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The Apple Developer Backlash – notes from the field #dropple

Crackage

Ana Nelson, the creator of Dexy, a really cool tool designed for people writing, and writing about, code, pinged me the other day to say she’s considering dropping Apple. In the email she also mentioned that another friend of mine – Kirk Wylie, the guy behind one of London’s most interesting  (and investable) startups – OpenGamma, is thinking the same thing. Her email read like a blog post, so I thought why not make it into one.

So here are some notes from the field. While I realise two swallows does not a summer make, I’ve been hearing complaints about Apple from other folks in my network. If you have some thoughts one way or another please do let me know. It would be fun to collect some antimonials so if you are thinking something similar please comment, or fire over a paragraph of your own for me to add to this post – hashtag #dropple. Please check out my other coverage on Apple and the permission-based web here and here.

Ana Nelson

“When I was at OpenGamma’s offices recently, Kirk was saying he probably won’t be buying another Mac. I was agreeing. The backlash is gaining momentum.

The Lion OS is too scary, on top of what has happened to Flash and Java. It’s clear that Apple’s dream is that nobody can install anything on a Mac without Apple getting their cut and having their say. This is not how developers operate, especially open source developers used to autonomy and flexibility. Being told to choose your tools from a pre-approved list is about as evil as it gets to us, and there’s been no credible reassurance that this won’t be the case soon.

I think Apple is counting on its consumer market share to retain developers. The prospect of being an App Store lottery winner will be enough of an incentive to keep developers building apps for OSX and the iPhone, and probably even paying for the privilege.

Well, maybe they’re right. Some software companies probably will be willing to do that. But those individual developers who recognized OSX for what it was in the early days and jumped on board writing incredible apps the likes of which no Windows user could dream of because they ‘got it’, those developers who rushed to sign up to write iPhone apps just because they could imagine what you could do with an accelerometer, those developers who built apps that no committee could invent, in short, those developers who made Apple’s vision actually work. The ones who provided the momentum, the excitement, the first cool toys. The ones who prevented OSX from being the next NeXT. These developers won’t stay. As individuals, they’ll switch platform. As employees, they’ll switch jobs. Creative and passionate people creating awesome stuff on the leading edge. Walled developer garden. Choose any 1.

I’m particularly angry on behalf of the academic community who bought into the OSX vision in huge numbers. Remember the supercomputer built on top of the (now discontinued) XServe server? I watched Apple’s market share at one particular academic conference go from about 20% to 60% at 3 successive conferences (a 2-year period). A huge amount of academic software is written in Java. Indeed, this fact made it possible for many academics to switch to OSX in the first place. Now the future of these investments in hardware and software and sweat equity is uncertain. At least we can move our number crunching into the cloud, maybe with a nice iPad interface to keep an eye on things and view the output, but this golden age of XServes running XGrid seems to have been all too short.

I’ve been doing a lot of my programming work within Virtual Machines these days, even on my Snow Leopard machine with its Darwin underpinnings. It’s a great way to work, I can test software on multiple linux flavours and use whichever is most convenient for a particular project. I can take snapshots and revert my machine to previous states. Working with non-Darwin OSs has reminded me how frustrating it can be to build software on OSX with all its missing header files and non-standard libraries. So, with the popularity and ease of use behind virtualization technology, these days there’s really no need to have an OS which has *NIX underpinnings. So, Windows 7, which I must agree looks rather good, is actually a viable option these days. “Lesser of two evils” has never been so apropos.

Kirk Wylie

What originally attracted me, like many other technologists, to Apple after Mac OS X was released, was simple: fantastic hardware engineering, a UNIX operating system, with a fantastic user interface. Having been frustrated with the proprietary nature of Windows, and the comparatively poor user interface and application support of Linux distributions, the Mac was an excellent choice for development. Having access to top-tier productivity applications like Office and iWork made the choice trivial: OS X meant I could have my developer cake and eat my enterprise cake at the same time.

Apple as well actively courted the advanced developer market. XCode and Cocoa/Carbon were excellent ways to build platform-specific applications (and far better than Visual Studio and the Microsoft UI libraries). Java support was there for running Eclipse and other Java-based IDEs. At last there was a good platform for those developing applications that would eventually run on Linux and Unix based servers.

