Software

First Look: Macworld roundtable: Assessing Boot Camp

The arrival of Boot Camp continues to send shock waves across the Mac community, as Mac users try to make sense of the Apple-made utility that will let Intel-based Macs boot directly into Windows. What will this mean for Mac developers? Does this mark the end of emulation programs such as Microsoft’s Virtual PC? And will Windows users be inspired by Boot Camp to switch to the Mac?

To sort out the answers to these questions, we convened the inaugural Macworld iChat Roundtable. Three Macworld editors—Editorial Director Jason Snell, Senior Editor Rob Griffiths, and Senior Editor Peter Cohen—joined together in an iChat session moderated by Assistant Editor Cyrus Farivar to discuss Boot Camp and the future of Windows on the Mac.

Cyrus Farivar : Rob, last week both you and Peter raised some concerns that Mac developers might take a hit due to Boot Camp. Because now the developers can say: “Just boot into Windows.” Can you elaborate on this?

Rob Griffiths : Well, from my chair, the issue is one of finance. If Adobe spends x million dollars a year developing Photoshop, for instance, they might find it theoretically cheaper to just license Windows XP and just bundle it with all “Mac versions” of Photoshop CS2 for Windows. Now, that’s not going to happen. At least not right away.

CF : Why?

RG : There are, what, maybe 500,000 Intel Macs out there? And 10 million PowerPC Macs.

Jason Snell : I don’t think that’s ever going to happen.

RG : Conversations like that will be occurring. But I would also agree with Jason.

JS : Fundamentally, Mac users are Mac users because they want to use the Mac OS. And developers realize that if Mac users wanted to run Windows apps, they wouldn’t be Mac users.

Peter Cohen : That’s something that has been repeated by the Mac game developers I’ve been speaking with as well, Jason.

JS : Do I think that developers who are only tenuously attached to the Mac market, but don’t really get it, might try the “just use our app in Windows” approach? Sure. But most of those companies dropped out of the Mac market long ago. With games, I can see how some gamers and some games might be affected by this.

CF : Let’s switch to games for a moment. Take a game that exists on both platforms—say, World of Warcraft. Is running it on a Mac fundamentally different from running it on a PC?

PC : Anecdotally, I’ve heard from several people since Boot Camp was introduced that have said, “A Mac wasn’t even on my radar, but now I’m definitely getting one.”

JS : I’m excited about playing PC games on my Mac. But only certain ones, the kind that consume your entire interface anyway, so you don’t know what OS you’re on, and you certainly aren’t running any other apps simultaneously. (World of Warcraft fits those criteria.) But I want to affirm what Peter just said: For a lot of PC-oriented people, the Mac just became a relevant option because it’s got that Windows safety net behind it.

CF : Right—but now that Blizzard Entertainment has the PC version of World of Warcraft already, would they stop making the Mac version?

PC : At the core level of the user experience, no—playing a game on Windows is just like playing a game on the PC, with a few minor exceptions.

RG : I agree with that statement as well.

PC : When it comes to development, however, making a game for the PC is radically different than making a game for the Mac.

CF : Explain.

PC : Windows has a suite of application programming interfaces called DirectX, for example, that help PC game developers do everything from networking code to 3-D graphics management. There’s no real equivalent to that on the Macintosh—Apple takes a more piecemeal approach, letting open standards like OpenGL handle some of that. The other issue is that PC game developers are familiar with Windows. Making them develop takes them outside of their comfort level.

CF : So Peter, is it easier to develop the same game for Windows?

PC : I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily easier to make a game for Windows than it is for Mac. What I would say is that creating a game that’s easy to develop for multiple platforms requires a level of discipline that few companies are willing to put forth. And that’s one reason that we see very few simultaneous multi-platform releases.

CF : Is there any reason that Blizzard should continue to develop the Mac version?

PC : Sure, absolutely—because a large number of their Mac users are running on hardware that can’t and won’t support Boot Camp.

JS : Let’s not forget that it’s $150-$200 to buy a copy of Windows.

PC : But having said that, with World of Warcraft, Blizzard knows how many of its customers are using Windows and Macs. And if Blizzard sees the number of Mac users drop suddenly, of course they’ll have to reassess the market for their Mac development.

CF : OK, but over the next year or three, will there be a tailing off of development for big title Mac games?

PC : Cyrus, I believe that we will see a diminished market for native “hardcore” Mac games. By and large, “hardcore” gamers are the ones who have been complaining the most about Mac games’ time to market, feature disparity, and cost compared to their PC counterparts.

JS : Agreed—and if I had a dual-boot Mac two years ago I certainly would have bought City of Heroes!

PC : They’re also early adopters.

JS : Because lots of games never, ever make it to the Mac.

CF : True.

RG : Far Cry. Half Life.

PC : So there will probably be a drop-off in the number of Mac users who will buy, say, games like Quake 4. But I think there will continue to be a market for casual games, mass-market games like The Sims 2, and other titles that appeal to Mac users who are either unlikely or unwilling to invest in an Intel-based Mac with Windows installed on it.

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