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Tim and Tiger

Tim Bray isn’t so sure he likes Tiger. And I’d agree, but with enough caveats that I thought a blog post would be worthwhile.

OS X has gone through five major revisions since I’ve been using it. It had more before, but since I didn’t use them I don’t really know about them, and won’t comment about them here.

The first release was Public Beta. This was a developer’s release: it was slow and had some bugs and everyone knew that it wasn’t a finished product. That was part of the name.

Release two was Mac OS X 10.0, which was the real deal. It was the ‘come and get it release’ that was supposed to signal that normal, everyday people could now run UNIX on their desktop and it would be pretty and they wouldn’t have to use UNIX just to use UNIX. This was UNIX for the rest of us: this was an end-user release.

Next came 10.1, which was for everybody, because the one feature in 10.1 was speed. If you’re keeping track at home, you can almost declare this as a non-release: this is what 10.0 was supposed to be, but for reasons of compiler– and press– release cycles couldn’t be.

Then we move into the big cats and get Jaguar, 10.2. This was a release for the developers again: we got Quartz Extreme APIs and Rendezvous Bonjour and a significant update to most of the internals. There was much rejoicing on the mailing lists, and there was the beginning of a Renascence in the Mac Shareware world. Jaguar contained little for the end-user, but it contained a lot of springboards that the developers could launch off of and bring amazing new things to the end user.

Panther (aka 10.3) was the result of Apple using all of those springboards and launching everything in the OS up a notch. Panther was targeting at the end user again: the foundations didn’t shake much (we did get Bindings), but the world shifted: the bar moved up because it was just expected that every app would pull out all the tricks: after all, everything in the system did.

And that brings us to 10.4, Tiger, which with CoreData and CoreAudio and CoreVideo and CoreNameYourComponentHere is to my eye quite definitely a developer release. Apple is shoving more tools in the toolbox, and seeing what the community can do with them. When it’s obvious which ones are the good ideas, Apple will take them and run with it: persistent SQL stores backing the iApps? Let’s hope.

What Apple is doing is alternating between the releases for the devs and the releases for everybody. But you can’t just give the devs special builds, because the interesting part of the experiment is what gets built, and in our networked world the interesting apps are the ones that rely on the network effect of having lots of installations. Quote the Cluetrain, “Markets are Conversations,” and the conversation is more interesting the more voices speak.

I’ll also note that this theory is made even better by the fact that it cannot be proven: if Apple started admitting that every other release was developer-oriented, then non-developers would stop buying those releases, and the whole house of cards falls down.

As long as it stays up, though, it’s a neat trick. It pulls the platform forward in leaps and bounds, and it does a pretty nice job of growing the third-party developer scene: every other release, Apple is providing lots of new areas to create new apps, to make new waves, and to ride those into the sunset (which may or may not be the next major release).

But I think the best part is that it dovetails wonderfully with the quick revision cycle they’ve been peddling: Apple never appears to be behind the curve, but the developers and the platform always seem to be on the leading edge. And that’s where all the alpha geeks want to be.

{ 1 } Comments

  1. avatar Josh BishopRoby | 2005-11-21 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    But you can’t just give the devs special builds, because the interesting part of the experiment is what gets built, and in our networked world the interesting apps are the ones that rely on the network effect of having lots of installations.

    There’s also the blurring line between customer and producer, end-user and developper. If I had more time to devote to tinkering with Cocoa, I’d be one of those amateurs that occasionally come up with something neat — you know, like iTunes. (What was the original program called, that got bought by Apple and revamped into iTunes?)