I’ve been a fan of cross-platform development for a while now, I like competition and have a dislike for single-supplier dependence - my general rule is that if you put your eggs in one basket, and then give that basket to a monolithic corporation-being with the power to crush planets with a single cybernetically enhanced pectoral clench, odds are that you’re not your own boss any more. However, as a developer who must inherently exchange the scribing of cryptic text for food & shelter, I haven’t always been able to follow that preference.
I’m a recent convert to the Mac platform - while I’d never have described myself as a cheerleader for Windows, it has always been my desktop of choice simply because I hadn’t used anything better (desktop Linux was often too much hard work), and I would always express that to anyone who asked (with a side-note that if you’re running file/mail/webservers, you’d be nuts to do it on anything other than an open-source *nix, given how easily and cost-effectively it slipped into that role). However, two things happened in recent history - Vista being increasingly forced on me as the incumbent upgrade path despite being a damp squib, and I got a my first, real-life Mac.
At first, all my PC predjudices emerged. One mouse button! All my games don’t work! I have to find replacement applications for X, Y and Z! This interface is weird! Etc. But you know, going on for a year on now, I’ve overcome all that and I’d buy a Mac again without thinking twice about it. My dual-boot to Vista on this machine lies so unused it’s in danger of getting purged if I could actually be bothered.
And I’m not the only one. There was a time when the needs of business also strongly drove the needs of consumers when it came to PCs - you had a Windows PC at work, so you tended to buy that at home too. But then, devices started getting more diverse - Blackberrys, smart phones, iPods, iPhones, games consoles with media playing / web browsing features - most of these didn’t look or feel very much like Windows, even the ones that included a pocket version of Windows, but yet people got used to them, and perhaps realised that they can use this crazy alien technology after all, and that maybe all the concepts underlying it were actually pretty common. The Internet is the platform of choice now after all, it’s the glue that holds most things together now.
The key takeaway from this is that I think the consumer PC/device market is now far more autonomous from the ‘turns like a supertanker’ business market than it’s been in a long time, and is looking to be the engine of real change in the industry. People increasingly expect to be able to hop between devices and still get to all the things that are important to them, and thus make choices about their own devices more independently from the staid business world than they have in the recent past. Apple is a powerful brand in the consumer space, something they’ve genuinely earned in my view, so in an increasingly business-consideration-free consumer space, that’s bound to influence things. Some reports claim that Apple already has 21% of the consumer PC market in the US (note, excludes business PCs - it’s more like 3% worldwide), and look at the results from a recent Morgan Stanley survey of US students:
Certainly if you’re Dell, this must be a little concerning, although I’m sure they’ll continue to sell a ton to the besuited world.
Now, this isn’t supposed to be a born-again Mac fanboy post, I’m simply illustrating an increasing desire for diversity, innovation, and just good design in the consumer space, which I personally am very happy to see. I expect (& hope) that if Ubuntu smooths out its remaining kinks that require the kind of forum-trawling that non-enthusiasts have no patience for, it could challenge for the consumer spot too - although at the moment I’d still personally rate a sexy looking MacBook with OS X on it considerably higher as a device for the wider market, at least in wealthier countries, that doesn’t mean it will stay that way forever. The world just needs good software, good designs that fit the purpose and preferably look great at the same time. That’s what people want, and heck, Apple just has a habit of delivering here, so all power to them.
The final thought then? If you develop commercial software for ‘real’ people, you really ought to be including a Mac port in your plans. And perhaps an Ubuntu version, just on the remote chance that anyone running it on the desktop decides to actually spend some money on software one day 😉 And of course there are all those cool little devices. It ain’t just about Windows PCs anymore, and chances are in the consumer space it may well get less so as time goes on.