Sunday, October 29, 2006

Do not expect a fractal ad

Just imagine the following situation between Justin Long and John Hodgman, the Mac and PC men (respectively) in the most recent Apple campaign against Microsoft.

Mac: Hello, I'm a Mac.
PC: And I'm a PC.

(The PC guy, dressed in his usual “boring” suit, is holding an LCD screen showing some odd pictures. Of course, everything else is pure white).

PC: Hum, hum. Good.
Mac: What are you looking at, PC? [asks Mac too intrigued since there shouldn't be anything interesting on the PC side of things].
PC: Oh, I'm looking at my most recent fractal creation. Do you want to see it?
Mac: Sure. [Mac, in his cool sneakers and angelic blue outfit, sees the picture, and then says with a broad smile] I can do fractal pictures too.
PC: Can you?
Mac: Sure, let me show you.

[Mac, always on the “right” side (from our viewers' perspective), makes a smooth move to the right side of the QuickTime player window, and from that edge enters a gorgeous and sexy looking lady from some exotic place bringing Mac a spectacular 30-inch flat panel. Mac takes a look at his screen, and with eyes as wide as the full moon decides it's time to show no emotion at all. Instead, he wispers to the exotic lady]

Mac: What is this?
Exotic lady: Tiz iz yore flak-tar pick-sore [her eyes sparkle with a synthetic flirting glance].

[Mac went pale and mute].

PC: Can I see it?

And just when Mac was ready to turn the flat monitor our way, QuickTime quits unexpectedly.

PCs excels in fractal art, no doubt about it. It is because there is no Mac software that can compete side by side with any of the most popular PC fractal generators. Of course, there are a few, but those that are good enough are shareware, and as such restrict what the tester can do with them, or the kind or size of picture that can be saved. I'm not even sure what their authors' terms are regarding the distribution or showing of pictures done with their unregistered software. In order to use them to their fullest potential, users must pay for a licence code. Yes, that's the norm, but the point is that while there are free options for the PC, Mac users have practically no other choice but to pay the price of being part of an advertisement-born elite. Things are changing now that Macs have dropped prices considerably and are targeting prospective new buyers (alas with the never changing “be welcome to the —same old— elite” motto). Would there be a change towards us, fractal zealots, as well?

If Mac programmers want to get the attention of fractal enthusiasts —and to bring them forever to the Mac OS side— they will need to create the right conditions, the right atmosphere for a growing, genuine, lasting interest in fractal art. I'm not an expert (that's for sure), but my guess is that it might/should work like this: first give the potential user something completely free and powerful enough (without giving away everything) to play with in order to generate the necessary demand for a commercial product. Otherwise, how would they be inclined to buy a fractal generator if they haven't developed the “psychological need” to get something better in the first place? How would programmers expect them to jump into the “Get me/Buy me” flow if they haven't felt the need or the urge to go beyond?

The freeware fractal generators for the Mac I have tried so far are somewhat superficial or too plain: they resemble those simple PC fractal generators of “old age”. Maybe it's because I haven't searched enough, but the only decent and truly free application among them is Mandelbrot on Cocoa. While it is fun to use, it lacks parameter controls and other algorithms found on PC programs such as Fractal Explorer, Tiera-Zon, or ChaosPro, to name just a few; those are so good that many people will keep working with them forever (just as I do). PC users looking for more will get Ultra Fractal, which right now is the top of the line, in a class of its own.

Macs have always been the standard for graphic designers, digital artists, and all other kinds of graphics intensive tasks. Fractal art fits perfectly in that domain, so why isn't the Mac fractal friendly? Why aren't Mac programmers interested in fractals? Is it easier to code for Windows? Is it because Mac hardware hasn't been accessible to the masses (even though Apple has always advertised its software as the easiest in the world)? Now that Apple is trying so hard to attract the public's attention, are we to expect more and better Mac fractal generators in the near future?


Blogger Tim said...

It is odd, now that you mention it, the lack of fractal programs in what has always been the elite graphics platform, the Mac. I suspect it's a programming issue and it would be interesting to hear what programmers say about it. My guess is that programmers write for largest audience. They also probably write for the platform they are most familiar or comfortable with. In both cases that probably means Windows.

I don't know how much work is involved in porting a program to another platform. It must be considerable or else there would be a lot more Mac versions around.

Xaos, the open source fractal program started out as Linux and was soon ported to Windows. It was a lot longer before they ported it to Mac.

I think the problem is that programming for multiple OS's is inefficient and that's why Windows easily became and continues to be the most "popular" OS even though it's less capable and a whole lot more expensive.

I don't think the lack of Mac programs will change. I get the feeling that writing fractal programs is just not as exciting as it was 10 years ago when it was a new thing.

