Seybold Vendors Take on X

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Wandering the Seybold Seminars show floor in Boston last week and talking to companies about their plans for OS X was like asking a Kremlin minister his opinion on the West during the Cold War. After a fleeting look of paranoia, vendors recited their position like they're quoting a Soviet crop report: "We are definitely committed to Apple and OS X."

That line was heard so often from vendors at Seybold, one can't help wondering-if everyone's so committed to OS X, exactly where are all the products?

The graphics and publishing industry is one of the Mac's strongest markets. Yet, apart from a few product announcements, this year's Seybold conference was rather quiet on the topic of OS X-the biggest upheaval to come to the Mac since the Power PC.

Despite assurances that they are dedicated to Apple and its new operating system, Quark and Adobe-two of the biggest players-are taking a cautious approach to moving to OS X. At its keynote session Thursday morning, Quark announced that the next version of QuarkXPress, the most widely used page-layout program in the world, would still run only in Classic mode.

"We don't want to ship a product that is not robust," said Quark CEO Fred Ebrahimi. "Working with new operating systems has always taught us not to be the first ones."

Indeed, Quark won't be first. The company plans to release its OS X version as an update a couple of months after it ships XPress 5.0, making it unlikely that users will see an OS X-native version anytime in 2001.

Adobe showed the next version of its own page-layout application, InDesign, already running on the new operating system, but the company is still refusing to give even a hint of when customers might have the new version in their hands.

The lag in shipping OS X applications by Quark and Adobe may turn out to be a boon for smaller developers looking to move into a market notoriously resistant to change. One such company is SoftMagic, a Korean-based outfit hoping to break into the American market with a suite of Cocoa-based tools. Called "Project M" and geared toward publishers, SoftMagic's tools are aimed at helping designers move their publication to multiple formats such as the Web, eBooks, and print.

"The big players are going to be leap years behind on this," says Jim Armstrong, manager of technical support for SoftMagic. Armstrong thinks Project M, which is scheduled to ship by July, has an advantage over its competitors because it was built from scratch for OS X, whereas the larger, more established companies must rework years of old code.

"It's nice being on the bleeding edge," Armstrong says.

Big companies may be holding off on announcing specific release dates for their OS X products, but many other Mac vendors on the show floor say they expect to make the move to OS X around July. That's when Apple is slated to install OS X software on new laptops and desktop computers.

"I don't think you'll see a lot of adoption before then," says David Blanton, senior software engineer for Elisar Software. Elisar's product, MediaRights, protects digital content such as images and documents from unauthorized duplication or download. "That's when an OS starts to become ubiquitous, when Apple starts bundling the OS with its hardware."

But even if the software companies are ready to make the move to OS X, will their customers be ready to follow?

Russell Doucette, a sales manager at color-management tool maker GretagMacbeth thinks Mac customers may not have much of a choice. If Apple stops developing OS 9 and shifts all of its future efforts to OS X, Mac customers will be faced with following along or being forever trapped in an increasingly obsolete operating system.

"This is really Mac OS 1.0," Doucette says. "We're not sure people are really ready to adopt. But they'll have to. That's the way Apple works." GretagMacbeth will be there with them, Doucette adds. The company hopes to have all of its software supporting OS X by June.

Of course, the move to OS X won't all be smooth sailing. Some companies such as Canto, makers of the digital asset manager Cumulus, are already gearing up their tech support system to help customers through the switch. Hector Medina, senior regional sales manager for Canto, says the company has already been through the challenging process of introducing customers to a new system when it released a version of their workgroup edition for OS X Server a couple of years ago. That taught Canto some valuable lessons.

"We had a lot of difficulty moving our customers to the original OS X Server version of our product," Medina says. "A lot of people were confused about the changes. It took a lot of hand-holding."

Elisar's Blanton says his company will continue developing software for OS 9, as well, to meet the needs of customers who may never take the plunge to OS X. "I don't think a lot of education institutions for example are going to make the switch anytime soon," he adds.

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