The Sorry State Of OS X and Webcams

"All I want to do is be able to wave at my girlfriend!" This is the sentence I kept hearing myself yelling as I desperately looked at webcam options for OS X. The hunt for this particular piece of equipment painfully reminded me of the dark days when you couldnit find a single game from the top five best seller list for the Mac.

For the record, there are a few Firewire webcams that list OS X support, but with a caveat. If you want to use the camera, for which you are usually paying over $100, in OS X you must also purchase a driver from another company! Of course, this little nugget of information isnit normally placed near the top of the product description. Nice. But at least it is officially possible to use one if you have the bandwidth and need optimal quality.

But what if you only have a 56K modem, like me, and only need a USB-based camera? The situation here is even worse. Your only options are to find a few of the available shareware or beta drivers and hope you find one that supports your chosen webcam. Or, you could work backwards: look at the beta driver and see which cameras it supports. Unfortunately the current choices on the list include mostly unavailable products. (If anyone knows where to find a Philips ToUcam Pro, please let me know!)

Now that we know how dismal the state of webcam driver support for OS X is, who do we blame? Do we blame the companies that make the cameras? Appleis new baby has been officially out for more than a year now. How difficult can it be to come up with a new driver for an operating system that is shipping on millions of new Macs? At the very least, include the third-party driver in the cost of the camera.

Does fault lie with Apple for dragging its feet in implementing low level standards for peripheral interface? Should we expect them to provide drivers like they do for other devices like digital cameras or CDROM drives? It does seem silly to have plug-and-play support for a $5,000 Nikon digital SLR but not for a $40 webcam.

How about placing blame on the people we normally overlook? Ourselves. Remember, if there is enough demand for a product, companies will fall over each other to supply it.

Until somebody decides to do something about it, Iill just be sitting here gathering strange looks as I wave at the screen of my iBook.

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