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Apple Mac Developer Program – what does your $99 really get you?

Recently, Apple dropped the price of their developer program to $99.

I decided to grab it. Apple lists the main benefits on their site:
-Mac OS X Pre-Release Software
-Development Videos
-Apple Developer Forums
-Technical Support

I’ll go into a few details (as much as you can while staying within the NDA anyway), but if you’ve come from a Technet background, this isn’t Technet, and certainly isn’t what you’re looking for unless you’re solely interested in checking out the upcoming Mac OSX releases. If however you’re a programmer coming from an MSDN background, this is the program you’re probably looking for.

Pre-Release Software

This basically includes the upcoming releases of Mac OS X (client and server), as well as a slew of SDK’s and other tools. The easiest way to compare this to the Microsoft side (although not entirely accurate) would be “MSDN without the Technet”. No, you won’t be finding iWork or iLife here, no QuickTime Pro or Final Cut. Just the base OS’s (including upcoming builds) and a pile of programming related tools.

As far as Mac OS X and Mac OS X Server go, you do get access to previous versions, as well as upcoming builds. I suppose if you’re not a programmer (ala Technet), being able to burn the latest release to a DVD for reinstalls might save you the couple minutes of running an updater – for example if your systems came with 10.6.0 disks, you could grab the 10.6.3 DVD image, burn it, and use it for all your reinstalls. Then again, Mac users rarely have to reinstall unless they’re doing something really funky to break the OS, so the value to them there is negligible. You will get access to the upcoming builds as I mentioned, and presumably an early look at 10.7 if/when it comes out, but that’s really the extent of the value to it.

One rather large difference from Technet/MSDN is the way that the Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server serial number works. On the Microsoft side, they currently generate 10 unique keys for you for every single OS if you want, which never expire (even if your subscription runs out). With Snow Leopard Server, there’s 1 developer key that everyone shares which expires every so often (it looks to be about a 6 month period presently). From what I understand, when it expires, you hop on to the developer site, grab the new key, and plug it in. This of course means that if you don’t renew your dev account the next year, you’re out of luck when the key expires – you either need to keep renewing if you want to test your stuff on OS X Server, or shell out the money to buy the software.

Development Videos

These are served up through iTunes. I took a quick peak but need to look a little more in-depth. I really get the feeling that most of this stuff you can pick up in books, but I could be wrong here. I’ll update when I’ve seen more.

Apple Developer Forums

Ho-hum. These forums aren’t busy at all. Friendly, yes. Busy no. It’s not the first place I’d ask a question most of the time unless I didn’t need an answer right away. Hopefully the reduced developer program cost starts helping. 4 posts a day across the entire forum isn’t… well… filling the place up with information very quickly.

Technical Support

“When you request Technical Support, you’ll be assigned an engineer with subject matter expertise for your specific issue that can help you troubleshoot your code, offer direction to additional technical resources, or provide workarounds that will fastrack your development. The Mac Developer Program includes two Technical Support Incidents per membership year.”

Excerpt is pulled from the Mac Developer Program page. Again, something very much for programmers, and if these are indeed actual engineers you get access to, this is actually pretty sweet for your $99.

Conclusion

Developing on the Mac is already free. Apple really beats the pants off of Microsoft here. You can download XCode and create a program, all costing you nothing but time.

As far as the Developer Program goes, your $99 does give you access to some SDK’s, and you can test your software on upcoming releases of the Mac OS to make sure it works, even the server version. The videos and forums don’t seem to be anything stellar, but I’m sure others find them to be a huge asset. The one really nice thing is of course the 2 technical support incidents, and is what I assume most of your money is going towards.

So for someone coming from a Technet background who isn’t a hard core programmer, is it worth it? Probably not. It’s a cheaper way to experience Snow Leopard Server if you want to get yourself a little training on it and see what it’s all about, or a more expensive way to check out Snow Leopard if you’re using Tiger/Leopard and haven’t dished out for the upgrade yet. Other than that you certainly get a sneak peak at the upcoming OS (whenever it comes about), but that’s all you’re going to get from it.

What might help Apple would be to drop the price even further – as low as feasible really, and remove the 2 technical support incidents (add it as a premium option or a pay-per-incident thing). It would give more programmers access to the tools (presumably helping stem development), get the forums a little busier (perhaps reducing need for support calls), and help out a little with bug testing in new builds.

As one final note – a testament to the support – I had an issue when trying to activate my account / verify my identity because of a mismatch between the information I’d entered and my credit card information. Online it gave me the option of printing/faxing a form (with copy of my driver’s license which I’d have to get notarized of all things), but also gave the 1-800 number for support. I called the 1-800 developer number and was immediately greeted by a living, breathing person who got the information needed, found the issue (an initial) and straightened things out immediately over the phone. It was the fastest, friendliest call I’ve made to any support service in the last 10 years. If the incident support calls go anything like this one did, the developer program is definitely a deal at $99.

  • Dave

    “These forums aren’t busy at all. Friendly, yes. Busy no. It’s not the first place I’d ask a question most of the time…”

    Where /would/ you go first?
    As a new mac developer, I’m not sure the best place to look for community support.