Play Where You Like!
By Jeff "nonick" Solomon
Simple math is the Mac's biggest hurdle to succeeding as a dominant gaming platform. Currently, the Mac OS accounts for roughly 10% of the computer industry (a percentage up from last year, actually), which means that all titles developed for it are inherently limited to a smaller user base. From a developer's point of view, this fact can overshadow any potential superiority that a given platform may have in terms of technical features.
As is the case with most software, the premiere titles that are available for Windows are usually also available in Mac versions. In gaming terms, this translates to examples such as Quake, Unreal, and WarCraft, amongst others. Sometimes the Mac versions appear first, but the most typical scenario finds Mac versions arriving after Windows versions, and often receiving limited support.
While the Mac is an excellent platform for multimedia and gaming, it suffers from some very significant core weaknesses in the basic architecture of its operating system. Mac OS 8.5, the newest version of the Mac's system software, due to be released in October, is still based on core OS features that were not designed to drive computers in today's world of extremely powerful processors and resource intensive applications.
The Mac OS suffers from the "compatibility syndrome" that also plagues Windows 95/98. The system has been held at the mercy of its incredibly large library of existing software. The Mac OS needs to be able to run the majority of programs that exist for it, but it can't take important steps forward technologically without breaking many of the programs- and games- that were designed to depend on the system's core functionality.
There is, however, a light at the end of the tunnel. The Macintosh market is going to become a lot more interesting next year with the release of Mac OS X, a major revision to the platform's aging OS that, at least on paper, promises to bring many of the system's most sought-after features to the table. Based on Rhapsody, which is a work-in-progress, modified version of the NextStep operating system that Apple has been working on for two years, Mac OS X will leave behind the aging architecture that has plagued the Mac OS's ability to compete with more modern OSes for years. Full preemptive multitasking, multithreading, protected memory, support for OpenGLůMac OS X will give developers a platform that is roughly on par buzzword-wise with Windows 95/98 and NT, and arguably even better. Better yet, Mac OS X purports to implement these features in a fashion that will preserve compatibility with the vast majority of software that was written for previous versions.
It remains to be seen if Mac OS X will be able to deliver on its lofty promises, and even if it does, if Apple can attract a significant share of developers to what will undeniably still be a platform with a small user base. Assuming the best, the technology will be in place to deliver a very competent gaming platform, and Apple has demonstrated of late that it has the ability to create positive mindshare and renewed excitement in the Mac world. The iMac is a perfect example of this- it is the only example in recent years of a computer model that has generated industry-wide excitement. This is certainly going to be an exciting arena to monitor over the next year or so.
The Linux community is launching an all-out attack on Microsoft's operating systems, and the assault extends to gaming as well. Quake and Quake 2 are available for Linux, as are a variety of other games, many of which are user ports and hacks. There are scarce few large companies that are currently developing and distributing software for Linux (id is an exception), but, ironically, this fact may in the end help contribute to the platform's ultimate success.
Linux is the operating system of the people. It's a very powerful, robust, and mature variation of UNIX that is maintained by the Internet community at large, and as such has accumulated a very strong support network and rabid following that is bent on doing whatever it can to make Linux succeed. Most Linux supporters share a similar vision of the future: a scene in which the Windows logo suffers the same fate as the Statue of Liberty at the end of Planet of the Apes.
The biggest weakness that Linux faces is the simple fact that it is a piecemeal system that is, at this point, still far too complicated for the average person to use effectively. Linux requires a large amount of system knowledge to configure properly, and can be very difficult to tame when it comes to installing device drivers for esoteric hardware.
These difficulties make Linux less practical for most users who have a hard enough time getting Windows to run properly. In this regard, Linux is not an ideal gaming solution for everyone in its current state. However, these problems are not intrinsically linked to Linux as an operating system, and will most likely vanish as the platform matures over time. They're simply growing pains, and it's remarkable how quickly the OS is moving through them.
I'm sure that most people who are reading this article are familiar with Linux, and many will argue that it is a superior platform that deserves to replace all forms of Windows in the near future. For those who can cope with Linux now, this statement is valid. The point, however, is that Linux needs to develop as a consumer operating system before it receives the level of support that Windows receives. The day that typical users can run games on Linux with the same amount of system interaction that is needed with Windows will mark a very important turning point for the computer industry as a whole, and a potential departure from the Windows standard that has helped define the scope of the industry.
|Credits: Illustration © 1998 Mike Sanzone. Play Where You Like! is © 1998 Jeff Solomon. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't do it, dammit.|