However, Lion, the App Store, moves to remove Java from being a viable option for anything on a Mac (although today’s announcement about Apple working with Oracle on OpenJDK may mean, assuming OpenJDK is a reasonable option compared to the J2SE distribution, that this improves at some unspecified point in the future), and the general stance of Apple at this point mean that, as sad as it is to say, my next computer (the first time in 6 years) will likely not be a Mac.

At the end of the day, when I want a computer, I want a computer. I don’t want a phone or tablet with a keyboard. I don’t want a curated application environment. I want a messy, creative, productive ecosystem sitting on top of a rock-solid kernel. I want Snow Leopard, not Lion.

I used to avoid Windows out of an instinctive recoiling at the very idea of supporting Ballmer, the completely ridiculous mess that is XP, and the market disconnect that resulted in the unusable Vista. Windows 7? It’s now good enough. And the fact that it’s now good enough, and Apple are ruining any last vestige of developer/power-user credibility, means it’s now an option for me and most advanced techies I know. And that should worry Jobs far more than Android does.

?Kirk:

What originally attracted me, like many other technologists, to Apple after Mac OS X was released, was simple: fantastic hardware engineering, a UNIX operating system, with a fantastic user interface. Having been frustrated with the proprietary nature of Windows, and the comparatively poor user interface and application support of Linux distributions, the Mac was an excellent choice for development. Having access to top-tier productivity applications like Office and iWork made the choice trivial: OS X meant I could have my developer cake and eat my enterprise cake at the same time.

Apple as well actively courted the advanced developer market. XCode and Cocoa/Carbon were excellent ways to build platform-specific applications (and far better than Visual Studio and the Microsoft UI libraries). Java support was there for running Eclipse and other Java-based IDEs. At last there was a good platform for those developing applications that would eventually run on Linux and Unix based servers.

However, Lion, the App Store, moves to remove Java from being a viable option for anything on a Mac (although today’s announcement about Apple working with Oracle on OpenJDK may mean, assuming OpenJDK is a reasonable option compared to the J2SE distribution, that this improves at some unspecified point in the future), and the general stance of Apple at this point mean that, as sad as it is to say, my next computer (the first time in 6 years) will likely not be a Mac.

At the end of the day, when I want a computer, I want a computer. I don’t want a phone or tablet with a keyboard. I don’t want a curated application environment. I want a messy, creative, productive ecosystem sitting on top of a rock-solid kernel. I want Snow Leopard, not Lion.

I used to avoid Windows out of an instinctive recoiling at the very idea of supporting Ballmer, the completely ridiculous mess that is XP, and the market disconnect that resulted in the unusable Vista. Windows 7? It’s now good enough. And the fact that it’s now good enough, and Apple are ruining any last vestige of developer/power-user credibility, means it’s now an option for me and most advanced techies I know. And that should worry Jobs far more than Android does.

Ana:

When I was at OpenGamma’s offices recently, Kirk was saying he probably won’t be buying
another Mac. I was agreeing. The backlash is gaining momentum.

The Lion OS is too scary, on top of what has happened to Flash and Java. It’s clear that Apple’s dream is that nobody can install anything on a Mac without Apple getting their cut and having their say. This is not how developers operate, especially open source developers used to autonomy and flexibility. Being told to choose your tools from a pre-approved list is about as evil as it gets to us, and there’s been no credible reassurance that this won’t be the case soon.

I think Apple is counting on its consumer market share to retain developers. The prospect of being an App Store lottery winner will be enough of an incentive to keep developers building apps for OSX and the iPhone, and probably even paying for the privilege.

Well, maybe they’re right. Some software companies probably will be willing to do that. But those individual developers who recognized OSX for what it was in the early days and jumped on board writing incredible apps the likes of which no Windows user could dream of because they ‘got it’, those developers who rushed to sign up to write iPhone apps just because they could imagine what you could do with an accelerometer, those developers who built apps that no committee could invent, in short, those developers who made Apple’s vision actually work. The ones who provided the momentum, the excitement, the first cool toys. The ones who prevented OSX from being the next NeXT. These developers won’t stay. As individuals, they’ll switch platform. As employees, they’ll switch jobs. Creative and passionate people creating awesome stuff on the leading edge. Walled developer garden. Choose any 1.

