Apple and Developers

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Tim O'Reilly
Jun. 29, 2003 09:10 AM
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After I posted my comments on Apple as Innovator, I got some strongly-worded mail from a well-known Mac developer. He said:
    The emphasis on Apple misses the point. It's never been about Apple! It's been about Macintosh: a culture of extremely smart and demanding users that attracted a talented group of developers who created a tradition centered around crafting highly usable apps with obvious productivity benefits.

    By idolizing Steve Jobs, we do a disservice to the many people past and current that have contributed to the Macintosh culture. We're probably doing him a disservice too!

    As to why Apple's stuck with such a small market share, it may very well be that the self-congratulatory press releases about record number of downloads of so-called free software aren't resonating. Many long-time, thoughtful observers of Macintosh myself included are advocating for a developer-led alternative--an important aspect of which is an Apple-seeded investment fund to help capitalize independent Mac software/media developers. (A developer-led strategy has the extremely important benefit of mitigating the risk of potential policy/legal actions for anti-competitive pricing/tying practices.) We'd love your support for the developer-led alternative!

    PS--I personally wouldn't invite the Apple management team over for mashed potatoes!

(The final PS is a reference to my mother's one-time comment that Bill Gates sounded like someone you'd invite over to dinner, only to have him say "I think I'll have all the mashed potatoes." As with all cutting remarks, the edge does violence to the nuances that individuals and companies use to justify to themselves behavior that others find unfriendly. But there's certainly truth to the assertion that successful companies, from Microsoft to Apple, often take more than their fair share of the market, trampling small developers in the process. Ultimately, I do believe that taking too much of the market is counterproductive, since a successful platform requires a strong developer ecosystem. One company can't do it all. No matter how smart you are, you can't always pick the winning path. Progress flourishes only when you allow the exploration of alternatives.)

I replied:

    I do stand by my comments about Jobs' genius. Just because he doesn't have a genius for encouraging developers doesn't mean that he isn't a genius at a certain kind of marketing. After all, Apple is the only non-Intel computer company to survive. That was an amazing success.

    I do agree that a developer strategy is critical for Apple's further success.

To that end, I'd like to get a dialogue going. What would you like to see Apple do to better support its independent developer community? Or are they doing just fine?

Tim O'Reilly is the founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media Inc. Considered by many to be the best computer book publisher in the world, O'Reilly Media also hosts conferences on technology topics, including the O'Reilly Open Source Convention, Strata: The Business of Data, the Velocity Conference on Web Performance and Operations, and many others. Tim's blog, the O'Reilly Radar "watches the alpha geeks" to determine emerging technology trends, and serves as a platform for advocacy about issues of importance to the technical community. Tim is also a partner at O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, O'Reilly's early stage venture firm, and is on the board of Safari Books Online, PeerJ, Code for America, and Maker Media, which was recently spun out from O'Reilly Media. Maker Media's Maker Faire has been compared to the West Coast Computer Faire, which launched the personal computer revolution.

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