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Joel as a future Mac user (don't laugh!)

Just a brief comment from the tiny world of Mac software.  Despite ~1% market share, the Mac market is in some ways a bellwether for the Windows world.  The Mac OS just went through a "total replacement" (it's first since 1984, despite Joel's dim view of long-term app compatibility on the Mac) more or less like what MS is planning with Longhorn.  Long-term, this type of thing simply has to happen.  Sorry Joel, but it's true.  DOS didn't last forever, and neither will Win32.  How and when to do the switch is the tricky bit, and I don't think MS is doing a very good job, but the task itself is unavoidable.

Anyway, Apple pulled it off with relative ease because the Mac market is so tiny and so different than "the rest of the world."  It's a self-selecting group of people who have very different values than most consumers of software.  But here's the ticklish part for Joel: in many ways, your values are a better match for the Mac platform than for the (future of the) Windows platform.  In your old age (ha!), your values are changing, while the values of each platform also change.  In short, the Ghost of Platforms Future has you as a Mac user in 2015 or so, if current trends continue.

You scoff!  But just think if you'd asked a Unix weenie back in 1988 if he'd ever be caught dead using a Mac.  Those Unix weenies aged and their values changed (hey, I *do* like a nice GUI once in a while), while the Mac platform also changed.  The sum of the changes brought some tiny part of this tiny group of people (Unix weenies) to the Mac platform.

Your desire for a "rich UI" (as opposed to the horrible, ad-spewing, slow-as-molasses Yahoo webmail that our hopelessly clueless friends and neighbors find "perfectly acceptable") is a good match for the Mac value system.  You'll find a lot of Mac OS X apps whose sole purpose is to provide a "rich" (i.e. "non-web") interface for web applications.  I just joined Netflix the other day and immediately downloaded a Mac OS X native Netflix GUI app so I don't have to use the big, slow, noisy web interface when I just want to look at my queue or rearrange some items (by drag and drop--look Ma, no JavaScript errors!)

Maybe these apps exist in the Windows world too, but the tiny Mac world is disproportionately populated with the kind of people who appreciate--and sometimes demand!--things like this.  Joel, as your values continue to diverge from "what the masses will accept", you may find yourself drifting towards one of the "niche" platforms.

Of course, then you'll be faced with another choice: continue to develop Windows apps--apps that are no longer exactly what you'd want to use yourself--or become one of those tiny 1-50 person software vendors that turn a small profit selling Mac software into a market with no growth potential.

But hey, some of those people seem pretty happy (e.g. OmniGroup) even if they're never going to be "the next Microsoft."  You may have to find out what's more important to you: the satisfaction of making software that you find exciting and also use yourself (even if you only sell barely enough copies to turn a profit), or the satisfaction (and financial reward) of knowing that millions of people use your software, even if you find it slightly distasteful... ;-)

John
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Er, substitute "market" for "platform" in the appropriate places so things make more sense :-)

John
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Good premise, unlikey to happen. Too much momentum.

MilesArcher
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

What are these Mac users' values that are so different from those of other software consumers?

Mac software tends to have overly colorful cartoonish interfaces and is difficult to impossible to control without using the mouse. Other than that it feels and works pretty much like Windows software. And I've been using Macs for years on regular basis.

Egor
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

"You'll find a lot of Mac OS X apps whose sole purpose is to provide a "rich" (i.e. "non-web") interface for web applications."

1. Like iTunes?

2. LiveJournal does this.  Users write desktop clients whose sole purpose it to make writing web-based and web-hosted clients easier to use.

3. Isn't that was UserLand is about?  Isn't Radio just a front-end for the web-based Frontier server?

Andrew Burton
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

[Good premise, unlikey to happen. Too much momentum.]

Well, stranger things have happened...remember the Unix weenies! :-)

[What are these Mac users' values that are so different from those of other software consumers?]

That's a topic worth at least a book or two (I think Amazon has one, but I never read it), but suffice it to say the difference is what makes Mac users spend so much more money for hardware that won't even run most of the world's software.  Clearly there is something they see in the Mac platform that almost everyone else doesn't.  I'd call that a difference in values.  (Maybe others just call it "stupidity", but I think they're wrong ;-)

A shorter summary of my original post would be this: "When you find yourself becoming dissatisfied with what you correctly recognize as the future direction of the 'mainstream' computing community, you may soon find yourself first examining, then considering, then switching to a 'niche' platform."  Joel exhibits only the very beginnings of this phenomenon: just a few tiny rumbles.  Maybe it's nothing, but we'll see in 2015, eh? :-)

John
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

> Long-term, this type of thing [total OS replacement]
> simply has to happen.  Sorry Joel, but it's true.  DOS
> didn't last forever, and neither will Win32. 

Did you not read the essay?  The critical point not that DOS is "still around" but that many (most?) DOS applications still run on WinXP and Win2K.  I can vouch for this - I wrote a fun little videogame in high school (1989) using Turbo Pascal 3.0 and the damn thing still runs on my Win2K box.  Amazing. 

Ethan Herdrick
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

DOS is (essentially) running in a VM on later Windows versions.  The only reason it's not considered "emulation" is that the CPU instruction set  is still x86.  All very old architectures are destined to run "forever" in virtual machines (or emulation, if the ISA changes), but that doesn't mean they're not dead.

John
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

I shall be flamed, but whatever ...

Despite Joel's rantings about it, I think the Mac has a great level of backwards compatibility.

Yes, Microsoft does put more effort into it. More of their stuff is backwards compatible. But there are games that I still play that were written in 1985 and assume a 9" black and white monitor (Scarab of Ra anyone?)

In some ways, Apple is the king of backwards compatibility. They have jumped to both a new processor and an entirely new operating system with a minimum of fuss. (Yes, they had more control over things, blah, blah, blah. I agree. But they did pull off a pretty neat trick.)

Mole
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

This is a definitely a possibility. Lets face it: Joel and friends had nice little niches in software process support tools carved out, but after neglecting this space for years  Microsoft seem to be moving in (Team Services, new VSS etc.). From the looks of it, Joel isn't too pleased with this.

The only other platform where people might be willing to pay for software is the Mac (how are the sales on Linix PHP FogBUGZ doing, Joel?), and since fogBUGZ isn't the type of program where you would live from services and support ...

But is the Mac software process support tool market big enough to sustain fog creek?
Joel is a smart guy, and an entrepreneur. I'm sure he has things up his sleeves, but he's not going to let us in on the secrets.

Just me (Sir to you)
Thursday, June 17, 2004

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