Implications of Adobe's Intel-Only SoundboothWhen I read Adobe's new Soundbooth app would only run on Intel-based Macs, I wondered the same thing as everyone else: why? John Nack, Photoshop's product manager, goes through the reasoning on his blog, but it presents more questions to me than answers.
First, kudos to John for having the guts to answer something like this in public. No matter what I say below, I have more respect for someone who is willing to explain their stance.
(I also want to be clear that I'm discussing the merit of philsophy and technique, not the merit of the people themselves, and I don't take any of this too seriously. I'd buy any of them a beer and talk it over, and I'm not going to lose any sleep over it anyway.)
Where is Adobe's Focus?
John Nack speaks to the core reason for the decision about Soundbooth:
Apple's migration to Intel chips means that it's easier to develop for both Mac and Windows, because instead of splitting development resources optimizing for two different chip architectures, you can focus on just one.
There are two sides to this. On one hand, yes, focusing on one chip makes things easier, but the point of Apple's developer push was not switching to Intel, it was cleaning out assumptions about the underlying chip. That's why the key word they use is Universal.
Apple's focus is on Intel right now, but this stuff is unpredictable. Well, actually, it is predictable. It always changes. There was 16-bit to 32-bit, 32-bit to 64-bit, 68k to PowerPC, PowerPC to Intel. What if Apple released a new type of portable which was not x86-based at all?
At each step along the way, the speedbumps were related to cleaning up code that was too closely married to the processor. This begs the question: why is Adobe intent on writing so much processor-specific code that a PowerPC version of a new app becomes impractical? Is this a framework issue? A tools issue?
I'm struck by John's comments that the end of PowerPC-based Macs validates the idea that new apps can assume Intel. This isn't what "newness" should buy you. It should be an opportunity to not repeat the mistakes of earlier software designs.
In simpler terms, the goal shouldn't be to write an app that runs on both PowerPC and Intel, it should be to write an app that is not built around a single processor design.
Adobe may have thoughts on why they think this is impossible, but I haven't seen it in written form. My question is how much they're betting on Intel being the only game in town.
The other half of my thoughts on this relates to the subtext of Adobe's decision. Two Adobe program managers have now gone on record as saying it would be too hard to support two processors on the Mac side.
This would make more sense to me if it was a small, independent developer, but this is Adobe. I think they see themselves as an industry heavyweight. If that's the case, why can they not afford the resources for something like this?
It also sends the wrong message to users and developers, as David Chartier of The Unofficial Mac Weblog illustrates:
I am certainly no software engineer, and I know equally little about the intricacies of audio software, but if a company with Adobe's girth says that now is a bad time to start building PowerPC support into a brand new product - I'll listen.
The assumption on David's part (and it's not his fault), is that the problem must be too difficult if even Adobe can't do it. That assumption could be wrong. The challenge may be more due to Adobe's technique than the issue itself.
Optimizing low-latency software is not easy, but it is possible, and Apple provides at least some of the groundwork in Core Audio. Soundbooth actually requires Core Audio support, so they're using it somewhere. Core Audio, of course, supports both PowerPC and Intel-based Macs.
The Goodwill Issue
The one sentiment that I find particularly strange is the one that John brings up here:
If you're a Mac user, I think it's important to ask yourself, "Would I rather encourage software developers to bring their titles to the Mac, or would I rather jump down their throats given any opportunity?
If Adobe were to bring other Windows-only apps to the Mac, would I be happy about that, or would I rather give them hell for focusing on features & functionality rather than a discontinued chip architecture?"
[...] You're making it harder (and less appealing) for people of goodwill to make the effort to support the Mac.
Yikes. So now John has suggested that the Mac is a charity case. Do Adobe's numbers back this up? I doubt it. In any case, what kind of relationship would Adobe have with its customers if critical feedback resulted in withdrawing products?
Now this is John's personal blog. What he says may reflect company culture, but it may not. If it does, it's more telling about Adobe than the Mac. In the past, Adobe was the final word on Mac applications, but that's been changing. Apple's pro apps make some of Adobe's look positively dated.
In any case, Adobe went from being a champion of Mac design and technology to being among the last to adopt any Mac standards. There is also the issue of keeping pace with evolving Mac user experience. Mapping between the Leopard and Vista user experience will be likely be more than just drawing widgets differently, and this likely means the Mac version of Adobe apps will draw the short straw.
For Adobe, watering down their Mac apps to remain even with Windows is a high-stakes gamble. They must either believe their customers are Adobe users who happen to use a Mac, or they believe that they can outclass Apple in application design on an ongoing basis, negating the loyalty issue. They could also simply be betting there are enough professional media users on Windows to compensate for lost sales to Apple.
In my opinion, none are sure bets by a long shot, and the fence-sitting is chipping away at their position. Meanwhile, Apple continues to move forward with their OS, API and applications. It's completely within Adobe's power to do something about this — Apple wants them to use these APIs — but it would mean changing their philosophy about cross-platform apps.
In any case, I think Apple should feel emboldened now to press ahead with their own pro apps. They don't want the Mac to be held captive to Adobe's whim, and neither do I.
Implications of Adobe's Intel-Only Soundbooth
Posted Oct 30, 2006 — 29 comments below
Posted Oct 30, 2006 — 29 comments below