Competition is good, everybody knows that. Without competition companies get lazy and lose their edge. Apple has competition, and without it perhaps it would be as lazy and arrogant as some other purveyors of operating systems have been from time to time.
Areas of the software market have competition, but the Apple software market is oddly devoid of it. On the Windows platform you have dozens of competing applications; for example, CD-burning software. On the Mac we have Toast or OS X, and nothing significant beyond that.
Here’s a puzzle: how many Mac software developers can you name? Before you read on, have a think. Who are the major Mac software developers?
Well, you probably came up with the obvious ones, Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, Macromedia... no wait Adobe is buying Macromedia, so that’s just three. There’s Quark, and some music-software companies like Mark of the Unicorn, eMagic, Logic... no wait Apple bought Logic. Do you see where I’m going with this? You don’t even get to count to ten software companies before you start either going off to niche professional applications, or closer to the shareware market.
However, you only have to look around to see thousands of applications being developed by the thriving developer community. Whatever your Mac need, somebody somewhere has thought of it and developed something to take care of it. Whether it’s shareware, freeware or postcardware, there is something that will take care of all the little things.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love that the Mac community makes and shares tools and games and applications. The Unix core of OS X has attracted people from other platforms to join the fray. But who is going to be the next Adobe or Microsoft if the Mac software market is made up of amateurs. I don’t mean to suggest that these developers aren’t at a professional level, it’s just that it often isn’t their profession.
What the Mac market needs is more players, not more shareware. Ideally I’d like to see some of the top shareware makers make the leap to produce boxed products that can fill the shelves of retail outlets such as the Apple Store and all the Mac dealers. So why are these developers so reluctant to make that leap?
One of the main reasons is that there isn’t a big enough market for Mac software. I’d beg to differ on that point. Recently I asked readers to look at the statistics of their Web sites, and to let me know how many of the people browsing were using Macs. While it’s difficult to get any scientifically meaningful figures, it was clear that their sites, almost universally, had more Mac users browsing them than the official numbers suggest there should be. There were a few that had just 2 per cent, or even lower, but some claimed almost 30 per cent Mac readers. I would say most reported something between 10 and 15 per cent. Whichever way you slice it, there are more Macs around that you might think.
Another reason for not making the leap to become a professional software publisher is that the people doing the coding are developers, not marketers, sales people or business people. Knowing where to start is difficult, and without marketing or sales skills, or just general business skills, it’s no wonder people don’t make the change.
I was having this conversation with a guy who runs a successful software company a little while ago. To my surprise it was he who was so keen for more players in the Mac software field. The idea is that more software, and more competition, is actually good for business. If people see more software for sale, they will buy more. Competition is healthy and stops developers getting lazy or jaded. It keeps the market vibrant and more attractive to both developers and users.
The chap in question is Laurent Marteau, CEO of French security software publisher Intego. So keen was Laurent to see more people move into software publishing, he wanted to share his business model with others. As he pointed out, it isn’t rocket science, but if you just don’t know where to start it is daunting.
Laurent very kindly has mapped out the process of developing software, from designing the product to the marketing sales and support of the finished product. It isn’t a blueprint for guaranteed success (it’s only a one-page flow chart), but as a basis for moving from bedroom coding hero to professional software developer, it’s a good start.
The importance of high-quality software cannot be underestimated. In years gone by one of the many stated reasons for people choosing other platforms was the lack of Mac software. If there isn’t great software on the Mac, then all the OS X features are for nothing. Computers without software are very stable, of course – especially if you don’t turn them on.
I understand that breaking into a business that is dominated by giants such as Microsoft and Adobe is difficult. But if nobody tries to compete then hegemony will reign. There was a time when Microsoft was just some kid in his bedroom. Sure he was lucky/sneaky, but Bill Gates is now the richest man in the world by some measure. I’m not saying that you’ll get that way by making a box for your shareware, but it’s a start.
So if you have been inspired to investigate a move to professional software publishing, drop me a line. Laurent has said I can share his master plan for a software publishing business. I’d also like to hear from developers that are thinking or making the transition, or perhaps have already embarked on a software publishing career.
If there is anything I can do from here to point you in the right direction, or if you just want to tell me what you are up to, then send me an email. The fledgling companies of today are tomorrow’s software powerhouses. Either that or we lay back and let Microsoft and Adobe suck up all the money in the software market, and frankly I think they are rich enough for now.