Piracy harms developers most

Mac developers are a major victim of piracy, says Tom Yager

There was a time when I railed against the use of rumours as sources for stories in the IT press. Now I pine for those more innocent days. Blogs are considered news sources now, a practice that, at its worst, should yield what one expects from lazy journalists. But I am shocked to see the media's race to adapt from blogs the most detailed instructions for pirating Apple's OS X for Intel and get them to readers first.

I wonder whether the media has finally bought into the hype generated by the pirates, that software theft is good for vendors because it expands the potential market for the purloined product and software that enhances it. In the case of OS X for Intel, pirates have put a finer point on their foul-smelling rationalisation: Apple's OS is free with the computers it sells, Apple's use of Trusted Platform Module hardware to lock OS X to Apple-branded PCs begs to be defeated for freedom's sake and Apple's refusal to let OS X run on AMD-based systems must be challenged.

This particular brand of piracy cuts deep. If you can't spare any sympathy for well-heeled Apple, consider those whose pockets are considerably more shallow: Mac developers.

Mac developers face market expectations, drawn from the success of Linux, that commercial-grade software should be free and open source or at least far less expensive than comparable software for Windows. But coding for Linux is a walk in the park compared with Mac development. Ugly software is easier to write, and though I've stated it harshly, that's a well-considered position. Meeting Mac users' exacting standards for intuitive, productive user interfaces, seamless cross-app integration, scriptability and ubiquitous use of OS X's built-in services and frameworks make expert-level Mac development an expensive and risky career choice.

Another argument used to frame piracy as a harmless hobby relies on the fact that pirates never buy software. But the argument goes on to state that because no pirate is a potential buyer of the software he's stolen, no dollars are lost and therefore piracy is a victimless crime.

It's not — one pirate armed with a blog or a forum membership can derail hundreds of sales by bad-mouthing software he neither understands nor has any right to use. Thieving bloggers are already complaining that OS X for Intel is slow and unstable on their non-optimised, unsupported PCs. Complaints about applications are certain to follow. The dissonant buzz emitted by pirates frustrated in their efforts to home-brew freebie Macs, or who just have an axe to grind against the Mac, will cast a shadow when Apple launches the Intel-based Mac.

That Mac developers are getting mugged is unfortunate and pirates' support in media outlets and blogs is shameful. However, Mac developers' skill and uniquely intimate familiarity with the platform work in their favour. You see, even though pirates are educated enough to read and follow the safecracking directions spoon-fed to them on the internet, they don't know anything about what they've stolen. Wouldn't the planting of report-worthy bugs that affect only those users running illegitimate machines make a lovely snare worth embedding in free Mac software? I wonder whether the ease with which such traps can be covertly set and sprung in OS X software will make news.

Yager is chief technologist at the InfoWorld Test Centre. Email him at tom_yager@infoworld.com

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