I’m particularly angry on behalf of the academic community who bought into the OSX vision in huge numbers. Remember the supercomputer built on top of the (now discontinued) XServe server? I watched Apple’s market share at one particular academic conference go from about 20% to 60% at 3 successive conferences (a 2-year period). A huge amount of academic software is written in Java. Indeed, this fact made it possible for many academics to switch to OSX in the first place. Now the future of these investments in hardware and software and sweat equity is uncertain. At least we can move our number crunching into the cloud, maybe with a nice iPad interface to keep an eye on things and view the output, but this golden age of XServes running XGrid seems to have been all too short.

I’ve been doing a lot of my programming work within Virtual Machines these days, even on my Snow Leopard machine with its Darwin underpinnings. It’s a great way to work, I can test software on multiple linux flavours and use whichever is most convenient for a particular project. I can take snapshots and revert my machine to previous states. Working with non-Darwin OSs has reminded me how frustrating it can be to build software on OSX with all its missing header files and non-standard libraries. So, with the popularity and ease of use behind virtualization technology, these days there’s really no need to have an OS which has *NIX underpinnings. So, Windows 7, which I must agree looks rather good, is actually a viable option these days. “Lesser of two evils” has never been so apropos.?Kirk:

What originally attracted me, like many other technologists, to Apple after Mac OS X was released, was simple: fantastic hardware engineering, a UNIX operating system, with a fantastic user interface. Having been frustrated with the proprietary nature of Windows, and the comparatively poor user interface and application support of Linux distributions, the Mac was an excellent choice for development. Having access to top-tier productivity applications like Office and iWork made the choice trivial: OS X meant I could have my developer cake and eat my enterprise cake at the same time.

Apple as well actively courted the advanced developer market. XCode and Cocoa/Carbon were excellent ways to build platform-specific applications (and far better than Visual Studio and the Microsoft UI libraries). Java support was there for running Eclipse and other Java-based IDEs. At last there was a good platform for those developing applications that would eventually run on Linux and Unix based servers.

However, Lion, the App Store, moves to remove Java from being a viable option for anything on a Mac (although today’s announcement about Apple working with Oracle on OpenJDK may mean, assuming OpenJDK is a reasonable option compared to the J2SE distribution, that this improves at some unspecified point in the future), and the general stance of Apple at this point mean that, as sad as it is to say, my next computer (the first time in 6 years) will likely not be a Mac.

At the end of the day, when I want a computer, I want a computer. I don’t want a phone or tablet with a keyboard. I don’t want a curated application environment. I want a messy, creative, productive ecosystem sitting on top of a rock-solid kernel. I want Snow Leopard, not Lion.

I used to avoid Windows out of an instinctive recoiling at the very idea of supporting Ballmer, the completely ridiculous mess that is XP, and the market disconnect that resulted in the unusable Vista. Windows 7? It’s now good enough. And the fact that it’s now good enough, and Apple are ruining any last vestige of developer/power-user credibility, means it’s now an option for me and most advanced techies I know. And that should worry Jobs far more than Android does.

Ana:

When I was at OpenGamma’s offices recently, Kirk was saying he probably won’t be buying
another Mac. I was agreeing. The backlash is gaining momentum.

The Lion OS is too scary, on top of what has happened to Flash and Java. It’s clear that Apple’s dream is that nobody can install anything on a Mac without Apple getting their cut and having their say. This is not how developers operate, especially open source developers used to autonomy and flexibility. Being told to choose your tools from a pre-approved list is about as evil as it gets to us, and there’s been no credible reassurance that this won’t be the case soon.

I think Apple is counting on its consumer market share to retain developers. The prospect of being an App Store lottery winner will be enough of an incentive to keep developers building apps for OSX and the iPhone, and probably even paying for the privilege.

