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  • Windows on a Mac: Welcome to the Fear-Mongering Season

    July 11th, 2006

    The other day, I got a letter from a reader suggesting that now that it was so convenient for Mac users to run Windows, developers would quickly decide that it wouldn’t be worth the bother building software for the former. Instead, might as well let you all run the Windows version, and save on all those programming costs. Ah, what a convenient way to save money, and all companies want to reduce expenses.

    Now I’m not one to say such fears have no basis. After all, there actually seems to be some logic behind them, which is more than I can say for some of the stories you hear these days. On the other hand, I’m not altogether convinced that this is something you have to worry about — well, at least most of the time.

    But let’s look at the situation from the standpoint of a typical developer. One is the Mac-only house, which prides itself on producing commercial or shareware products for a single platform. Would they want to change their development and marketing strategies because Mac users can run two or more operating systems at the same time? Besides, the possible lure of the Windows market has always been there, and they’ve always had the option to create products for that platform. They decided not to, and it doesn’t matter why, although having less competition and fewer support headaches has to help. As long as Mac sales are good, they’re not apt to be tempted to change things.

    Then there are such cross-platform developers as Adobe and Quark, who have labored hard to build the very same program in Mac OS and Windows editions. Features are, as much as the operating systems permit, the same, as are prices. They are also catering to markets where the Mac OS has strong penetration, which means they depend heavily on the Mac platform for their income. Worse, millions of users still have PowerPC-based computers, so kissing those customers bye-bye makes little sense right now or in the foreseeable future.

    Now five years from now, when many of those older PowerPC models have been retired, this is something that might have a modicum of possibility, but would it make sense from a practical standpoint even then? After all, why did you and I choose Macs in the first place if not to run Mac software? That has to be a concept that isn’t lost on these companies, and so long as sales of their Mac products are good, that shouldn’t change. There’s no incentive to change.

    There is another category where the picture might be mixed, although there’s little sign of an immediate change. That’s the gaming market. Here Mac users have been short-changed for quite a while, because games developed on the Windows platform, as most of them are, are optimized for both the operating system and the processor. The game companies will admit this, because they have to follow the money, and most of that comes from that other computing platform.

    Yes, a number of the most popular games do make it to the Mac platform, but performance has, up till now, not been quite as good, because the PowerPC versions aren’t given as much fine-tuning. Maybe you wouldn’t notice unless you are a diehard gamer, but these are differences that can be measured and perceived, by some at least.

    With the arrival of Macs-on-Intel, the equation has changed somewhat, and early reports seem to indicate that performance is better, since you’re running those games now on the native platform. That should be good news, but there is still that nagging feeling that some game publishers might just decide to put their Mac products in maintenance mode and suggest that you buy Windows if you want to use the newest products.

    But consider: You buy a Mac and in order to run a specific program, the publisher says now spend another $200 or $300 for another operating system, perhaps another $50 for virus protection software before you can use their product.

    How does that strike you? Well, I can understand, perhaps, when it comes to a low-market vertical application that caters to a specific business. But games are mass-market stuff, and, frankly, I’d tell them what to stuff if they told me I had to buy Windows first.

    This doesn’t mean that it won’t happen, but any company who wants to seriously consider this solution ought to do a little market research first. They might be surprised at what they discover.

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