It’s so easy for companies to become complacent. The world can throw all kinds of things at businesses: economic upswings and downturns, social or technical revolutions... it can be difficult for a business to stay ahead of the game. Some companies stay steady in the storm of change; some roll with it and gain an advantage. Holding steady isn’t necessarily a good strategy. Like Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen, companies need to keep running just to stay in the same place.
Apple, I’m pleased to say, has a good record of rolling with external changes, anticipating and reacting to the things that the world throws at it. It has an excellent track record for implementing big changes in system architecture, software architecture, design, fashion, and anything else that affects it. This has meant that Apple has made good headway in all kinds of areas - software in particular. However, this causes problems for other software developers: Apple is setting the bar rather high.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Apple software - it’s often the best in its class. What annoys me is the way other companies seem to fold at the first sign of competition. The Mac software market needs to be more diverse. I don’t want to have
a magazine full of reviews of just Apple software. I want the other software vendors to fight back. I understand that Apple is a software superpower, and it isn’t easy to compete, but if everybody gives up it will be bad for the platform.
Take Microsoft Office, for example: it isn’t innovative or exciting, it’s bland and bloated with things people can’t or simply don’t use. Part of the Office suite is Entourage, which was my favourite email package for ages. Now, however, I’ve opted for Apple’s Mail because it’s more reliable application. But that’s OK - I’m still using Word and Excel and PowerPoint... no, wait. I don’t use PowerPoint any more - I use Keynote. Another Apple application taking little nibbles from the Microsoft pie.
I’m sure Microsoft doesn’t really care. Office is the standard application for business - if a few Mac users use Keynote or Mail it will hardly dent Microsoft’s profits. Of course, if everyone uses Mail and Keynote, it does devalue the whole Office package a bit - people might start to think that they can do without Office completely. There are cheap options: just check out our cover CD and you’ll see NeoOffice/J. If offers equivalents to just about everything Office has, and it’s free. That’s going to make a bit of a dent in Microsoft’s cash flow.
So, what should Microsoft do - give up? That would be a disaster for Apple. People switching from the PC will only do so if they know they can use their familiar Office products on the Mac. But existing Mac users like me are tiring of the lack of innovation coming from Microsoft. The developers at Microsoft need to take a long hard look at what Apple is doing, and try thinking different (just like Apple). PC users might be comfy with the same Office products year after year, but Mac people want and expect more. I think Steve Jobs thinks so too, which is what drives him to create (or acquire) software that fills that need. It might be a belligerent attitude, but I admire his only-the-best-will-do ethic. As I said earlier, though, it does make it difficult to compete with.
In all likelihood Apple isn’t about to launch a spreadsheet application or a Word-killer (though Pages does some of what Word does), but that shouldn’t hold back Microsoft; it should be trying to make better software anyway.
Perhaps the developers are being held back by having to match the Windows version. Then again, perhaps a little innovation could migrate from the Mac version to the Windows version. But somebody has to start innovating.
Another lumbering giant is Adobe, which took years to get a Mac OS X version of Photoshop ready. It has now gone into a higher gear with the release of Creative Suite 2... perhaps it understands that it’s a target for competition. It wouldn’t take a genius to use the new Core Image features in Tiger to make an application that could take on Photoshop.
In fact, Andrew Stone at Stone Design has done just that with iMaginator (also on our cover CD).
Whether iMaginator will replace Photoshop or not - and let’s face it, it’s unlikely - I think it’s important to keep chipping away at the big software companies. If the little guys, like Stone Design and Omni Group, don’t keep poking the giants with their excellent software then they will become lazy. With the regular rock-throwing at the goliaths, one of these days one will hit the right spot. When that happens, hopefully we’ll witness a new era of excellence.
Products like Word and Photoshop have been evolving for decades, but I think it’s time to rethink things from the beginning. Just because word processing means Microsoft Word processing, it doesn’t mean it always has to be done like that. If Apple designed a Word-killer I’m sure it wouldn’t turn out like Word. The same goes for Photoshop, or QuarkXPress or any older application.
I don’t want all software to be an Apple clone, but the level of attention that Apple lavishes on its products is to be applauded. Other software developers should use Apple as a benchmark and ask themselves
if Apple would do it in a better way.
So if there’s to be a revolution in software development, I don’t think it’s so much a features issue; the software we have has more than enough features. Instead I think it’s usability that could do with a boost. Take mail merge, for example - the ability for Word to print customized pages using information from a database. It’s an incredibly powerful tool, though few people know how to use it.
If somebody could make it possible for the average Joe to use more of the features found in the current crop of software, then they’d be on to a winner. Imagine if a person could use 100 per cent of the features in Office and CS. What power would be unleashed? MW