Well, maybe they’re right. Some software companies probably will be willing to do that. But those individual developers who recognized OSX for what it was in the early days and jumped on board writing incredible apps the likes of which no Windows user could dream of because they ‘got it’, those developers who rushed to sign up to write iPhone apps just because they could imagine what you could do with an accelerometer, those developers who built apps that no committee could invent, in short, those developers who made Apple’s vision actually work. The ones who provided the momentum, the excitement, the first cool toys. The ones who prevented OSX from being the next NeXT. These developers won’t stay. As individuals, they’ll switch platform. As employees, they’ll switch jobs. Creative and passionate people creating awesome stuff on the leading edge. Walled developer garden. Choose any 1.

I’m particularly angry on behalf of the academic community who bought into the OSX vision in huge numbers. Remember the supercomputer built on top of the (now discontinued) XServe server? I watched Apple’s market share at one particular academic conference go from about 20% to 60% at 3 successive conferences (a 2-year period). A huge amount of academic software is written in Java. Indeed, this fact made it possible for many academics to switch to OSX in the first place. Now the future of these investments in hardware and software and sweat equity is uncertain. At least we can move our number crunching into the cloud, maybe with a nice iPad interface to keep an eye on things and view the output, but this golden age of XServes running XGrid seems to have been all too short.

I’ve been doing a lot of my programming work within Virtual Machines these days, even on my Snow Leopard machine with its Darwin underpinnings. It’s a great way to work, I can test software on multiple linux flavours and use whichever is most convenient for a particular project. I can take snapshots and revert my machine to previous states. Working with non-Darwin OSs has reminded me how frustrating it can be to build software on OSX with all its missing header files and non-standard libraries. So, with the popularity and ease of use behind virtualization technology, these days there’s really no need to have an OS which has *NIX underpinnings. So, Windows 7, which I must agree looks rather good, is actually a viable option these days. “Lesser of two evils” has never been so apropos.

Thanks for the pic @psd!

Categories: developers.

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11 Responses

  1. The position of these devs is reasonable, but rather polarized. Apple announced they are putting most of the effort of the Java Mac OS X support into the OpenJDK project. The amount of desktop apps built on Mac OS X or any platform outside of enterprise development and modelling tools is rapidly diminishing. Most JDK users have the VM even on the Mac box to run it under Linux or whatever their deployment environment. There’s no business sense in keeping Java going for Apple, but if there’s demand for it via the Enterprises out there, then Oracle gets all that work now for free, as does the community. Apple seems to be saying “You need it, it’s your choice on how to support it, and this way it’s more up to date than when we did” which was always a pain.

    The other side, the idea of Apple closing off the Mac OS X platform to outside distribution or developers I think is misplaced. Apple is going to create a situation that will showcase applications through their distribution channel, but have publicly stated it won’t be the ONLY channel, they just want it to be the best channel. Fink, DarwinPorts, Steam, and dozens of other models are still going to be there including direct from the developer. There’s too much that lies outside their guidelines to shut it all down without killing most of their long-term base customers. What I believe will happen is the Mac App store is going to be a defacto site for new or casual Mac users. The majority are going to go there for their new tools. Right now those people go no where except the Apple store. If it’s not on the shelf, they don’t buy it. This opens up a lot more market to developers targetting those users, but they are no less likely to go get Audio Hijack Pro than they were before the App store. They don’t do that level of work with the system.

    Like it or not, people want computers as simple tools that enhance their lives. That subset that uses it for creative, innovative and more involved purposes is still a minority. The “Power user” of sorts. Hopefully with easy access to basic apps, users will start to do more with their systems and more will evolve into that category than occupy it currently. It remains to be seen, but the nature of the platform is a long way from turning into a closed system.

    As for Windows 7, looks like it is an alternative, and thinking back to when Mac OS X first came out, it’s the alternatives that push a market forward. Choice is good.

    • Dallas – well said. I see the permission-based web as a bit more pernicious. and of course the views of these two are polarised. Since when did developers not have polarised views? ;-) That said- both Kirk and Ana are fairly pragmatic people, which is one reason I found their arguments compelling.

      But anyway – folks talk about HTML5 hurting Flash or Silverlight, but HTML-based app stores are going to be the norm, I suspect- that is- Apple’s current model will also come under some pressure too.

      James GovernorNovember 12, 2010 @ 7:57 pmReply
  2. I have seen no truly compelling argument that the AppStore on Lion will lead to a closed off app ecosystem as opposed to the AppStore on Lion leading to a more open iOS ecosystem.

