What Core Apps Define the Mac?


Many an analyst or Mac watcher has tried to quantify the “iPod Halo effect” around Windows-using iPod buyers who were so entranced with the iPod and iTunes experience that they gave Macintosh a try. While most now believe that the iPod is playing a significant role in leading new prospects to the Mac side, it was only a few years ago when many thought that by porting iTunes to Windows, Apple would in fact reduce one’s desire to switch.

A recent article on Applepeels, authored by a former longtime Apple employee, discussed how Quicktime has long been a cross-platform Apple application, but an exception, even as large Apple customers would beg and plead for the company to port more applications to Windows, including Safari and Mail.app., making those apps an enterprise standard. As you know, that hasn’t happened. Even as Apple switched CPU platforms from PPC to x86, it hasn’t yet opened up the floodgates for traditional Apple applications on the Windows platform (or Linux, for that matter).

Apple has made incredible hay in providing the iLife suite on new Macs. iLife (with the exception of iTunes) is not available for Windows. Similarly, Safari, Mail.app, iCal and other apps are Mac-only, unavailable for other platforms. While not as famous as the “No Mac OS X on generic x86” mantra, Cupertino hasn’t hinted that this will change. Are these applications core to the whole Apple experience? Is the Apple experience one of the Mac OS X look and feel? Is it one of well-designed hardware? Is it the close integration of Apple hardware and software? Or is it the litany of Apple applications, working in parallel that defines the Mac?

Apple has turned a lot of heads who otherwise would not have looked at the Mac platform in the last few years with the debut and domination of the iPod and iTunes, the switch to Intel, and the debut of iPhone. Would offering Safari, Mail.app or iLife on Windows change the equation at all? It’s not as if Windows users are lacking for mail applications and a Web browser…


Dave M.

Erik, What makes you think that iTunes/iPod has brought people to the Mac? Even if it did, you are contradicting yourself by first stating that you don’t think Apple has anything to gain by porting other OS X Apps to Windows, then say that it was advantageous for Apple to have ported iTunes to Windows since you feel that the iTunes/iPod combo has been instrumental in bringing Windows users over to the Mac way of life.

I owned an iPod well before iTunes was ported over to Windows and have purchased 8 iPods over the years since I first bought one. I only recently switched to Macintosh and that was due to Vista and the prospect of costly upgrades rather than any software Apple offered.


I think that the iLife suite is a large part of the “Apple Experience” initially. I was playing with garage band and iPhoto every day. However, as I started to get closer and more effective with my macbook, I have to say THE difference is the availability of quicksilver. I assure you, EVERY time, with no exception, when I’m on my PC, I either try to use quicksilver on accident or curse my monitor when I realize it isn’t there. That is the defining app for Macs.


I agree with Kirby: I don’t see how Apple has anything to gain by providing Windows users with a better computing experience, except where it directly pushes Apple products. Apple’s biggest advantage is hardware/software integration, which is why iTunes/iPod has been so successful in bringing people to the Mac.

Apple software running on Windows, without integration with Apple hardware, just wouldn’t have the same effect.

Avi Flax

I do think that iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, and GarageBand are core apps; I use all but GarageBand extensively, and am a big fan.

The non-included apps which define the Mac for me are:

OmniOutliner for note-taking and brainstorming
Keynote for presenting information beautifully and powerfully
Textmate for super-flexible code editing
SubEthaEdit for realtime collaboration on code or notes
HandBrake (or its fork, MediaFork) for DVD ripping and transcoding
Delicious Library for easily inventorying my books, movies, cds, and games, and tracking who borrows them
QuickSilver, for doing anything with anything
Parallels Desktop for running Windows better than PCs do

Tom Barta

I don’t think Apple should port FCP, or iMovie, or iPhoto. But I think there is a big opportunity to “increase the halo” by porting Mail and iCal. These apps address underserved needs amongst Windows users– there simply aren’t any good mail programs on the PC. Outlook truly blows. Thunderbird is better but is a far cry from mail.

Additionally, as Roughlydrafted has suggested, Apple should write an “Enchange Killer”. Think about it: in enterprise, Outlook/Exchange keep lots of people mired in the Darkside simply because people are reluctant to go with superior open-sourced alternatives because of potential support issues.

