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Features & profiles

 

Mac's new OSX: what the developers think

21 January 2001

Published in Macworld


Mac’s new UNIX-based Operating System X has provoked a whole spectrum of reactions from software developers, both here and overseas. On one side of the ledger X has drawn lots of praise; the most damning entry on the other side - so far - is the caution of those who have been let down by Apple in the past.
 
Last October Apple released its public beta version of OS X. In the months since then, X has engaged, challenged and often pleased developers, as well as providing all the usual annoyances: with changes to the final version set to provide a few more.
 
After 100,000 beta copies elicited an extraordinary 75,000+ “user feedback entries” worldwide, this long-awaited final version of OS X will be released on March 24.
 
A few Australian software developers haven’t gone near OS X yet. Others have been working with it for months. One of these is Andrew Tomazos of Stairways Software, which created the web, file and network tool Interarchy:
 
“We are in the process of beta testing our Mac OS X version” Tomazos says. “We hope to have the final version ready for the release of Mac OS X final. There are many small details and issues that need to be addressed because of the radical changes from Mac OS 9.x to Mac OS X - but we should be ready for March 24.”
 
Tomazos believes the changes made to OS X “will provide a lot more networking technology for us to leverage, and provide consumer services for”.
 
His only concern is that X “will bring third party developers unpredictable competition from the UNIX side of things”.
 
Richard Fox is a Mac developer at Active Concepts in Melbourne. The company makes Funnel Web, which “gives you a breakdown of how people are using your website. For example which pages they are looking at, how long they stayed on the site, which days and times of the day are busiest, and so on.”
 
Active Concepts markets Funnel Web 4.0 and the high-end Funnel Web Enterprise.
 
“At the moment,” says Fox, “I'm only doing Enterprise  ‘preview’ builds on OS X, because it is the high-end users that are going to give me useful feedback.”
 
Fox has been working with the public beta version of OS X since early December. Because of X’s impending changes (many of them flowing from those 75,000 pieces of user feedback) it has been, he says, “a bit like shooting at a moving target”.
 
“It’s a bit slow at the moment - but they’ll optimise it. It seems really solid.”
 
Fox is particularly happy with OS X’s protected memory: “If one application crashes, it doesn’t crash everything. That’s thanks to UNIX.”
 
The Senacon information management suite has contact management, sales and marketing, accounting and e-business solutions for for small to medium-sized businesses.
 
Senacon’s Chris Percival says that Senacon is based on the 4D software, which will be released in an OS X version within a week of OS X’s release. Percival has heard about quite a few software companies which are dragging their feet on OS X versions. “4D is probably one of the few shrink-wrap applications which will be ready on time. So we’ll be able to port across pretty quickly.”
 
Percival isn’t expecting any major problems with the advent of X: “The feedback I’ve heard from people playing round with the public beta is that it’s nice and stable. The general expectation is for a reasonably smooth transition. You’d expect that, as they’ve been working on OS X for some time.”
 
Percival expects to release Senacon’s OS X version close to OS X’s release.
 
David Lewis, CEO of DLA Software, is one of several developers who has less of a sense of urgency. DLA makes Counsel’s Companion, a practice management and accounting software for barristers and solicitors in medium-sized practices.
 
Counsel's Companion has just undergone a complete re-development,” says Lewis. “We are now progressing to a new Mac OS X version, albeit slowly. We have to be driven by our market.”
 
Lewis believes that “Mac OS X will be a new and exciting platform for us to add to all the Windows and Linux OSs we support.” However he adds:
 
“We’ve lost considerable Mac user numbers since 1992 when our software was first released, and we had about 50 percent of Counsel's Companion users on the Mac. That number is about 15 percent today.
 
“Apple has abandoned the non-artistic business market, and this has resulted in a dramatic shift away from the Mac by business users.
 
“We prefer the Mac OS as it is so much easier on our users. We just wish that Apple and its resellers were more solution-oriented, as this is the way they would grow their installed base.”
 
Lewis declines to estimate when the OS X version of Counsel’s Companion will be ready.
 
“We’re driven both by our market and the availability of the development tools. We have to wait till both of these are mature before we can do any type of a final cut. The development language - OMNIS - is nearing final release, as is OS X - but we have to wait for the final tool-set, and then we will do more testing. We have beta, but obviously not a final.”
 
Another man who is not jumping the starter’s gun is Julian Carr, a director of OzCAD - which markets VectorWorks 9, the CAD application for design professionals.
 
VectorWorks is made in the US, and customised here for the Australian market. Carr says OzCAD intends to carbonise VectorWorks for OS X within 90 days of the latter’s release.
 
But why isn’t he already working with the OS X beta?
 
“This is such a major change. I want to be careful,” Carr says. “This is a very complex software. Its interaction with QuickTime and OpenGL, for instance, may be a lot more in-depth than most softwares.
 
“Our programmers have had their fingers burned before with Apple. OS 9.1, for example, is incompatible with so much stuff. I’ve owned Macs for thirteen years, and I have about five of them - so I’m not anti-Mac. OzCAD was one of the first companies to release a Power PC version of their product. We’re very committed to Apple.”
 
