Nightmare Scenario #4,693 (6/8/05)

If hearing that developers are largely enthusiastic about the Intel switch is playing hell with your addiction to negativity and angst, don't worry; there's still plenty to fret about, and we're not just talking about those fiddly little things that have gone missing from the current Mac user experience. See, another major drawback to the existing MacIntel development hardware-- potentially a far more serious one than the lack of Classic support, Altivec, or FireWire booting-- is that it apparently runs Windows just fine. Since the chip's a Pentium 4 and everything on the motherboard is standard Intel chipset stuff, installing Windows is just a matter of downloading drivers and selling your soul to Bill Gates, and there's no particular reason to believe that shipping Macs won't retain this ability.

Why is that a problem, you ask? Well, aside from the obvious (it's freakin' Windows, duh), we've heard some alarming third-hand reports that at least a couple of developers are now relieved that soon they'll no longer have to port their Windows apps to Mac OS X at all; instead, they're just going to tell Mac users to run the Windows version. Is it ridiculous for them to assume that Mac users who want their software will be willing to buy and install Windows and then reboot their Macs every time they want to run it? Sure, probably. But there are already some developers of Windows-only software who, when asked about the possibility of a Mac version, cheerfully reply that their products work just fine in Virtual PC.

Now since, on a MacIntel, Virtual PC becomes a lot less virtual, performance ought to be almost indistinguishable from that of running Windows natively on the same hardware, but without the hassle of a dual-boot system, and therefore even more developers are likely to weigh the costs of a Mac port against the size of the Mac market and decide that they're far better off just telling Mac users to shell out the cash for Virtual PC. We're thinking about games developers in particular, since a lot of games rely on processor-specific machine code to eke every last bit of available performance in hopes of making that headless torso spiral through the air while spraying blood as realistically as possible. That's made games extremely difficult to port to the Mac, and while it's certainly true to porting to MacIntel will be loads easier and less expensive, it'll be easier and cheaper still just to tell Mac users to buy Virtual PC; yes, on a MacIntel it'll actually be plenty fast enough to play games, provided Microsoft doesn't totally drop the ball.

"But AtAT," you ask, "what's to say that Microsoft will even bother shipping Virtual PC for MacIntel?" Oh, come on, folks-- you know that Microsoft just has to be licking its chops over the prospect of Virtual PC for MacIntel; it's money in the bank. Think about it: it'll run Windows apps at full speed, it'll sell more copies of Windows (which is all Microsoft cares about-- what do they care if you run it on a Mac?), and perhaps best of all for the Redmond Menace, it'll contribute to the eventual total irrelevance of the Mac platform. Consider the cycle, okay? Some MacIntel owners who want to run the latest Windows games buy Virtual PC. Windows games developers see this and decide that porting their games to the Mac is a pointless expense. Fewer and fewer hot games are ported to the Mac, so more and more gamers buy Virtual PC. Eventually Virtual PC is on enough Macs that developers of other software titles decide to eliminate their Mac ports. And then even developers of Mac-only software figure, hey, why not develop only for Windows, instead, since then everyone can buy it?

So eventually, Virtual PC on MacIntel kills off Mac software development completely. Want nightmares? Imagine the worst case scenario, in which Macs are eventually just pretty computers used to run nothing but the Finder and native Windows apps. It's Bill Gates's fondest dream come true. You're guaranteed to wake up screaming.

Do we actually think this will happen? Nah, not to that extent. But we do think that at least some Windows developers are going to be far less likely to port their software to the Mac once Intel-based Macs are plentiful and Virtual PC is available; the games market will probably be affected the most. And if you need something to get upset about, well, we're always happy to oblige. Fret away!

SceneLink (5259)
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The above scene was taken from the 6/8/05 episode:

June 8, 2005: The development-class MacIntels are fast enough that we're awash in psychically-projected warm fuzzies. Meanwhile, will Virtual PC for MacIntel deep-six Mac software development, and how is it possible that the iTunes Music Store is more popular than most P2P file-sharing networks?...

Other scenes from that episode:

  • 5258: And Stop Picturing Us Naked (6/8/05)   Holy yikes, someone throw us a rope-- reports from anonymous WWDC psychics are flooding in from all sides! Yes, that's right, we said psychics; you don't expect actual attendees to violate their NDAs, do you?...

  • 5260: Good Karma On The Rise (6/8/05)   Wait-- didn't Apple also have something to do with digital music, or something like that? Man, we'll say one thing about this whole MacIntel brouhaha: it's certainly put the spotlight back on the Mac, hasn't it?...

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