• Attention Developers: Don’t Tell Me to Dual-Boot!

    April 15th, 2006

    Amidst all the joy in being able to run Windows at native speeds on an Intel-based Mac is one big concern that’s being voiced more and more: Will some Mac developers who also have Windows products abandon their efforts for the Apple platform because of this newfound capability?

    The biggest concerns cover the gaming industry. As it is now, Mac users are being shortchanged to big time. With a small number of exceptions, games are developed first for Windows and optimized for Microsoft’s operating system and the x86 platform. We just get the low-hanging fruit.

    But this isn’t some sort of insidious plot. It’s strictly a reflection of the economics of the situation, since Windows commands 90% of the market. Although there are some simultaneous releases, a gaming company will frequently pluck only the most popular titles from its lineup for the Mac, and porting efforts will never be quite as good.

    You can see the results in the benchmarks of the first round of games developed in Universal format. They seem to run better, and more fluidly on a MacIntel, except for recent Power Macs with much more robust graphics hardware. But does the arrival of Boot Camp change the equation? Why should a company spend money to build a Mac version when they can just install Windows on the new generation of Macs, reboot and just use the Windows version?

    Even that new virtualization tool, Parallels Workstation, may have potential to run games well enough as its 3D support improves, although it’s probably not quite there yet.

    So is there the danger that Mac users will be told to just run Windows when they want to play that fancy new game? What about productivity software that’s now available for both platforms? How will publishers greet these new developments?

    While I don’t expect Adobe to change its tune, or Quark Inc. either, what about smaller companies that struggle to maintain a cross-platform development staff? Has Apple provided them with an incentive to just abandon the Mac OS?

    So far, Wall Street and industry analysts in general have been very positive about the turn of events. They almost universally expect the Mac user base to grow. I don’t think anyone truly know whether Apple’s market share is poised for a major expansion, or something more modest, but that also means it’ll sell more computers with the potential of running Windows too.

    Now I don’t think Apple is going to become a Windows reseller, and sell products preloaded with two operating systems. Boot Camp is the stealth fighter designed to push more Macs into homes and businesses. Folks who were reluctant to buy a Mac because of the need to run Windows software at something more than those pathetic emulation speeds ought to be tempted. I honestly don’t know if Apple will attempt to exploit this new development when Boot Camp is finalized for Mac OS 10.5 Leopard or just keep the project going with winks and nods.

    But independent Apple retailers are bound to make the appropriate arguments to sell more boxes.

    On the other hand, how would you react if a publisher exhorted you to dual boot whenever you needed to run one of their applications? Would you say sure, all right, I’ll just go out and spend $200 for a copy of Windows or tell them where to go and how to get there? That’s the equivalent of paying a special tax for the privilege to use someone’s product, and it’s a concept I wholeheartedly reject.

    As far as I’m concerned, being able to run Windows at full speed is a safety net for me. It allows me to run products that aren’t Mac compatible yet, but at the same time, it forces me to confront the massed security lapses on the platform. Within moments after setting up Windows XP on that Intel-based iMac I’m reviewing, I installed a malware protection suite. I’m not taking any chances, not for a moment. I know too many people who’ve been forced to deal with viruses and spyware on their Windows boxes, and even my occasional encounters with the platform surely put me at risk.

    I understand that some publishers will never develop Mac versions. Even if Apple’s market share increases two or three times its present level, the incentive still won’t be there. But when a company that has previously developed Mac products wants to tell me that I must now dual boot, I intend to just say no! And you should as well. They’ll get the message pretty quickly.

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