Apple Launching a New Platform War With the Mac

Last Updated Jun 9, 2008 1:25 PM EDT

Apple CEO Steve Jobs will deliver another sermon to the Mac faithful at the Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), but amid all the pyrotechnics about the iPhone, App Store and third party software goodies keep in mind the big picture: There's a platform war about to start.

It's safe to say that Apple is winning over developersâ€"the WWDC is sold outâ€"but the game of software has always been won in the trenches. And if the rumors (Techmeme) are to be believed Apple will roll out a new Mac just for developers. The game is clear: Win over developersâ€"ideally as young as possibleâ€"and keep them on your platform. That's Microsoft's secret. The software giant has its faults, but it's not to hard to find teenage programmers on its platform. Microsoft is good to its developers.

Open source also has its legions of developers focused on everything from desktop operating systems to mobile platforms to enterprise tools. And take the developer game out further you get the Webtop where every company from Google to Adobe to Facebook is making a play to be a platform.

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The big question is where does Apple fit in this platform mix?

Surely, the iPhoneâ€"Apple's Trojan horse to the enterpriseâ€"is part of the big platform play. Jupiter Research's Michael Gartenberg makes an interesting point about what this WWDC (Apple Core and all coverage) really means:

Whether there's a new iPhone (that perhaps supports 3G) is interesting but not what's important. The real important news next week is news we already know. The iPod and iPhone have now become a software platform. I've talked in the past about the iPod as a hardware platform. Starting Monday, it's now a full software platform as well. That's super important because it means developers will the iPod and the iPhone places that AAPL alone could not, that no individual company could.
Gartenberg adds that everyone wants to be a platform, but the key for developers is making sure there's a big base to tap. Since the WWDC is sold out, Gartenberg makes the leap that Apple has attracted developers beyond the core Mac developer types.

Is Gartenberg's hunch on target? Quite possibly, but Apple still can't afford to lose the Mac faithful.

As David Morgenstern noted last week, developers, who largely see Apple's Mac as their meal tickets, are worried that the iPhone is stealing all of the thunder.

Morgenstern quotes one developer:

"As a software developer for Mac OS X, I just hope that Apple doesn't start cutting back there in favor of the iPhone. Now, the iPhone is great, don't get me wrong, but as far as I know, the Mac still makes more money."
And then Morgenstern adds:
Remember that a year ago Apple said that the testing of the iPhone required it to shift engineering and QA resources from the Mac OS X team away from Leopard testing and bug fixing. This resulted in a delay to the introduction of the long-awaited OS.
So there's the juggling act. How will developer relations go for Apple? Too iPhone heavy and Apple could annoy some developers. Then again you could argue that's where Apple should place its bets since the iPhone could pull in the rest of the arsenal.

For users of business technology it's clear that developers will have to pay more attention to the Mac. Amid all of the WWDC hubbub is the fact that a company like PGP created a version of its Whole Disk Encryption for the Mac platform largely because its security customers were asking for it.

This PGP effort really just gives Mac folks what Windows users have had for years. What's the big deal? The Mac has become important enough within businesses to warrant some focus. With Mac share representing a miniscule portion of the enterprise perhaps companies could get away with not worrying about securing them as much. But with Macs hitting the 4 percent ballpark within corporations, the formula changes. Meanwhile, the Mac is positioning itself as a multipurpose platform. Developers like the Mac platform because it has a familiar Unix feel to it and it can run Windows as well as OS X. Add it up and the Mac is positioned as a Swiss Army knife.


But it's very early days in the Apple-as-a-platform mantra. Apple's platform pitch is really just beginning and it remains to be seen if Steve Jobs & Co. can achieve most favored platform status. The Apple as a major platform mantra kicks off today.

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and Editorial Director of ZDNet sister site TechRepublic. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.
Credit: ZDNet

  • Larry Dignan

    Larry Dignan is editor in chief of ZDNet and editorial director of CNET's TechRepublic. He has covered the technology and financial-services industries since 1995.