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PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY | MAC SMART / CHARLES PILLER

As Apple's Punch Wanes, Will Software Follow Suit?

September 09, 1996|CHARLES PILLER | Charles Piller is senior editor at Macworld magazine. He can be reached at cpiller@macworld.com

The recent drop in sales of Mac products raises a question: Does Apple still command the loyalty of the most creative, enterprising software authors? I'll answer the question, but first consider the role that independent software companies play in your computing experience.

By any yardstick, the Mac paradigm--icon-based controls, plug-and-play peripherals and WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) screen images, to name a few significant contributions--molded personal computing.

Apple owes much of its influence to thousands of talented software developers who worked primarily or solely on the Mac. At the beginning, Apple sold them on an elegant, intuitive computer, and developers responded in kind. They delivered products that inspired all modern software.

Some of the pioneering efforts got their start on the Mac, including Aldus Pagemaker, Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, QuarkXpress and Kai's Power Tools from MetaTools (all software that launched or professionalized desktop publishing); Microsoft Excel (which made computer spreadsheets indispensable); and Apple's own QuickTime and Claris Filemaker (the original graphic database tool). Most still work best on the Mac.

Unfortunately, over the years Apple lost its touch with developers. Even die-hard Apple loyalists are livid over delays in the release of OS 8, the linchpin of the Mac's future. They grouse about Apple's bureaucracy and secrecy. The industry buzz these days suggests that they are deserting the Macintosh en masse. Considering Mac software's shrinking retail shelf space, can we conclude that Apple's developer base is hemorrhaging dangerously?

No one knows exactly how many software houses write Mac programs, but Apple says 15,000 companies pay fees for technical support--about the same as two years ago. Of course, many formerly Mac-only shops now develop simultaneously on two platforms or first on Windows.

Still, Mac software generates about $1 billion a year in sales--in part because Mac users buy, on average, more programs than Windows users. Microsoft isn't the only one making a killing out there.

Today's 1,000-plus Mac-only programs feature nearly 200 Internet and networking applications, including Adobe's emerging Web-publishing blockbusters PageMill and SiteMill and Quarterdeck/StarNine's superb WebStar server software. More than 300 multimedia and publishing products are found only on the Mac, such as the standard-setting 3-D modelers Sketch from Alias Research and Infini-D from Specular International, as well as Adobe's stellar After Effects video editor. Scores of other programs emerge first on the Mac every year.

So despite Apple's clumsiness, Macintosh software retains an innovative edge and keeps the Mac in the hunt. Unique Apple technologies, such as QuickTime VR, which creates navigable 3-D scenes, or ColorSync, which helps you get the same colors from scanner to screen to printer, create new opportunities for software products. But more important, Mac developers tend to be rabid Mac enthusiasts who cringe at the thought that they might have to design exclusively for Windows. Their passion fuels the Mac's greatness.

But developers--particularly the small fry--need more than passion to justify experimentation and resist market pressure. Aldus was a mere wisp when it introduced Pagemaker. In today's vastly more competitive market, great ideas stand little chance of success without a boost from the big boys. Apple needs to show software companies--particularly those developing for the Internet, publishing, multimedia and graphics--that they have a home.

So what kind of home is Apple building? Hiring Heidi Roizen as vice president for developer relations this year was a start; having run a Mac software company herself, she enjoys broad credibility. Further, Apple's new chairman, Gil Amelio, gave her a $20-million budget to recruit and assist developers and for cooperative advertising and marketing.

These are auspicious signs, but hardly enough. A strong developer corps equals the Mac's long-term survival, let alone superiority. Apple should double Roizen's program today.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Top 10

Personal Best

Quicken 5.0, Intuit's popular money management software, tops a list of the best selling personal productivity titles--software geared toward home or self improvement and personal hobbies--for July:

*--*

Rank Title Publisher Average retail price 1 Quicken 5.0 Intuit $34 2 Hallmark Card Studio Micrografx 45 3 Corel Print House Corel 23 4 Quicken 5.0 Deluxe Intuit 58 5 The Print Shop Deluxe Ensemble 2 Broderbund 70 6 The Print Shop Broderbund 24 7 Greeting Card Magic Cosmi 10 8 Family Tree Maker Deluxe 2.0 Broderbund 79 9 3D VR Planner Cosmi 12 10 The Print Shop Deluxe 2.0 Broderbund 44

*--*

Note: Results are based on a survey of unit sales from 8,823 stores.

Source: SofTrends

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