I have been following Apple’s move to use Intel processors since the announcement. There are a number of arguments going around various newsgroups and mailing lists about this new direction of Apple. I personally think this new direction for Apple could plunge them into the dark ages again. I am a very technical person with a strong background in Linux, UNIX, Windows, Mac OS, and Mac OS X. I understand processor technologies; RISC, CISC, CACHE, etc, etc. More importantly I understand Operating Systems so please do not dismiss my rant as me being ignorant.
Apple has a history of many technology flip-flops;
Anyone remember the 68000 series of processors? Mac OS 6, 7 and 8.0 had a strong following of Mac users and professional applications. Mac was no threat to Windows 3.1 or DOS but they were slowly gaining ground. The 68000 processors were “slower” in Mega Hertz compared to the Intel processors but the OS was smooth, stable and full of rich apps. Now the OS was not a true pre-emptive multitasking environment with protected memory so it had some serious issues, but that’s the topic of an old rant. Motorola pulled the plug on the 68000 and Apple embraced the PowerPC RISC chip. On paper this processor could hands down take on the world and win. The PowerPC ran almost 100% in 68040 emulation mode with a dated operating system that had it’s own problems. I owned a PowerMac 7100/66AV, It was not the end-all be-all. Mac OS 8.6 and Mac OS 9 did attempted to bring a level of stability to the Apple platform but it still was not uncommon to perform one or two hard reboots a day to recover the system. The later PowerPC systems improved in a lot of areas.
Apple started in a new direction, UNIX and NeXT Computers brought Mac OS X. Mac OS X introduced a new level of pain to Apple. Mac OS X 10 and 10.1 in my opinion did not offer anything more then NEAT-O factor. To aww and woo at UNIX on a Mac was incredible. The OS had little more to offer then the built in apps. All Mac OS apps had to run under Classic mode and under a new level of incompatibility. All Mac users required the ability to dual boot and had to maintain two operating systems, Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X. Mac OS 10.2 was finally usable, it was possible to run for more then a day without booting into Mac OS 9 but you still had to startup classic mode time to time for some apps. Now Mac OS 10.4 is a serious, mature product. The G4 and G5 processor features have been optimized into the operating system. There are plenty of application developers, and there are plenty of apps to choose from. When is the last time you had to startup classic mode? When was the last time you had to reboot into Mac OS 9?
Now Apple and Steve Jobs have turned us all on our sides again. Intel processors will again introduce incompatibilities and emulation mode issues on our beloved Mac platform. Rosetta is a piece of code that we will all become very familiar with in the near future. Rosetta converts code originally written for the PowerPC processor and run it on the X86 processor on the fly. Rosetta requires a special command set of the Pentium 4 processor to work. I don’t wish to get into any SSE2 and SSE3 argument; you can search the newsgroups yourself. Rosetta requires about 25% more memory to run then the native application requires. RAM and Altivec are common words to a Mac user. Think of SSE2/SSE3 as an Intel Altivec equivalent. Your X86 Mac will need SSE3 and lots of RAM to run smoothly. Emulation and Rosetta will also come at a huge hit to processing power. I have run Virtual PC, Linux WINE, Classic Mode, Pear PC, VM Ware and other emulation software. All of them have serious performance issues, integration issues and compatibility issues. VM Ware does not suffer form performance but it has RAM requirements and integration requirements and it is not a viable solution for the average computer user. Pear PC is a wonderful project but it’s an example of emulation and compatibility mode. A native Mac application running under Pear PC may have a performance hit from 1/30th to 1/1000th of its normal speed. Rosetta will perform much better but it will introduce performance and compatibility issues.
What is the point of introducing a faster processor as gauged by Giga Hertz if it can expect to spend all of its time running emulation software? I suspect Rosetta will have at least a 20% hit to performance compared to the native PowerPC application. Application developers will all go into that stale holding pattern that they did when Mac OS X was introduced. “Made for PowerPC” and “Made for Intel” will be the logos on the software boxes we will look for. Some apps may take so long be for they are ported to the Intel platform that they might as well disappear. It’s not an easy task for a developer to take a project on one platform and move it to another platform. A common programming framework and an operating system that was written from the ground up to run on multiple platforms will make this process easier. Mac OS X has those two components it even embraces the open GCC compiler. The process will still be painful and Rosetta will become a fact of life. I am not even going to speculate on the 32-bit/64-bit future of the Intel Apple.
