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  • Guess What: Macs Can Now Apply

    December 4th, 2008

    Although it had been previously announced, I was quite pleased to wake up Thursday morning to find a welcome message in my Inbox from Netflix — the online video rental company — that “now you can watch movies (some new releases) instantly on your Mac.”

    Most Netflix rental plans beyond entry-level offer the free service, and they have 12,000 movies in the library right now, some of them fairly current. The only downside, from an emotional point of view, is that you have to install Microsoft’s free Silverlight browser plug to enable this feature. But I regard this as a trivial issue, since it doesn’t seem to have any negative effects that I can see. Picture quality in my early tests seemed decent enough, with just a few motion artifacts for action-filled scenes.

    Some months ago, one of our sponsors, Citrix Online, proudly announced a Mac version of GoToMeeting, the popular online presentation service. Up till then, Macs could connect to a conference, but they weren’t able to originate one. Their sister service, GoToMyPC, has yet to add full Mac support, but it does appear that they have good reason to move in that direction.

    A few weeks ago, I caught the tail end of a radio ad from another Web-based service that was touting its expanded availability for Mac users.

    Now maybe this doesn’t seem to be such a momentous event to you, but hear me out: It wasn’t so many years ago that the Mac was largely an afterthought for many software and service companies. If there was a Mac version, it was often mentioned in passing, and the quality of that version would often be inferior to the Windows edition.

    I remember, for example, when WordPerfect, once the leader of the word processing universe, proudly announced is move to the Mac. Unfortunately, it was a bad Windows port that paid only lip service to Mac user interface conventions.

    All right, the folks who built the product at the time got the message and delivered an upgrade that definitely provided great support for the Mac OS. Unfortunately, WordPerfect failed to garner much market share, after some brief gains, before the onslaught of Microsoft Office, and soon abandoned Macs. But it does seem to me that the bad first impression they created with the first release didn’t help their situation.

    Besides, how many people even on the Windows platform use WordPerfect these days?

    True, with Word 6, Microsoft also tried to get away with a sloppy Mac version, and they got ragged big time as a result. However, in the wake of a new agreement with Apple to continue developing Office for the platform in the last decade, they mostly redeemed themselves with Office 98.

    This doesn’t mean that I will let Microsoft get away with the fact that there are features and applications in Office for Windows that do not have Mac counterparts. The decision of the Mac Business Unit to abandon support for Visual Basic for Applications in Office 2008 was ill-thought, and I don’t buy the excuse that it would have delayed the suite’s arrival by a year or two.

    While it’s true that Microsoft has learned from their mistakes and they promise the restoration of macro support for the next Mac version of Office — whenever that arrives — I just think they tried to get away with something and were justifiably criticized by customers and the press as a result.

    All right, I am not going to dispute the time it would take to port VBA to Apple’s Universal environment. Maybe it would take a team a year or two to accomplish the task, but, considering how much money Microsoft earns from its Mac products, they could have hired a separate programming group that would work strictly on porting the macro capability. How many people would it require?

    Or is Microsoft’s development process so inefficient that they can’t accomplish anything in less than a couple of years, even when it comes to a fairly modest task? Of course, I don’t know how difficult it is to transition macro capability from one programming system to another.

    In the larger scheme of things, a software publisher these days that’s looking to expand their market ought to seriously look at Macs. Although PC sales, other than a few manufacturers such as HP, are stagnant, Apple appears to be doing quite well despite the state of the economy.

    A growing market should be ripe for the pruning, and there’s always room for applications that pioneer new techniques and product categories, or just fill niches that aren’t well satisfied now. Certainly, the Mac OS could always use more vertical market software, catering to beauty salons, doctors offices and other professions.

    Indeed, entering the Mac universe has, at last, become a good thing to do.



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    3 Responses to “Guess What: Macs Can Now Apply”

    1. Travis Butler says:

      “Of course, I don’t know how difficult it is to transition macro capability from one programming system to another.”

      It’s been years since I did any native-code Mac programming, but I still keep up with technical articles like the low-level Ars Technica OS X reviews. If we can trust the overview at http://www.schwieb.com/blog/2006/08/08/saying-goodbye-to-visual-basic/ , then yeah; transitioning is definitely a Big Job. The old macro engine is heavily dependent on low-level PowerPC operational details; essentially, they’re having to do major cleanup on 1/3 of the macro engine (the macro editor), do heavy and thorough integration and re-write of low-level PowerPC machine language on another third, and re-write the last third – the execution engine – essentially from scratch. No, this is not trivial at all.

      I can’t speak to the business aspects – whether it would have been economical or even feasible for them to hire a new team of programmers to take over the job. I think it is safe to say, though, that these aren’t people they can just hire off the street; the same post notes that at the time they had an open position on the Mac Business Unit that they hadn’t been able to fill for nine months.

    2. Tedious says:

      PPC-based Mac here, so no Netflix in my browser. I bought the Netflix Player by Roku and love it, but may sell it to get an AppleTV now that Boxee supports Netflix.

      It all happens so fast!

    3. @ Tedious: According to Netflix, the vast majority of Mac users among their membership have Intel-based Macs. So that’s how it’s destined to be.

      Peace,
      Gene

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