Columns for OSOpinion.com

Complacency's Death Spiral
How the wait-and-see attitude could kill Mac OS X.

Published on OSOpinion.com on March 19, 2001
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Ready or not, here it comes. After years full of promises and postponed release dates, Apple is getting ready to ship Mac OS X. Many heated words have been exchanged over quirks in the Aqua interface and shortcomings in the Dock, but these are trivial arguments when it comes to the success of Mac OS X. Most Mac users are eager to see Apple’s modern operating system become a rousing success and are blinded to the new system's most obvious faults. To put it bluntly, Apple’s “NeXT-generation” operating system could fall flat on its face if it does not muster support from third-party hardware and software developers because many users will find no compelling reason to upgrade.

Let's start with hardware. Most Macintosh programs will run fine on Mac OS X even if they haven’t been carbonized, because they can run inside the classic environment. However, external hardware components like my USB TV tuner and my USB Gamepad will not work. These may be insignificant toys to most serious Mac users, but you can expect most other peripherals to work the same way; if they don’t have native Mac OS X drivers, they won’t work at all, even with classic.

Case in point: Apple's current lack of DVD support on Mac OS X. Before you ask "what's the big deal," bear in mind that Apple owns both the hardware and the software to run DVDs the current Mac OS, but haven’t done it on Mac OS X. One of the strongest arguments for the Macintosh is that Apple “makes the whole widget.” Since Apple controls the hardware and the operating system, connecting new devices to the Macintosh is usually a snap. Why then can’t Apple bring support for its own DVD player to Mac OS X? More importantly, why should we expect companies like Umax, Epson, and Wacom to make their own products Mac OS X compatible?

This will be a major setback to graphics professionals who rely on printers, scanners, imagesetters, turbomice, and the like on a daily basis. I’m an advisor for a graphic arts instructor who just bought a $5000 Epson printer. When he asked if it would work with Mac OS X, I told him most likely not. Epson’s web site gave me no results when I searched for “Mac OS X,” and VersionTracker.com’s list of Mac OS X software gave me no results when I searched for “Epson”. This is disturbing news for Epson customers; if you own an Epson printer and run Mac OS X, you will have to reboot into Mac OS 9 every time you want to print something. This creates a serious problem for Apple: many Mac users would have to stick with Mac OS 9 for the same reason many Windows users had to stick with Windows 3.1.

This brings us to the lack of native Mac OS X software. I would be delightfully surprised if key players like Adobe, Macromedia, Microsoft, Quark, and others start rolling out carbonized software, but I have seen few signs to indicate this will happen anytime soon. If you rely on programs like Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, GoLive, Dreamweaver, Director, Flash, Freehand, QuarkXPress, and Microsoft Office, you will find running them in the classic environment under Mac OS X is not much better than running them with Mac OS 9. In fact, they will run probably much slower with Mac OS X.

In short, graphics professionals—the core of Apple’s customer base—have no compelling reason to upgrade to Mac OS X at this time. Until they do, most of them will "wait and see" how Apple’s new operating system plays out. Unfortunately, software and hardware developers are playing the same game—they will "wait and see" if a significant number of Mac users step up to Mac OS X before spending the time and money to develop products for it.

Welcome to complacency's death spiral.


Matt Johnson is a graphic arts student and an assistant instructor at a small-town college in Nebraska. He has had several years of professional experience and has used a Macintosh since it debuted in 1984, when he was age six.

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