    Apple’s overriding revenue comes through hardware sales. Their hardware sales come from making things simple and having great software to run on the hardware. Over time, I think it makes more sense that as Apple makes the simplicity argument more obvious that they will remove more roadblocks on the making great software available avenue; particularly scaring off developers who want to play outside the app ecosystem.

    Here’s a dollar bet if anyone wants to take it: within a year of Lion’s release, an official sideloading channel will be available for iOS devices and Apple will promote it as making iOS and Mac app channels identical.

  3. Dallas, I think you’re actually not understanding one of the core issues with Java on the desktop: the plethora of development tools that are based on Eclipse these days. I know people developing Android apps on Macs. I know people developing enterprise Java apps on Macs. At OpenGamma, one of our quantitative analysts/developers develops analytical models in Eclipse on a Mac. Database development tools, mobile application tools, system modelling tools, all of those are based on Java desktop applications.

    What all of those things have in common is developers. To quoth Ballmer: “Developers, Developers, Developers, Developers, Developers!”

    It didn’t take long for the percentage of Mac laptops at technical conferences to reach 80%. Because it’s an environment developers like, which leads to better apps, which leads to developers pushing them to their friends and enterprises. And developers are *very* conscious of appearances and positioning.

    Here’s the thing: all the various moves, while none of them individually is disastrous, has led a huge number of techies I know to seriously consider a post-Apple world for them. And that’s more dangerous in the long-term to Apple than I think Jobs fully realizes.

  4. Kirk nails it.

    I’m a looong-time Mac user and casual developer, but have over the past year come to the conclusion no more. I refused to buy an iPhone when I saw where they were going with the platform, and see similar in where they’re taking the Mac OS now.

    For me the better alternative is Linux.

  5. Interesting to read that long term Mac users come to the same conclusion I came after just buying my first Mac a couple of months ago. I switched back to using Ubuntu as my first choice OS even on the Mac after a while and I just cant understand how people would want to go to Windows from MacOSX. Especially with virtualization available… why run Linux in the VM? Run Windows in it and use it the few times you actually need a windows app and enjoy a proper unix underpinning most of the time..

  6. I have yet to see anything that indicates to me that java on os/x will get worse. Getting the mac specific stuff into the openjdk tree and out of the OS/X tree means better support, fewer security vulnerabilities lingering in the base OS, and an all around win for everybody. This is not a reason to drop Mac. If you want to, fine, but it’s not because java support is going to be worse.

  7. Apple is about consumers, consumers, consumers.
    It is inconceivable that they would do a “Think Different” ad now. While Apple was an underdog, having creatives was essential and great. Now, whatever, as long as they consume..

  8. This hit Twitter again recently, so I thought I’d give an update.

    I upgraded to Lion. I have two computers (a 15″ MBP and a Mac Mini). Both are on Lion. I use a couple of things from the App Store, but not very much. Aside from adjusting to the reverse in two-finger-scroll, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. We’ll see how Cougar does on the sandboxing, but not as bad as expected.

    I also have a plethora of other Apple devices. I have an iPhone 4S for the UK, an iPhone 4 for the US, and an iPad. Didn’t upgrade to the iPad 3, as I don’t see the point and don’t need the upgrade from the iPad 2.

    On the Java side, Apple has allowed Oracle/OpenSource to have OpenJDK 7 be the default Java on the Mac. Not such a bad situation, and at least Apple can’t block that avenue for developers.

    But the biggest differences in my thinkings were two events since this originally got posted:
    1 – I don’t code professionally anymore. I got bumped up by my team to Full Time Management, so the coding arguments don’t impact me anymore.
    2 – I tried an Android (first-gen Galaxy S) as my US phone for a while and hated it with the seething passion of a thousand suns.



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Continuing the Discussion

  1. [...] But developers shouldn’t write to closed platforms if they are concerned with economic opportunities, no matter how slick the user experience. Apple is currently doing everything it can to capture developers. Its platform choices and policies make it very clear developers enter the Apple ecosystem at Apple’s pleasure. If Apple is displeased, the developer may find their root to market cut off. I call this the Permission-based Web. So far Apple remains the web developer’s workstation of choice. But this could be changing. [...]