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Furor Over Developer Programs and QuickTime Licensing

Last week Apple unveiled significant changes to its developer programs and QuickTime licensing policies. Although the details are complicated, Apple’s new strategies have left many Macintosh software developers enraged, looking for alternatives to Apple technologies, or – in some cases – with no way to ship their products.

Pay More for Less — Apple’s new developer programs are more expensive than previous offerings while offering fewer benefits, particularly for small developers. Formerly, Apple Developer Associates paid $250 a year for monthly developer CD-ROMs, pre-release software seeds, and discounts on Apple hardware used for development. Under Apple’s new Select program, these same developers pay $500 per year for the same benefits, a $100 coupon from Metrowerks, and two support incidents, but they cannot purchase discount hardware. (Associates Plus members previously paid $500 for the same benefits plus five developer support “incidents;” they now pay the same price for two incidents and no access to discount

Similarly, Apple’s high-end program has increased from $1,500 to $3,500 per year, and includes access to discount hardware, eight support incidents, a $300 Metrowerks coupon, and a pass to Apple’s annual World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC). Apple has also re-instituted a monthly developer mailing for $200 per year (up from $150), which includes system software, but little else that isn’t available for free via the Internet.

These changes took effect immediately and follow yet another round of cutbacks and staff reductions in Apple’s developer technical support group (which handles Mac OS and Rhapsody development issues) making it seem that Apple hopes to focus developer support efforts on large accounts by raising the threshold to enter its developer programs. These mid-subscription changes are particularly galling to small developers, who are losing benefits they already paid for and must now decide whether to pay more for fewer benefits or drop out of Apple’s fee-based developer programs altogether.

The Quick and the Dead — QuickTime is one of Apple’s most ubiquitous technologies, used in everything from games like Myst and Riven to shareware programs like GraphicConverter and productivity applications like Web browsers, Photoshop, and Word 98. Now, on the heels of releasing QuickTime 3.0, Apple has unveiled new licensing policies for shipping QuickTime 3.0 or QuickTime 3.0 Pro with Macintosh or Windows 95/NT products. Developers were able to ship QuickTime 2.x with products free of charge. However, to ship software with QuickTime 3.0, developers must pay Apple $1 for every copy of the product sold. Apple will waive this fee if programs play the “Get
QuickTime Pro” movie when their product installs and copy that movie to the desktop every time their product launches (unless it’s already there or QuickTime Pro is installed). This policy has been dubbed “desktop spamming” and sets an alarming precedent, since it produces end-user animosity, opportunities for malicious Trojan Horses, and tech support burdens. To ship the spam-free QuickTime 3 Pro, developers must pay Apple $2 per copy.

At the same time – and also without warning – Apple discontinued licensing for QuickTime 2.x, the most recent version that functions with Windows 3.1. Developers planning to ship QuickTime products for Windows 3.1 – still an important market – are now rapidly looking for alternatives. Similarly, since there is no QuickTime 3-compatible Director Xtra for QuickTime VR, Apple’s termination of QuickTime 2.x licensing hamstrings products using QuickTime VR with Macromedia Director. Under Apple’s new policies, these developers can’t make products that use QuickTime 3.0 and can’t ship products built with QuickTime 2.x.

Few developers dispute that Apple should be able to charge for licenses to QuickTime 3. However, many object to new, unheralded policies that introduce a high-priced business model and effectively forbid development of a wide variety of products for which QuickTime was once the clear choice. These developers now have little choice but to look for alternatives to QuickTime or terminate their product development.

It’s distressing to see Apple changing its policies in ways that hurt or even eliminate smaller developers who can’t afford expensive developer programs or significant per-unit licensing fees. Although smaller developers can still get important information via the Internet or the monthly developer mailing, those same smaller developers protected the core of the Macintosh market while larger companies have gone cross-platform or ceased Macintosh development. Apple’s new moves could boomerang by reducing the overall amount of development talent in the Macintosh community.

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