Feature Parity Tricks

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&#8217l;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?

  1. The problem is that the OS (and therefore Core Image) is not in itself a killer app.

    Remember when the Amiga came out? It had those fantastic realtime graphics and stereo sound that made everybody say “WOW! I’ve got to get me some of that”. The fact that it had a nice multitasking, near realtime OS was completely beside the point.

    Core image a very nice bit of tech, but until something takes advantage of it that makes people sit up and say “Wow!”, there’s not really anything to drag people away from Photoshop (etc).

    What’s more, that killer app has got to do everything that Photoshop can, but better (or go down the route of Photogenics and offer an entirely different way of working). But that’s beside the point.

  2. Howdy Khoi — In case you’ve got time to read, I’ve got some interesting suggestions for your next long flite. Do you like non-fiction? Lately I’ve run across:

    “Maximum City” by Suketu Mehta. A pretty interesting book about Bombay — really gritty! I know nothing about Bombay or India so it is an eye-opener to me.

    “The Right to Privacy” by Ellen Alderman and Caroline Kennedy. Published in the mid-90s, so it may not touch on internet privacy that much – but should still be pretty interesting — especially since you are online a lot and lots of your info (and everybody else’s) is out there for anybody to see..)

    enjoy your travels!

  3. First have you thought of what would happen if Adobe did use core image? What’s a sepia tone done in core image vs. one done in Adobe filter system? They are different.

    The fact of the matter is with core image, it’s part of the os, and if the os updates, and apps use realtime filtering like Aperture does, then so does the filter you applied to the image.

    Think about that. It’s very complex, apple does have a system to deal with it, and in the future going forward my guess is 6 years down the road their will be a “image standard” body that says exactly what sepia tone is across the board… so your app can be “Image:blah” certified…

    I need my image filters to work the same, and after I applied them they damn well better not change..

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