Mac Scope

Proteron: Tilting at Windmills

Stephen Van Esch - 2003.10.29

With the recent release of Panther, Proteron has made a bit of a stink about the inclusion of an application switcher that is, apparently, a "near pixel duplication" of Proteron's LiteSwitch X.

There are several people who have pointed out that Proteron's complaint is not exactly justified:

Far from being the "original application switcher," there are several examples of application switching on the Mac. And, of course, Windows has had application switching for many years.

So who's ripping off whom? It really doesn't matter. I personally feel that application switching should be built into the OS. This is such a no-brainer feature that I'm surprised that Apple hadn't incorporated decent application switching sooner. This single feature is the only one I truly missed when working on a Mac instead of a Windows PC.

An operating system is designed to facilitate and manage workflow on a computer. Features that make this easier should be bundled with the OS. Proteron draws parallels between LiteSwitch X and Karelia's Watson. This comparison is unjustified. Sherlock 3 does little to improve the base operating system functionality.

This isn't to say that Sherlock 3 and Watson aren't useful tools, but their functionality does not facilitate the user's computer workflow. Watson is designed to facilitate workflow beyond the operating system, and Apple definitely overstepped the bounds of propriety when they cloned many of Watson's functions.

What Apple has done in the current case is include a basic application switcher with the operating system. This is a tool that makes moving between open applications extremely easy - it facilitates the user's workflow.

Proteron sells an advanced application switcher. It also makes moving between open applications quick and easy. This is also a tool with features that power users will find useful. In my mind, there is little for Proteron to complain about.

In any case, creating applications will always carry a risk. For example, I use the most excellent TigerLaunch to keep my Dock clear of unnecessary clutter. Countless development hours would undoubtedly be flushed down the toilet if Apple decided to incorporate something similar into OS X.

Many other applications both free and commercial can, do, and will fall victim to the whims of Apple's software team. Has there (as Erik J. Barzeski points out) been an open memo from Unsanity regarding the Panther labels function that will clearly cut into their Labels X sales? Has anyone at EasySoft Creations raised a ruckus about Apple's Font Book putting Font Explorer out to pasture?

On a more personal note, my company creates Web-based training for Macintosh applications and school software. It doesn't do us any good when Apple creates a series of QuickTime videos, posts them on .mac, and calls it training. Watching videos on the Web is training in the same sense that watching a professor on TV is training.

So, we sell a superior product that many may choose to ignore. That is the risk my company decided to take when it developed the OS X course. Will we continue to update our OS X course or choose to develop something else? That is a business decision we'll have to make in the near future.

I respect Proteron and its software products. However, I cannot agree with their decision to seek some kind of compensation (verbal or otherwise) for a product that is, really, fair game. They've proven that much by lifting their idea from others.

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Stephen Van Esch is the founder and president of the E-learning Foundry, an online training resource for Mac users. Steve loves the Mac and is doubly bilingual, since he's also fluent in Windows and French.

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