I hate to be yet another blogger taking a potshot at Apple in the wake of the Leopard release, but I just have to say it: Apple, WTF are you thinking?! There, I said it, now we can be rational about things.
For those of you living in very cramped fox-holes for the past two years, MacOS X 10.5 (Leopard) is Apple’s latest incarnation of the cult-classic OS, MacOS X. It’s got multiple workspaces, file system versioning, read-only ZFS support and eye-twisting shadows which make your desktop look about half a mile thick. It’s got a totally redesigned Finder (which coincidentally looks just like iTunes) and added eye candy for both the Dock and the menu bar. What it doesn’t have is Java 6.
Sun released Java 6 back in what, last November? Apple’s had quite a while to get their act in gear and bring the latest major release to the table. In fact, they’ve had even longer than a year, since Java 6 was in open development long before its release. Apple did release a few developer previous of Java 6 to ADC members, but they discontinued the practice several months ago and haven’t made anything available since. It’s not as bad as all that though, the preview releases weren’t too much more than a renamed Java 5 with a few new generic APIs. Either way, Apple really has no excuse for not having Java 6 ready at least to coincide with the latest version of its OS, if not sooner.
To be totally honest, I don’t see how Apple is even justifying this decision to itself and its stockholders. Consider how many Java developers have switched to Macintosh over the last few years. I can count on one hand the number of developers I know and respect who still use Windows or Linux as their primary development machine. It’s startling the shift in the market which has taken place, partially driven by Rails’s major push of TextMate and the waves it caused throughout the rest of the development community, but also caused by the fact that MacOS X really is a very slick, very stable BSD incarnation which can run smoothly as a desktop. Well, that and the fact that the Apple hardware just looks so cool.
The thing is, all of these Java developers who’ve switched to Mac recently are going to start second guessing that decision. Java 6 is now a year overdue for the Mac platform, and Apple is giving no indication of rectifying the situation any time soon. What’s worse, is the version of Java 5 which does come pre-installed on Leopard seems buggy and unstable (disclaimer: I haven’t actually tested this myself, I just have it on good authority). Without a modern, stable Java, many developers will be simply unable to use the platform as their primary system. And guess where these developers will turn? Either to Linux and all the headaches thereof, or back into Microsoft’s waiting (and well-patented) arms. Is Apple really so big that it can just give the finger to such a large market segment?
Consider too, what this is going to mean for the future of the Mac platform. In the last couple years, we’ve seen a vast increase in the quality and quantity of applications available for Macintosh. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that this has correlated directly with the up-surge in developers switching their primary platform to OS X. Think about it, developers who use a certain platform are going to write software with that platform in mind. It’s only natural. With more and more developers focusing on Macintosh, the quality of applications for the platform increases, as well as number of new projects focusing exclusively or primarily on the platform for final deployment. In short, it’s exactly what Apple needs to make the platform a dominant player in the market 5 years from now. By flipping off the developers, Apple is basically saying “Yes, we know you want to write state-of-the-art applications that run exclusively on our platform, bringing more customers to our outlet stores, but the fact is that we don’t want you writing applications for our platform. Have you heard of Linux?”
Now I know that speaking out against Apple is like blaspheming a divinity, people have been stoned for less, but it still needs to be said. For the record, I like Macintosh. I like the Apple products, and I’ve always loved the Mac OS (ever since my first computer running OS 7). That said, I have never liked Apple as a company, and this latest fiasco is reminding me why not. Hopefully Apple will see the error of their ways and offer Java 6 as an update sooner rather than later. And if not, there’s always Windows!