10/29/2006 10:12 PM

Blogger Garth Thornton said...

The Mac set standards in professional graphics (graphics design, pre-press production etc) early on. That's irrelevant to hobby graphics (which includes most fractal programming and users), and it's irrelevant to modern times.

Some 'answers' would depend on what kind of programs one is looking for. It's not a matter of excitement as much as vision, which is needed for the most capable programs. Given that that comes down to a few individuals, I think it's partly a matter of luck which OS and programming environments they happened to prefer. Coincidentally, UF, XD and Apophysis are all developed in Delphi. Porting or cross platform development are not easy or fun. It's also a matter of application lifecycle, and whether it's an individual project, open source etc. The relative market sizes might also have something to do with it.

10/30/2006 5:39 PM

Blogger John S. Meade said...

I wandered into an apple store the other day and was rather compressed by the price tags... not so much on the hardware but on the software! My guess is by the time you outfit a PC with comparable equipment (including software) compared to the MAC you'd have enough left over to outfit a comparable Linux box (including the software).

But now let's complete the silliness...
While PC and MAC are making all those silly comparisons The (old -- Hey Dude!!)Dell guy and the IBM (uh, excuse me, the Lenova) guy start duking it out in bullet time kungfu in the background and then the trenchcoat guy from Sprint takes front center stage and with back tastefully to the viewing audience flashes them all... cut to an intimate candle lit dinner for two between Catherine (no longer T-mobile's girl BTW) and the Verizon guy while we see through the large restaurant window behind them Michael Douglas outside fighting his way through the V-throng Onimusha style.

Nah. Let's just go back to those wonderful girls seat-dancing in the Mitsubishi eclipses.
(Oh how I was tempted to make >that< sentence about the eclipses using ellipses (hey! just like this one!))

10/31/2006 8:14 AM

Blogger Philip Northover said...

Delphi? Old guard programmers never seemed to like C much. I know I didn't. I kept hoping Dijkstra would write something along the lines of "C seen harmful", or maybe Niklaus Wirth would in defense of Pascal.

10/31/2006 8:18 AM

Blogger Tim said...

All of this brings up an interesting aspect of fractal art as an artform: we can only go where the programming enables us.

I've often thought that programmers don't get the recognition that their contribution to the artform deserves. Maybe it's because we want to play down the mechanical aspect of the artform and in doing so it appears as if fractals are something natural and ubiquitous.

But in this examination of Mac software I think we can see that programming isn't just the roots of fractal art, it's the trunk, branches and leaves, and sometimes directly responsible for the fruit, or artwork itself.

There's an awful lot of fractals in Sterlingware that look pretty good just with the default settings. But they're only "default" settings for users, the programmer, Stephen Ferguson made those "default" settings himself, just as many other programmers have put their own artistic style into the software they've made.

An OS is only as useful as the applications you can run on it.

10/31/2006 12:09 PM

Blogger Frederik Slijkerman said...

"Mac users have practically no other choice but to pay the price of being part of an advertisement-born elite."

Would you say that regarding bread buyers as well, since bakeries usually don't offer free bread?

11/05/2006 6:57 AM

Blogger Werner said...

Ahoi~ I totally agree. People need something to get hooked - before they're inclined to spend money. Something you don't have to learn to operate. A dead simple (!!), shiny (!) Fractal Explorer - for free. Nothing like that what's around; on neither platform. The "explore" part is, in my opinion, most crucial; that apeals to pretty much every human (on so many levels). If that application would be part of a suite, arrgh, I guess it's obvious where I'm goin' from here...

As far as shareware goes there's, today, in my opinion, only one app worth paying for - that's quadrium. Of course if you go that road you're all set 'cause there's more then one quadrium; there's also quadrium | flame and quadriumScribe and all kinds of good stuff. It's in a class of its own too. If the quadrium-development continuous at such a rate as right now - Ultra Fractal sooner than later will eat quadrium's dust. I presume it does already in certain areas. Like the usability; I only say: drag & drop. And certainly the support. I never came across something similar. Ever. I certainly owe the developer much. Test it. Ask him a (quadrium related =) question. But be sure to ask a difficult one! Check out the next release; the beta is truly awesome.

I always end up phrasing a quadrium-ad when talking fractals. It's clearly spellbinding. To come back to the actual post - if the quadrium suite would contain a free, easy fractal explorer (which it don't) we would have pretty much what Juan suggested. An entry point. And a trail to follow.

Besides, there are two mac (universal) flame
fractal apps that are FREE and worth mentioning:

- IFSLab Beta
- Oxydizer

Fine blog, very diversified. I'll stay tuned. Peace

2/15/2007 3:22 PM


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