tech support costs. Mac OS X tells you now that you are stepping on memory... not some day down the road when you aren't expecting it. In addition, the development and debugging turn around time is much faster than with Mac OS 9 - in part because, you aren't generally crashing your system as you tracking down bugs.

The bottom line is that carbonizing your app is not the challenge or pain that people think it is. It's actually a lot easier, and once through the process, people are generally happy they did it citing that it wasn't as hard as they thought it would be.

Leading the Market

Look... Apple is going to push really, really hard here... hard on their own engineers, and hard on developers. The timing of when they will ship 1.0 will be dependent on two things: engineering and market response. If the market responds saying that they want lots of things changed, then Apple will have to do those in addition to the other items they already know about. Rest assured though... a 1.0 version of Mac OS X will ship sooner rather than later.

Furthermore, the acceptance of X as the current (and only) operating system will depend on market acceptance. I expect to see Apple pushing the timeline forward just ahead of the market. They've got experience with this... just the way they dove in on USB, FireWire, and even Wireless Networking. Yes, it will be a bit painful to make such a leap, but in recent years, Apple has been able to keep that pain period relatively short (look at USB).

Bottom line: Jobs is right... the train has left the station. If you are going to support Mac OS X in a way that will help promote your product, the time is now to carbonize.


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