I can remember the exact moment when I knew Netscape was Screwed. It was an email from an engineer who attended a technology preview of Internet Explorer 3 and the bevy of other Internet technologies Microsoft had rallied behind following Bill Gates’ famous “Internet Wave” email.
I don’t remember the specifics of the email, but it read something like this, “IE3 does everything that Netscape Navigator does… it does it faster.. and it does a lot more… and they’re giving it away for free” Up until then, Microsoft had been tossing together half-hearted browser efforts with IE1 and IE2, but no one took them seriously because everyone knows it takes Microsoft three major releases to get anything right. Netscape dominated the browser space and thanks to a lucrative IPO, we had the cash and confidence to further that domination.
Most engineers didn’t sweat the IE3 email. They believed, “We’re leaner, we’re faster, we’re better.” I, on the other hand, was still stinging from my Borland days when we thought the same thing about Microsoft’s Office strategy and then promptly received a two year beat down which resulted in the dismantling of Borland’s office application organization.
I was watching with interest while Netscape engineering was singing our happy song of Monopolisitic Pride and our marketing department began to spin the message coming from Redmond, “We are Microsoft, we get the Internet, and we’re coming.”
This type of message coming from Microsoft is called FUD. It’s an acronym because we technology types measure progress by the number of useless acronyms we’ve created to describe what the hell we’re doing. The acronym is “Fear Uncertainty [and] Doubt”. FUD is usually an outrageous claim, an annoying fact, or an untrue opinion… they are statements which are designed to push someone else’s buttons and they are terribly fun to mull over. Some other examples of juicy FUD:
- Macs are more expensive.
- The US of A never landed on the moon.
- Lee Harvey Oswald was not a lone assassin.
- Windows is virus-plagued.
You get the idea. FUD is not intended to be a statement of fact even though it might be true. They are statements designed to tap emotion and get people talking and/or yelling. FUD is viral, FUD is sticky, and FUD rarely goes away.
At Netscape, marketing did battle with with FUD with a curious non-acronym. The answer was a Silver Bullet… the only way to answer FUD. A Silver Bullet is a well reasoned answered to whatever lame questions the FUD implicitly asks. Let’s see how it worked then and then we’ll see how it works now.
One of the key advantages Netscape had in the early browser wars was cross-platform support. Netscape Navigator ran on Windows, Mac OS 9, and various flavors of Unix. Of course, Microsoft knew this, so they claimed, “We’re developing Internet Explorer for Unix and here’s the company that’s doing the port!” The press would then rush over to Netscape, FUD in hand, and ask, “Whaddya think?” THe response would be the carefully research Silver Bullet for IE Unix support which read something like, “IE3 hasn’t even shipped for Windows, let alone Solaris or HP/UX. Also what kind of track record does Microsoft have shipping Unix products? None. Lastly, has anyone even bothered to pick up the phone and call this company that is porting WINDOWS CODE TO UNIX? HELLO?” The press would nod vigorously and rush back to Redmond, “Well, Netscape says you’re full of shit…” And the cycle continues.
Here’s another Silver Bullet with different chunk of FUD: “There are no games for Mac OS X”
This is pervasive FUD… particularly among younger computer buyers who live for the latest and greatest is key to existence. It’s also untrue. There are many games, but that’s not really the question. The FUD is “There are no good games for Mac OS X” and that’s a blatant lie. What is true is that a majority of the games produced for the PC do not show up on the Mac platform, but the majority of the games produced for the PC are crap, so this isn’t a big deal. I’ll explain.
I’m current playing Knights of the Old Republic. This was voted Game of the Year by one of the bazillion game magazines out there. I’ll admit even with a dual G4 in hand, I was concerned that the quality of the games ported to Mac OS x was going suffer. This was reenforced by my first experience with a Mac game, Sim City 4. The game was plagued with annoying graphics issues which were only somewhat addressed by a subsequent patch. Still, that was one game.
Knights of the Old Republic just rocks. Amazing sound, graphics, and playability. My fear that I’d constantly be aware I was sitting at my Mac due to game limitations has vanished. I lose myself with my dual lightsabres and I kick major ass and becoming totally lost in a game is the requirement of a compelling gaming experience.
Still, one game doesn’t not a gaming platform make. More good news. I picked up Knights after I’d completed Neverwinter Nights… another game of the year from a couple of years back. I had the same level of satisfaction with the Neverwinter that I had with Knights and I’m officially calling two great games for Mac OS X a streak.
The first part of the Silver Bullet is this. Yes, I’m guessing there are about 1/10th of the games there are for the PC. Believe it or not, that’s good news because the games which are being developed for the Mac are… wait for it… the good ones. Why in the world would Joe_PCGame_Maker push a crappy game on the Mac platform? They’re only going to invest in games which are proven sellers. This means, on average, if you are going to grab a random Mac game off the shelf, the overall quality/playability has got to be higher.
Avid gamers are still going to snoot it up when it comes to Mac OS X because most new games don’t show up on the Mac platform and that is absolutely correct. You can say the same thing about the PC when it comes to the Playstation or the XBox … and that’s the ultimate Silver Bullet: When you’re buying a Mac, you’re not buying it because you want a new game machine… you’re buying the Apple experience. Your primary function on this hardware is not playing games, it’s development, graphic design, video/music editing, or just about anything else you want out of a personal computer. When you’re done with whatever you’re doing and you’re done playing Halo 2 on your Xbox… there are some great games for your Mac.
When you tell someone you’re buying a Mac and they throw the No_Mac_Game FUD in your face, they’re being lazy. Someone, somewhere, at some time, told them that “Mac Games Suck” and that’s simple idea to remember. FUD paints a world of black and white and the good news is it’s all gray people.