For New Developers, X Marks the Spot

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The e-mails kept coming to Alias/Wavefront, and they all asked the same question: When is the company going to bring its Maya 3-D animation and visual effects software to the Mac? After talking to customers and receiving what Director of Maya Technologies Richard Kerris describes as "literally thousands of e-mails," the company placed a phone call to Cupertino."We called up Apple and asked if they could show us what they were doing with OS X," Kerris recalls.

The result? Apple was pleased with Alias/Wavefront's interest, and Alias/Wavefront was impressed with Apple's work on the new operating system. At the Worldwide Developers Conference in May 2000, the two companies made it official-Alias/Wavefront would develop a version of Maya for OS X.

Maya, which is used to create 3-D imagery in movies, TV commercials, and video games, is currently in beta. Kerris says the Carbonized application is still on target for a June 2001 release.

Alias/Wavefront may be the highest-profile example of a developer that's entered the Mac market thanks in large part to the emergence of OS X. But this isn't the only case of a developer turning its attention to the platform now that Mac users have a next-generation operating system to call their own.

The trend has not gone unnoticed at Apple. Besides the examples of new companies developing products for the platform, Ken Bereskin, director of Mac OS worldwide product marketing, notes that Apple's developer program-which helps firms develop, test, and market Mac software and hardware-has roughly doubled in size in the past year.

The reason for the stronger interest? Bereskin points to the Unix underpinnings of OS X, which makes the platform more appealing for developers.

"It really goes down to the simplest way we talk about OS X," Bereskin says. "It's the power of Unix married to the simplicity and elegance of the Mac."

The More, The Merrier

Besides Alias/Wavefront, other developers with a newfound interest in the Mac market include:

Zeus Technology: The Cambridge, U.K.-based company develops Web servers for enterprise-level operations-Internet service providers and e-commerce sites that rely on high-performance servers. Zeus has ported its flagship product, Zeus Web Server, over to Mac OS X partly because of the company's experience in developing for Unix and Linux.

"Mac OS X is clearly based on a core built on BSD so there were relatively minor implications for our production department," says Neil Macehiter, Zeus' Vice President of Product Strategy. "Historically, we've ported [Zeus Web Server] across all major forms of Unix."

  • Borland: The company formerly known as Inprise/Borland announced last June that its JBuilder cross-platform Java development environment would fully support OS X. Built-in Java 2 support makes OS X "really attractive for developers who target Java and Unix," says Apple's Bereskin.
  • RealViz: The French maker of image-based content creation software was planning on developing for the Mac platform since the company was founded in 1998. But the emergence of OS X doesn't hurt either.
  • "We didn't go over to the Mac because of OS X," says Emmanuel Javal, president of RealViz's U.S. subsidiary. "But we love OS X."

    It just so happens, however, that RealViz is rolling out Mac products at the same time Apple has released its new OS. RealViz's Stitcher, which creates full-sphere panoramic images, will make its Mac debut at this month's National Association of Broadcasters trade show in Las Vegas; the $800 application will ship soon afterward. ImageModeler, which creates photo-realistic 3-D models for the Web, will debut on the Mac at the SigGraph trade show in August. A shipping version of the $4,500 application will be available within two months after that, Javal says. Both products will run natively in OS X as well as in Mac OS 9.

    Unix: "An Essential Piece of the Puzzle"

    Different developers cite different reasons for coming out with Mac versions of products that have long been available on other platforms. For RealViz, it was a combination of the company's desire to expand beyond the special effects and post-production markets and the growth of the Mac platform. For Zeus, entering the Mac market with Zeus Web Server made good business sense. "It's an attractive market for us," Macehiter says.

    But the prospect of writing applications for OS X excites the new developers. Most have high praise for the OS's features such as high-performance graphics and greater stability. "Our customers are not going to rely on a platform where, if it goes down, the entire system goes down," says Alias/Wavefront's Kerris, noting the protected memory feature in OS X.

    However, Unix appears to be a major factor in attracting new developers to OS X. Take Maya, which includes some 26 million lines of code. For such a demanding application, Alias/Wavefront programmers needed an environment in which they were comfortable developing software. Unix was "an essential piece of the puzzle."

    The Future of the Mac?

    But where do these programs fit into the Mac platform? Maya is a high-end application of interest largely to visual effects professionals, not hobbyists and consumers. And while companies like eBay and Sprint may swear by Zeus Web Server, individual Mac users may find the $1,699 enterprise-class product a bit much for serving up their home pages.

    It seems, then, that OS X is not just bringing new developers to the Mac platform; it's bringing in developers with products that could expand the reach of the Mac market.

    For its part, Apple is coy about how OS X figures into plans to broaden the company's market. But Apple makes no secret that it's happy OS X seems to be adding new developers to the fold.

    "Bringing in new developers that build great new products is a great thing for us," Bereskin says.

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