Macintosh software is losing its identity. Many new Macintosh programs are ported from a Windows foundation to simplify the creation of a cross-platform product. In many cases, these ports have little or no support for the unique features of the Mac OS. Software reviewers tend to ignore this problem because these Apple technologies aren’t always obvious or because they aren’t technically equipped to evaluate and appreciate some of the more hard-core features. When was the last time you saw Netscape Navigator’s Apple event support mentioned in a review?
Apple has long allowed software vendors to put stickers on "approved" software packages to indicate when that program supports certain Apple technologies. Stickers for QuickTime and PowerPC-native code abound now, and consumers properly identify them with support for important platform-specific features. However, Apple implements such policies in a haphazard fashion, and even if they did have stickers for some features, it’s not hard to imagine a box cover overly festooned with brightly colored stickers proclaiming that product’s support for a large number of Apple technologies.
Happily, the Internet offers a better solution by providing a place where information can be readily shared. The Internet, and specifically, the Web, can enable informed consumer choice where stickers must perforce fail.
I have a proposal. I’d like to see a reputable member of the Macintosh community host a Web site dedicated to informing consumers about software support for important features of the Mac OS. This could be called the "MacFriendly" site (no rights reserved!).
The MacFriendly Web site could consist of a table (or more likely, a number of pages of tables), with the first column identifying the software product and the remaining columns noting the software’s support of Macintosh specific features. This table wouldn’t attempt to describe the software at all, though (for a fee) the software identifier could link to the vendor’s site.
What sorts of Macintosh specific features would belong at such a site? It’s easy to come up with a partial list:
- Apple events (standard and suite specific)
- Apple Guide
- AppleScript Recordable
- Balloon Help (yes, Balloon Help is good – check out Eudora.)
- Drag & Drop
- Multiple monitor support (a key Macintosh-specific feature)
- Open Transport
- Publish and Subscribe
- QuickDraw 3D
- QuickDraw GX
- QuickTime VR
- Stationery files
Of course, some of these features are utterly inappropriate for certain programs – a simple drag & drop utility like Chad Magendanz’s ShrinkWrap doesn’t need to support Open Transport since it’s not a networking application. A "Not Applicable" graphic or tag would solve that problem in the tables.
The MacFriendly Web site could also track other application features or problems commonly exhibited by programs ported from other platforms to give a partial measure of how "Mac-savvy" a program is. Consumers might be interested in items along these lines, including some of the following:
- Ability to run on MAE (Macintosh Application Environment) under Unix
- Don’t use System Folder to store files
- Fat binary, PowerPC, or 68K code
- Installation record (to aid uninstallation) or uninstallation options
- No "path dependencies" (use the Alias Manager)
- "Smart" installers that allow installation onto non-boot volumes
- Support for Internet Config
The trick would be to have software companies submit their MacFriendliness information through a secure route. Companies that fail to submit information might be listed with question marks under each heading; consumers could guess that these were not MacFriendly applications. If a software company lied about what their software supported, they’d simply be removed from the site. From a technical standpoint, setting up such a database-based Web site is easy.
The hardest part of creating a MacFriendly Web site would be working with software companies, since it can be extremely difficult to extract information from many companies. It’s unlikely that most companies would enter and maintain their own information with any sort of accuracy or regularity, if they got to it at all.
One alternative would be to turn the site into a money-making venture so it could afford to pay someone to coax the information out of software companies. A listing might be free, but having a link back to the software company’s site would cost money, and Web advertising could probably be worked in as well.
Another, more attractive alternative would be for Apple to run this site themselves. They already have a database of third party products so it would be less work to get it started than for someone else.
Either way, a MacFriendly Web site would be a great addition to the Macintosh Internet resources currently available. I reserve no rights to this idea; I only hope someone will build it. I know I’d be a regular visitor!