The Mac is seen as platform of choice for creative work; with this lead, why is a small independent developer whose tools are being used in the Bhopal movie complaining that Apple is hindering him in bringing his high-end movie editing and compositing tool to OS X?

Powering the new Hollywood is Jahshaka’s slogan. Sounds impressive, but when you find out that development is proceeding on Linux, Windows and SGI Irix, but has stalled on the Mac it just sounds worrying.

The facts: Jahshaka is an open-source media creation package which includes video editing, animation and compositing. It is capable of editing anything from small web-bound MPEGs up to 4K film. Currently it’s at pre-beta stage and lacking several important features, but has been progressing rapidly.

The speculation: If completed as expected, Jahshaka will give the big-boys of the movie software world a run for its money. Final Cut Pro, Shake, Fire and Smoke are all potential targets for this skunkworks project.

It has already been used, albeit in a small way, on an independent production: the Bhopal movie, a film about the Union Carbide chemical disaster in Bhopal, India starring Aishwarya Rai that is currently in pre-prodcution. Jahshaka was used to make an early promotional trailer for the film, and could be used in the production of the movie.

Moreover, the developers are involved in the Virtual Film Crew project at Sweden’s Chalmers University. It’s quite clear that this application is beginning to make waves, despite the fact that it’s not yet finished.

Ian Mapleson, SGI workstation reseller and something of an expert on high-powered Unix machines, particularly those used in the media production area, said: “I haven’t much experience with it myself, but it looks good. I’ve talked to the developer in the past and it seems to be coming along. It was a one guy operation before, but is much bigger now.”

Armed only with a telephone, an internet connection and a contacts book I attempted to find out what’s going on. Busy developers are hard to get hold of at the best of times, but when they’re co-ordinating a project as massive as this, on no less than four different platforms, it’s nigh on impossible. Despite the difficulties, I managed to catch up with the eponymous developer, Jamaica-born “Jah”, and put some questions to him via e-mail.

The most important of which was, why is the Mac development lagging behind other platforms?

“As far as the 1.9a9 release, it was released for Windows and Linux and we don’t have a Mac release ready yet. It’s really easy to do but we are behind mainly due to a lack of resources over the holidays.

“But also, troublingly, Apple is shunning third-party developers, especially in the digital content creation space where Apple is trying to become the leader, and so it gives us little motivation to support the platform. Linux is the future.

“As an open source project, we basically work for free and rely on the support of our users and manufacturers out there to drive the project. We got a lot of support from HP, Redhat, NVidia, Trolltech, even Intel…. But here’s a link to a article about all the help we got from Apple:

On this web page the developer recounts an encounter with Apple whom he says: “told me that she had shown my initial email and our website to the other members of the developer team and that they did not want to help out. Didn’t want to help out, I thought – I’m just looking to get signed up as a developer […] they were not interested in assisting us in any way. Then she got even colder... I was told not to call back.”

A strange occurrence, no doubt. The developer’s explanation for it simple – Apple fear competition:

“We love the Mac as a platform so its really sad to see Apple killing the market for developers out there, instead of accelerating it. Especially since a big part of their success is the fact that OS X is Unix and so all the Linux tools that are being developed run on the Mac - i.e. GCC, Apache, PHP et cetera, without which OS X would be powerless.

“For example, they didn’t need to by Nothing Real to make Shake a kick-ass product for the Mac – all they had to do was invest in the company.”

Is he right? Does Apple not want to support independent developers which cut into their territory. Perhaps, but a rather prosaic explanation is more likely:

It’s quite feasible that Apple don’t care about Jahshaka – after all they have Final Cut Pro, Shake and third-party apps like Maya readily available for the Mac. This would be a shame though, Jahshaka is not only a promising project, it could become a vital tool in the independent filmmaker’s armory, further reducing dependence on expensive propriety hardware and software from the likes of SGI and Discreet at the top end of the market.

The support which Jashaka has received from companies like Hewlett-Packard, Red Hat and Nvidia isn’t just good, it’s astounding. The application has attracted interest from these companies – including hardware donation – and more. IBM even presented the developer with an iPod mini as a prize for their “Port-to-Power” project which aims to encourage development on the Power and PowerPC platforms.

Perhaps, at the end of the day, Jahshaka just requires greater support than most open-source developments.

As the developer himself points out: "One problem with open source development in the digital content creation space is unlike projects like PHP, MySQL and even Linux where a lot of the users are programmers, most of our users are artists and cant help out with the code itself. They do, however, make up for this by helping out with the features, debugging, and user interface development."

Frank Leahy, the independent Mac developer behind Web Photos Pro ‘thinks different’ about Apple’s support for independent developers:

“I worked at Apple from '86 to '93, and while lots of things are different, I'm guessing the "how do I get support" probably hasn't changed all that much. First, be a paid up member of Apple Developer Connection. Second, be persistent. And, go to the annual developer's conference.

“I went to the Australian developer's conference where I gave a talk on the System and ROM. I met a lot of Aussies at the conference, many of whom I later passed questions to tech support for and then made sure they got answered ASAP. I still keep in touch with several of them almost 20 years later!”

"Bottom line: treat them like humans, find someone you know who knows someone inside (try LinkedIn or Friendster, etc.), and be persistent (and nice). But unless you’re willing to pay for it, it may take some work to make happen. Is that any different from any other company? I doubt it."