Mac OS X Beta Diary: Fear of Software

The release of Mac OS X is only weeks away, and I'm filled with excited anticipation -- as well as fear. My excitement stems from months of hearing representatives of various software companies say, "We'll have that application out around the same time the final version of Mac OS X ships."

Now, according to my notes, that means the floodgates are going to open on March 24, and Apple won't be the only company shipping OS X software on that date. But despite those statements, I've yet to see a beta or even early alpha release of any Mac OS X-native application from any vendor who said they'd have software ready by the release date. (That doesn't count things I've received that I can't talk about. Sorry -- if you want rumors, go someplace else.)

My assumption is, of course, that everyone wants to keep this whole Mac OS X thing hush-hush, so that when X day arrives, excited Mac fans will line up at stores holding both a Mac OS X box and a box containing their own X-savvy software. I have a vision of people lined up for blocks with their credit cards in hand, ready to help our economy a little by dropping some cash on new software. And a few folks will also be buying new Mac hardware to run Mac OS X on.

Then I leave the Steve Jobs Universe and return to our own. All of a sudden, those lines don't seem all that long. Sure, people are exited about OS X -- but people were excited about Olestra, and look what happened there: a lot of people eating snacks and getting a bad case of the runs.

My fear comes from the same element that inspires my excitement: the software. I see people looking at the Mac OS X box, looking at the in-store demonstration, and saying, "That's great, but will it run on my 7500?" The pimply-faced sales person says, "No, it won't, but if you buy this new iMac, it'll work great!" The person thinks about it and then says, "Great, but what about my software?"

Ha! You see, we've got two problems here. First, that customer will be told they can run their old apps in Classic. Now don't get me wrong here -- I'm a huge fan of Classic. I think it's the coolest thing in Mac OS X. But at some point that prospective Mac OS X buyer will have to upgrade every application they have, one by one, to get them out of Classic.

I may not know much about programming, but I know enough to realize these Carbon and Cocoa applications we've all heard about will come at a price . . . and not necessarily a small upgrade price.

I think Mac OS X is great -- but there have been a lot of great operating systems out there, and many of them have crashed and burned due to a lack of software. When it comes to getting people to accept Mac OS X, native software is going to be the key.

I have been dazzled by the many rabbits Steve Jobs and company have pulled from their hats in the past, and I certainly hope this software problem is just a bunny waiting to get yanked up by the ears at another Steve Jobs faith-healing session. We're ready for a new operating system and the new operating system seems (mostly) ready for us, but are the software companies ready in the wings with their applications?

Let's hope so.

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