The argument that seems to be most predominant on the Net is the Apple proprietary hardware required to run Mac OS X 86. In my opinion, no matter what technology Apple implements to protect their hardware it will be cracked before the first units ship to market. The Internet has created an extremely powerful knowledge base of computer users that can do anything. A team of hackers working together across the glob can accomplish any task and the only incentive they need is, “just because I wanted too”. They are not straddled with the limits imposed on industry; budgets, copy right laws, board of directors, etc, etc. A simple search on bittorent will provide you a copy of the Mac OS X 86 development DVD image. A second simple search on google will provide you the instructions to by pass the hardware security. That is where the simple steps end and the real work begins. To by pass the Apple hardware security you have to run VM Ware, Mac OS X, Darwin and a host operating system, Linux or Windows. It is not the cut and dry insert CD press start install we Mac users have grown accustom too. This would take me at least a day to start and over a week to get up and running. The common computer user has issues downloading MP3 files and burning them to a CD.
The common user will not turn his/her PC upside down for weeks to get Mac OS X 86 up on it, only to say, “oww-ahhh now what?” The computer industry will not install a pirated copy of Mac OS X 86 for legal and support reasons. A small percentage of very skilled people will do it for kicks. Linux is “free” and it is starting to gain a foothold in the computer industry but I don’t see Windows NT/2000/2003 disappearing off the face of the earth any day soon. Apple hardware will always be far superior to the $300 desktops you can pick up. Apple hardware in my opinion is better quality then HP-Compaq and IBM for desktop units. Is Apple really going to be worried about a couple of hackers running a pirated copy of Mac OS X?
Apple hardware is expensive but an apple to apples comparison will show it is not. A dual processor 64-bit Unix workstation from AIX, SUN, HP will cost you a lot more then $3000 dollars. At work I recently ordered a Dual Xeon Pentium Dell workstation. It was considerably more than $3000 and its video card will choke if anything more graphic intensive than WordPad is run on it. Apple has provided the world with the cheapest graphic workstation and PC users still dismiss the Apple as too pricy. The PC world refuses to investigate the ease of implementation of an Apple or other ROI (return on investment) advantages the Apple has to offer. I cannot speculate on the effects the Intel CPU will have on the ROI of the Apple platform.
To close and summarize my observations I believe Apple is not taking the correct steps as a computer company to continue to deliver such a top-notch product. A better direction may be to continue the evolution of the G5 processor. The G5 is used in IBM High End UNIX servers. If anyone speculates that this is not a huge install base, they are dreadfully wrong. The G5 may find it self in game console systems such as the X-Box and others. Apple could have jumped to the X86 platform many times. Why jump now? Is the argument of 2.7 Giga Hertz vs 3 Giga Hertz that compelling? Will the added savings of a cheaper processor drastically reduce the overall price tag of an Apple Computer so it can compete head to head with a Dell? Will Apple fold all of its investments in computer hardware and release Mac OS X 86 into the wind because a couple of thrill seeking hackers can by pass the hardware security? I believe the Apple computer has just stuck in a rotten core. You can compare a Dell computer to a Ford Tempo and the Apple to a BMW both in price and quality. Both will get you from A to B but one does it with style, class and luxury. Why would you put the low-end Ford motor and drive train into the BMW? It will look good from the outside but as soon as you turn the key, you’re still driving that Tempo.
But they won't. By 2007, Apple products will all be running x86 processors.
Like you, I've tried correcting MacDoc on this a half a dozen times already, but he keeps on saying it. MacDoc obviously is in denial.
As for the changeover, there is lots of hints that Apple's changeover to Intel could be a good thing:
- Intel going 64-bit
- Intel going dual core processors which use less power
- no more Endian issues which seem to cause network problems for games between Macs and PCs.
- .... and I could go on and on...
Let's just see how things go...
As for why Apple decided to make this change now, Steve told us why over 2 years ago (I need to find that quote again), he said when OS X would mature they would be in a position to look at a processor options. He told EVERYONE this over 2 years ago. I'm sure some of the other hardcore Mac users remember this. That was when the first rumors of Mac OS X going Intel first came out.