Apple's Software Future

A few days ago, I filed this column in the Seattle Times about Apple's 2003 performance for users. I rated hardware high and software low.Sure enough, some of my specific complaints were address: iPhoto and iMovie, two pokey and slightly broken but highly useful programs were part of the revised iLife '04 package that Apple introduced this last week with major improvements. iPhoto can now handle more than a few hundred photos and iMovie added a few editing tweaks that will solve much of the irritation factor. Not mentioned were Address Book (useful, but not great), iCal (better in its current version, but highly limited), iSync (works for some people, but broken in many respects), AppleWorks (hardly budged in years), and Keynote (still feels very version 0.8beta to me). It's a little unfair of me to point to all of these packages and not others. Safari and Mail were both revved in Panther, and both are pretty great pieces of software: Safari is well rounded and Mail is well suited to its particular audience who wants built-in, Apple-supported software. Microsoft, however, announced that Office 2004 is due within 5 1/2 months; a G5-compatible version of Virtual PC for Mac is on the way in that period, too; and that there would be an Office 200x, probably 2006 given revision cycles. I'm going to go out on a limb in this private forum: I'll be surprised if we see another release of Keynote. I expect it's dead as part of the outcome of Apple and Microsoft's private talks to get Office 2004 and 2006 back on the table. I also expect to see a .Mac synchronization feature for Entourage, possibly released as a plug-in for Entourage X, but more likely reserved for Office 2004. It makes perfect sense to boost sales of Office and .Mac usage. It now seems unlikely to me, too, that we'll see any real work done beyond ongoing maintenance on AppleWorks. It won't become an Office killer, although it might increasingly offer better round-trip file open and save from Office docs. I can't see Address Book, iCal, and iSync going away. Address Book has become a critical component of the overall application layer of OS X. iCal is useful as a standalone program or to publish calendars. iSync needs to be dramatically improved in speed, stability, and flexibility, but I expect that Apple will do all those things to keep its advantage on integrating cell phones, Palm devices, and .Mac. (I know that some people can get iSync to work, but no matter what combination of resetting and clearing and starting from scratch I do, I get multiple entries in all directions and outdated data up the wazoo.) Microsoft's Office plans may end the brief era of Apple becoming a business and productivity software developer and return the company back to the creative side. I noted to a colleague at Macworld Expo that all of the software that Steve Jobs discussed was commercial, which was not true in previous years: Final Cut Express), iLife '04 (included with new Macs, but $49 for others), and Jam Pack ($99 add-on to GarageBand). (Technically, because the latest version of other iApps and Safari only work with Panther, you have to purchase Mac OS X 10.3 in order to get access to them, which wasn't true of previous releases of those packages. Safari 1.1 isn't available for Jaguar, even though I'm not sure that any part of it relies on Panther code.) With a passel of good for-fee software in the mix, Jobs may have turned Apple down a path where they dramatically increase their revenue on the software side.