Developers cope with Leopard adopting similar features

For the people who create Mac software, there’s nothing quite as exciting as a Worldwide Developers Conference keynote that previews the features slated to appear in an upcoming OS X overhaul. And there’s nothing as terrifying for those same developers as waiting to see if those new features do similar things to the software they’re already selling.

Such is the nature of third-party software: meet an unfulfilled need with your software one day, watch that same need get addressed by an operating system update the next.

Consider the case of Karelia Software and its popular Watson shareware application. At the 2002 Worldwide Developers Conference, Steve Jobs previewed OS X Jaguar, which featured an updated version of Sherlock that pulled down information from the Web without using a browser— the same functionality offered by Watson. Or take the Tiger preview at the 2004 conference that introduced Dashboard and its concept of mini-apps known as widgets; more than a few attendees noted the similarities between Dashboard and the third-party application Konfabulator.

History repeated itself at this year’s WWDC where Apple previewed Leopard. The next major version of OS X, scheduled for a spring 2007 release, includes several built-in features that replicate capabilities offered by existing third-party apps.

But if developers whose apps are similar to these upcoming Leopard features are feeling uneasy, they’re doing a good job of hiding it. Most still see a place for their software, even as OS X 10.5 adapts similar capabilities.

Take Time Machine, the built-in backup technology that will debut in Leopard. The feature could conceivably make third-party programs such as the cloning and backup tool SuperDuper unnecessary. But Dave Nanian, president of SuperDuper maker Shirt Pocket Software, says the program is alive and well.

“Time Machine was totally expected,” Nanian said. “We’ve been waiting for someone to come along and offer an application like that. Our plan is to complement Time Machine.”

Nanian points out that SuperDuper has a bootable disk, an important feature for many users. With a bootable disk, users can reboot even after catastrophic failures. And that’s the sort of functionality that Nanian believes will keep customers coming aback to Shirt Pocket.

“We take care of catastrophic situations, so there is still room for us,” Nanian said. “It’s a matter of utilizing what Apple has introduced and provide the extras to the consumers—that’s what we have.”

Nanian has a realistic view of what Apple’s Time Machine means for his product. But he also thinks a built-in backup feature in OS X has the potential to provide more business for him as well.

“People that had no solution would often come to us,” he said. “Now a certain percentage of those people will go to Apple. However, as their needs grow, we expect to see more business too.”

Another OS X application getting a major overhaul in Leopard is iChat. The new version of the messaging and chat software adds special effects capabilities similar to Photo Booth, the software Apple currently includes with Macs that have built-in cameras. iChat users will also be able to place themselves in front of any photo or video as the backdrop for their chats.

Those features are very similar to Script Software’s ChatFX utility. Like Nanian and SuperDuper, Script Software’s Julian Miller plans to continue offering and developing ChatFX. An update to the application is coming relatively soon that will be much faster and add more compositions. After Leopard arrives, Miller plans to take advantage of new features in that operating system.

Miller’s plans for ChatFX go well beyond iChat. In the future, he said, there are plans to provide support for Skype, Yahoo, Google and video conferencing.

Writing on the Script Software blog, Miller struck a philosophical note about the updated version of iChat slated for Leopard.

“In our case we had a leg up in creating what we did through the use of numerous Apple technologies that we put together in a creative way,” Miller wrote. “ChatFX relies on Quartz Composer which is brilliant and created by Pierre-Olivier Latour, Apple gives it out free to developers. Also iChat was necessary and is free from Apple and part of the OS. We may have inspired Apple, but Apple definitely inspired us.”

This story, "Developers cope with Leopard adopting similar features" was originally published by PCWorld.

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