To pass the time during this tryingly long flight from New York to Saigon, I picked up a copy of Mac Addict Magazine at the airport. I haven’t read it in years, but its lightheartedly written geekery is still an amusing diversion in short doses. For this trip, one nice thing about the magazine is the free CD-ROM full of trial software, shareware and on-the-cheap instructional videos included with each issue. Since to travel by plane, in 2005, still means being away from Internet access, I’ve been digging through the CD-ROM a bit and playing with its contents; soft of like surfing a very small, very limited Web.
This issue’s disc includes a copy of BeLight Software’s Image Tricks, an image manipulation application for Mac OS X. Written as a kind of demonstration vehicle of the power of Apple’s Core Image technology, Image Tricks is perhaps best described as a utility for applying Adobe Photoshop-like filters to photographic images with fantastic speed. It’s lightweight and extremely adept at adjusting an image’s exposure, color balance, gamma etc., and applying sometimes ostentatious visual effects.
To the Core
The widespread availability of Core Image makes me realize, too, how much things have changed for the Macintosh fan since the dark days of the mid-nineteen nineties. Back then (as if I needed to remind you) the Mac’s market share was dropping precipitously and bad news on the state of the platform, its market and its flagship company arrived at an unrelenting pace. One shudders to recall it.
In that climate, Mac consumers placed a heavy emphasis on feature parity across platforms: the demand for a program’s features to function exactly the same on the Mac OS as on Windows. This was basically a desperate attempt at preventing the world from slipping away from under our feet; if it was demonstrably true that Mac OS could do everything Windows could, it made for a more convincing argument against corporate spenders taking away our Macintosh hardware. By and large the major software companies accommodated the Mac market in this desire, which helped salvage the platform; feature parity in Microsoft Office continues to go a long way in legitimizing the Mac as a business tool.
Be Careful What You Ask For
It’l;s a decade later and things have changed, obviously; the Macintosh has rebounded in perception and in platform robustness. You could argue that, with developer resources like Core Image and Core Audio, the Mac OS is at least dramatically different and probably sufficiently advanced enough from Windows to make feature parity a drawback, even. Developers, like Adobe, who keep their software features in sync across both platforms can fully take advantage of neither; certainly they can’t do what BeLight has done and build a strong, lightweight application directly on Core Image, because nothing commensurate exits on the Windows side. You could also say that maintaining feature parity in the manner that Adobe has done — through the use of a single code-base for both platforms — results in an application that functions less than optimally on the Mac, to be polite.
This is what markets are all about, though, and it’s certainly a very, very good reason why we have at least two credible if disproportionate OS alternatives available to consumers. Adobe, thanks to feature parity and a host of other smart business and technological moves made throughout its corporate history, has achieved a dominating position in the image manipulation market that might, in a Windows-only world, be essentially unassailable. I may be jumping the gun here to say that Core Image gives a much smaller developer a legitimate chance at taking a large piece out of Adobe’s Photoshop pie, but I’m not being rash when I say it opens up the possibility. Takers?