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Strong opinions, weakly held

Platform vendors and shareware developers

Over at O’Reilly Radar Nat Torkington debunks an argument that I was once very sympathetic toward, which is that Apple (and other platform vendors) are evil when they incorporate features into the operating system that are provided by third party software vendors. In this case, the argument specifically revolves around small third party shareware applications that make using an operating system more livable.

Nat makes a variety of arguments about this, but to me, it all comes down to one thing. If you create an application that makes a platform easier to deal with, you can expect it to become part of the platform at some point. Not because the platform vendor wants to eat small software developers, but because no matter how good your shareware application is, all of the users of an operating system will never download and install it, but it very well might be useful to everyone. To survive in that ecosystem, you have to expect that the platform vendor is going to be coming after your features, and the better and more useful those features are, the sooner the platform vendor is going to make them part of the platform.

How Apple and other companies work this out with their developers so that people keep writing cool software for their platform is a business matter. One thing’s for sure, this is not a new problem. Dave Winer wrote Platform is a Chinese Household over ten years ago. Apple (and Microsoft) have certainly incorporated thousands of features that have also appeared in shareware products since then. The wheel continues to turn.

1 Comment

  1. When I worked for Quarterdeck a bazillion years ago (QEMM), the advent of Microsoft’s MemMaker wasn’t that big of a deal, because QEMM was better.

    Once people had a sip of the ‘koolaid’, they generally stayed with us, unless their machines had funky memory issues. Memmaker was generally ‘safer’ and therefore more univerally accepted by the unwashed masses, because it didn’t try to wring every last bit of high memory (640k-1024 + 16) out of the machine. Granted, DOS at the time had to be more forgiving because it had to run on every junky box there was.

    The end of the company came, of course, with Windows 95, when QEMM became irrelevant. Although upper management tried to come up with an alternative, nothing ever took (DesqView was great for DOS apps, but utterly useless for Windows, and DesqView/X was more of the same), so after purchasing a few other useless apps, the company was absorbed by Symantec (why?).

    To be sucessful, a third-party app vendor need get very many clients. Just look at Joel or Eric: both very niche players, tiny clientbase, but doing quite well.

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