Cross-platform Matters!

Last week I posted about how Silverlight is a validation of the RIA market. I thought I’d post a follow-up of sorts, talking about the importance of cross-platform capabilities.

Today I read a post by Eliotte Rusty Harold on why VRML failed and why OpenOffice needs to make their product work better on the Mac. I was particularly struck by this part:

The real reason VRML failed is that Mac market share approached or exceeded 50% among the Web designers creating the early Web in the mid-90s. Every web shop in business at the time was just raring to jump on the next hot bandwagon, but when they looked at VRML the first thing they saw was that there weren’t any tools for them to use. So instead they looked at Java, Shockwave, Flash, HTML, Acrobat, and other things that at least ran on the Mac, even if they didn’t run well. VRML never recovered.

I think you could argue whether that was the sole reason why VRML failed, but I don’t think there is any question that the lack of support for the Mac played a huge part. And the important part was to have the tools available on the Mac too, not just the runtime. This is a lesson Adobe has always taken to heart, as did the former Macromedia. And this cross-platform support is one of the main reasons why Flash, Acrobat, Photoshop, etc. have been so successful over the years.

Separately, Joel Spolsky of Joel on Software fame has written about the recent decision to kill VBA in Mac Office. In that post, he writes:

But what’s really interesting about this story is how Microsoft has managed to hoist itself by its own petard. By locking in users and then not supporting their own lock-in features, they’re effectively making it very hard for many Mac Office 2004 users to upgrade to Office 2008, forcing a lot of their customers to reevaluate which desktop applications to use. It’s the same story with VB 6 and VB.Net, and it’s the same story with Windows XP and Vista. When Microsoft lost the backwards-compatibility religion that had served them so well in the past, they threatened three of their most important businesses (Office, Windows, and Basic), businesses which are highly dependent on upgrade revenues.

Joel writes here about the value of lock-in, but the twist is that he is arguing that the lock-in is less valuable if the Mac isn’t part of the equation.

Despite some lame attempts at arguing that cross-platform no longer matters on the part of Microsoft evangelists, Microsoft has also realized that they do need to do a better job of at least appearing open and cross-platform. That’s why they are in the process of making OOXML, HD Photo, and XPS into “open” standards, and that’s why they’re putting so much effort into making Silverlight work on the Mac. Unfortunately for Microsoft, their cross-platform tools story around these formats is pretty weak (and I’m being kind when I say weak), and thus it will be a lot harder for them to achieve the cross-platform ubiquity they so desire. I’m curious to see if Microsoft announces a better Mac tools story at MIX next week.

The wild-card in all of this is Linux, of course. Adobe has support for Reader 7 and Flash Player 9 on Linux today, and Apollo will eventually support Linux as well1. Microsoft, meanwhile, either tries to ignore Linux or FUD it to death, and there is no support for XPS, Silverlight, etc. on Linux forthcoming. Perhaps they plan to rely on their new BFF Novell for such support. Or perhaps they’ll never be able to completely shake the “better on Windows” bias that is so ingrained in their corporate culture. Again, I’m curious to see if they have a better story to tell at MIX next week.

Bottom line, though, is that cross-platform is now more important to the industry than it has been in a long long time. And that’s good news for Adobe, a company that has cross-platform in its DNA.

1 Disclaimer/FAQ: Yes, I’m aware that Adobe doesn’t support Linux in its various commercial authoring applications today, but no, I don’t know if or when this might change. Yes, I know there is still some anger at Adobe over its history of Linux support. Yes, I agree that as Linux grows in desktop popularity that supporting authoring on Linux will likely become equally as important as it is to support authoring on the Mac today. No, yelling at me about it won’t help. Yes, it would help if a lot of existing Adobe customers told Adobe that they would pay for those commercial authoring apps if they ran on Linux.

~ by Andrew Shebanow on 25Apr07.

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