FUDsucker Proxy

I use Photoshop at work on a PC and at home on a Mac, and let me tell you the app feels very different on the two platforms. Seems to me the more integral features like Core Image or Core Animation, etc. are used the more dissimilar cross-platform software will become. What would Apple have to take out or put in to make Safari, et al. run on Windows and is it really worth it?


Apple is getting very good at stitching the apps to the OS. You couldn’t port Safari and Mail without porting Address Book and iChat. And, come to think of it, you’d need to port System Preferences to get the parental controls working. Oh, and then you’d have to port .mac to get the bookmark sharing feature…. And of course iCal and iSync would have to follow, because they integrate tightly with Mail, Address Book, etc.

You see where I’m going here. These apps are all dependent on one another, and dependent on the OS. Sure, you could port an incomplete version of the app, one that didn’t have all the features. But then you’re setting yourself up for trouble down the road, as each cool new feature has to be weighed against whether or not it can be implemented on BOTH Windows and Mac OS. In the end, the Mac versions would end up suffering.

Drawing the line where the Apps begin and the OS ends is getting trickier all the time. Just ask Microsoft. Or better yet, ask their anti-trust lawyers… :)

Dave M.

“Pre-Vista, iLife could have made a splash, but Microsoft now has its own, fairly competitive, versions of those programs.”

This is true, but those programs require Aero and will not run unless your computer is powerful enough to run Aero. I know this for a fact due to where I work evaluating Vista on a system that wasn’t capable of running Aero. The Vista version of iMovie would not run on his system.

I’m sure this was an issue with older Mac’s and the iLife suite too. I just wanted to make sure it was said.

Dave M.

OK, back in May of ’06, I was still a full Windows user. I took one look at Microsoft Vista (Beta2) and then looked at what it would cost to update all 5 of my Windows systems and choked.

Then my parents, who were still using a Windows box, had a huge problem with their system. They had accidentally installed a malware program that was popping up hundreds of browser windows when ever they tried to use the computer. I say accidentally because even though they were using Firefox to browse the web, some programs launch Internet Explorer instead of launching the default browser set by the user. My parents didn’t notice the change what browser they were using and bam.

I spent 6 hours restoring their system after that. I convinced them to switch to a Mac and they are now using a Mac Mini and haven’t seen a single problem since.

I bought a MacBook a few weeks prior to that because our Windows notebook was getting a little long in the tooth and I felt we needed a faster notebook. I choose the MacBook over other Windows based for it’s size and battery life as well as OS X.

I used that notebook so much that it pretty much became my desktop computer. When August rolled along and the Mac Pro was released, I bought one the next day.

So, for me at least, it wasn’t any one program or even a suite of programs. I thing the biggest reason for switching was the fact that not only could I get away from an OS that I had to constantly watch and make sure that all the systems I maintain were safe, but that I could run OS X and if I really needed to, I could run Windows in either a virutal CPU as with Parallels or boot to via Boot Camp.

I haven’t rid myself of Windows. I still have 5 Windows boxes that all have XP on them. We use 2 for games, 1 for a Ventrilo server and file server, and the other two, a notebook and desktop system, hardly get used at all. (My wife isn’t really keen on switching to a Mac and probably won’t until her system gets zapped by something.)

I would use my Mac Pro for games in both OS X and Windows if I had got the higher end graphics card, but I opted for not waiting for the card to be released. I just haven’t updated the card yet. When I do… (If only Mac had a few more choices for graphics cards…)


Speaking as someone who uses both platforms, I don’t think these apps would make much of a ripple on the PC. Safari is arguably inferior to the PC version of Firefox, and Mail isn’t that compelling versus Outlook Express or Thunderbird. Like you said, Windows doesn’t need more of these applications.

Pre-Vista, iLife could have made a splash, but Microsoft now has its own, fairly competitive, versions of those programs.

But this is all moot, because Apple will only port software when they have something to gain and nothing to lose: iTunes is there to sell iPods; QuickTime Player is there to make QuickTime more ubiquitous. Safari, Mail and iLife would have no strategic value in this regard.


Safari, Mail and iChat probably would never be FULLY ported. And it would not be a free download for those people. Say, $ 100.

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