Nevertheless, Carr will be waiting till others have tested the waters before committing his own time to customising the Australian OS X version of VectorWorks.
 
“I won’t be touching OS X for six months. I used to get the latest upgrades of everything. But I wasted hours and days. And with OS X, Apple has been changing major things in the last couple of months. Once bitten, twice shy. I’ll be waiting.”
 
As to the overall quality of OS X, Carr has no idea yet. “I had a look at it at Macworld in San Francisco. It looks interesting. There are a lot of things that will get people in. And its pre-emptive multi-tasking and memory protection certainly seems impressive.
 
“But whether it runs faster and more reliably is the thing we don’t know for sure at present. That’s the big question - along with its compatibility with existing hardware and software.”
 
In a recent interview in the US publication Architosh, Sean Flaherty, CTO of Nemetschek - the US company which produces VectorWorks - said this about the new OS X:
 
“The user experience of OS X is still up in the air right now. The Macintosh user is going to take a few steps backwards in terms of system management. It will become more complicated, more like Windows. Some things will definitely change on the Mac, and maybe there will be some advantages there. Quartz will really unify printing. PDF will become the lingua franca for display.”
 
Flaherty thinks OS X will put Apple in a much better position to serve the technical market.
 
“The Mac is a kind of ageing architecture. OS X changes all that; it is far more robust and powerful. And technical applications will have a big interest in moving back to the platform. I think OS X is a brilliant move. They have created something very visually appealing, but yet it has this 'state-of-the-art' technical foundation.
 
“Despite the fact that it may mean some change to how [current] Mac users work, Apple has once again made an OS that will create new evangelists rather than just users.”
 
Flaherty stated that some of the “die-hard Windows people” at his company are very interested in adopting Aqua, the OS X interface. “A new look wrapped around a solid UNIX core is too much for some programmers to resist.”
 
MYOB USA has recently designed AccountEdge to run on OS X.
 
AccountEdge is a Mac-specific version of MYOB Accounting Plus,” says MYOB Australia’s Andrew Fiori-Dea. “MYOB worked together with Apple to design the AccountEdge  graphical user interface, tailoring the screen colours and layout to maximise the benefits of OS X.”
 
Account Edge  will be of little use to Australians, as it’s designed for the US tax system. MYOB (an Australian company) isn’t commenting on whether it’s developing a parallel program for the Australian market - but there’s little reason to think it wouldn’t be.
 
Microsoft has the largest development team for the Mac platform outside of Apple itself. At Macworld in San Francisco in January, Microsoft previewed an OS X version of Office - which will be commercially available in Spring. Other Microsoft products for OS X will release around the same time.
 
Kevin Browne - general manager of Microsoft’s Macintosh Business Unit (MacBU) - is known as “the evangelist with two religions”. Browne is dedicated to wooing Mac users to a range of Microsoft products, now the old enmities between the Information Age pioneers is abating. He sees Office for OS X as being central to Microsoft establishing the credibility to do this.
 
Tenon Intersystems in California recently unveiled iTools 6.0, its web server package for OS X.
 
iTools 6.0 will include a new version of WEBmail, which will enable users to access email from any device running a browser.
 
Founded in 1989, Tenon specialises in high-performance networking. Holmgren says, “Apple's OS X, coupled with the new G4 processors and Tenon's iTools, provides the foundation for world-class content delivery.”
 
Freeway, the Web design software from SoftPress Systems in Oxford, UK, will be released for Mac OS X in the middle of this year.
 
SoftPress Managing Director Richard Logan says:
 
"We believe Mac OS X is a great leap forward in operating systems which will deliver major benefits to our customers. The remarkable robustness and ease-of-use of Mac OS X reflect exactly the qualities for which Freeway is renowned.”
 
Clent Richardson, Apple's vice president of Worldwide Developer Relations, agrees:
 
"With its state-of-the-art technology, exquisite Aqua interface, and unparalleled power, Mac OS X is the ideal platform for high-end creative applications. The forthcoming release of SoftPress's Freeway for Mac OS X is sure to be appreciated by design professionals worldwide."
 
Apple describes Mac OS X as “the world's most advanced operating system, combining the power and openness of UNIX with the legendary ease of use and broad applications base of Macintosh.”
 
It bills OS X as the first operating system designed from the ground up for the Internet.
 
"Mac OS X is the future of the Mac, and we hope it will delight our customers with its unrivalled power and ease of use," says Apple CEO Steve Jobs. "The Public Beta has generated incredible feedback and support from Mac users and developers, which has helped us to make Mac OS X the most advanced operating system ever."
 
Apple Australia’s Tony Smith says:
 
“More than 400 leading developers, including Adobe, Alias|Wavefront, Macromedia and Microsoft have committed to delivering more than 1,200 applications built for Mac OS X. In addition, more than 100 developers announced new Mac OS X products at Macworld.”
 
Clearly past experience has made some developers pause before diving into the deep end of the OS X pool. However among the majority who have worked with it, there has been very little negativity.
 
A global range of applications for OS X may not hit the shelves on March 24. But Apple’s new operating system has already engendered sufficient trust to ensure that it will be on its way.


(For a list of applications built for OS X see
http://guide.apple.com/macosxlist.html.)


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