Dispelling a few Intel Myths

26 Comments

There’s a lot of confusion surrounding Apple’s move from PowerPC CPUs to Intel x86 ones, so in the interests of clarification:

  • Mac OS X will run on my Dell
    No, it won’t.

    Somehow Apple will make sure that the operating system that makes the Mac special remains a Mac-only thing – as far as they can, perhaps by using the (rumoured) DRM features on Intel’s CPUs. It might well become possible to emulate it under, say, Windows or Linux at decent speed, but it probably won’t run natively. At the end of the day, Apple needs the money from hardware sales to keep its operating system Insanely Great.

  • No-one should buy a PowerPC-based Mac now
    This isn’t totally groundless, but it’s being vastly overstated. Developers know that there are a huge number of PowerPC Macs out there that they have to target if they want their applications to get any kind of use. With fat binary creation being a matter of simply ticking a box or two in Xcode (once the appropriate parts of the code have been modified), the minimal amount of effort to reap a very important reward will be something developers will bear in mind for quite some time to come. 68k code didn’t disappear for years.

    The only exception to this might be games, where companies may be less willing to port code over to PowerPC-based Macs (given the greater complexity of the task), leaving them as x86 only. But such a decision would leave any Mac port made with an initially very small potential market. On this front, there is talk of Wine style compatibility methods being used, making companies like Aspyr irrelevant. Some game developers seem to welcome the move, whilst others think the transition will be very painful, with two sets of code to test.

    But the Mac you just bought hasn’t suddenly become obsolete. It will probably live as long as it was going to anyway. Apple knows Mac users don’t like change – hell, there are still plenty of places still using OS 9 – so they won’t push users on that hard.

  • Leopard will leave PowerPC Mac owners out in the cold
    This seems extremely implausible, but I’m not going to say it won’t happen without explicit evidence to the contrary. But it makes no sense.

    Tiger has sold well, and will have made Apple a considerable amount of money. Why would they want to get rid of that revenue stream? As Steve said in the keynote, they’ve been building for PowerPC and x86 for five years. They aren’t going to change that soon. In fact, what you’ll probably see is that not until Mac OS X 11 will the system be x86 only. And that’s a way off.

  • x86 means malware
    This is a novel one, but has no basis in reality.

    Viruses and malware which exploit vulnerabilities are often operating system version dependent, and what works on an unpatched version of Windows XP will not work on Windows XP SP1 or SP2 (usually). Porting malware and spyware will not be any easier.

  • SSE is no replacement for AltiVec
    AltiVec isn’t necessarily as great as Apple has made it out to be over the years.

    SSE and AltiVec are two ways of achieving the same thing, and the general consensus seems to be that for developers, SSE is more accessible and easier to code for at the end of the day, even if perhaps AltiVec may have been technically superior. In my previous post, I noted how the better state of the GCC compiler on x86 (vs. that on the PowerPC) means better optimisations and so faster code.

  • Apple is abandoning the chip of the future
    You could be forgiven for thinking that given the fact that IBM’s PowerPC CPU (or variations thereof, i.e. the Cell) is to be used in all three next-generation games consoles, it is the architecture to be betting on. Why is Apple forsaking it for x86?

    The fact is that when it comes to processor requirements, games consoles and personal computers are two very different things. Whereas a console requires a highly specialised processor which can be manufactured cheaply in massive quantities over its 3-5 year lifetime but which needs no improvement once it has entered production (save, perhaps for die size reduction and tweaking), a personal computer (whether Mac or PC) needs a more generally useful processor and, as mandated by 20 years of history and ever increasing software complexity, regular speed increases, whether by traditional means (i.e. clock speed) or through multicoring. IBM’s plans for the PowerPC (and, consequently, its R&D budget) are mainly geared towards supplying the needs of console makers, not those of Apple.

  • This is all about DRM
    Pamela Jones of Groklaw fame has, somewhat surprisingly, weighed in to comment on the switch. Her view is that Apple’s reason for moving to Intel is all about taking advantage of the chip’s DRM features, and then out of her perpetual fear of anything proprietary, bashes Apple for not allowing Mac OS X to run on any old beige box.

    Moving to Intel for DRM makes no sense. If Apple really needed on-chip DRM, they would have asked IBM for it. No, the move was about regular speed increases for processors, although as I have noted above, Apple may use any on-chip DRM to ensure that Mac OS X only runs on Macs. That’s pure speculation though.

  • Linux is doomed
    John Dvorak, professional troll, believes that the move to Intel will be bad for Linux, although his reasons seem rather spurious. The Linux ‘movement’ should actually see some benefit from this – it will be in Apple’s interest to tweak GCC on x86 as much as possible, and this will mean faster apps on all open source operating systems (that use GCC).

It’ll be fine. At the very least it means faster, cooler PowerBooks. For that, I can hardly wait.

26 Comments

Briana

Try and protect your computer.
If you are like me then you have probably tired many different types of scans to try and protect your computer. There are many different options available but I have found that most of them pick up the same bugs whether you pay for the scan or download a free version. Orbasoft Antispyware (http://www.orbasoft.com) is one of the best that I have found so far and it cost less than many of the other well-known scans on the market today. If you are searching for a good scan I suggest that you check out the antispyware solution from Orbasoft.

Gareth Potter

nano is a GNU-licenced reimplementation of pico, which is descended from pine, the e-mail client. Pico and pine were developed by the University of Washington, but because the licence under which they are released is not considered “compatible” with the GPL (i.e. for the distributions that really care, like Debian), nano was created. I am interested to note that Tiger ships nano in place of pico.

Pine dates back to 1989, where it doubtless ran on some industrial UNIX, or maybe a *BSD. Thus whether nano is considered to predate or post-date Linux is something of a matter of interpretation.

Daveed Vandevoorde

Linux has offered more to Mac OS then you could imagine. Take all the open source tools that have been ported to Mac to expand the functionality of command line. nano, wget, even programs like cd and ls. Hell, GCC which is used by Mac OS to compile was birthed on Linux.

I’m not sure about nano and wget, but all the others definitely did not come from Linux (and predate Linux quite a bit). In fact, you could validly say that it is GCC that birthed Linux (but not the other way around)! Note also that the BSD kernel on which MacOS is based (aka. Darwin) has a lineage that is older that Linux.

That said, Linux was the birthplace of several important open source projects that MacOS X now benefits from. Samba is one, and I believe Apache and MySQL are too.

Jon_K

“[…] Linux has offered nothing […]”

Look you stupid Mac fanboy, Linux has offered more to Mac OS then you could imagine. Take all the open source tools that have been ported to Mac to expand the functionality of command line. nano, wget, even programs like cd and ls. Hell, GCC which is used by Mac OS to compile was birthed on Linux.

“I think I was being generous when I said that Linux is teetering.”
Well you better hope to your God that it doesn’t teeter off the edge, cause if it does then you’re in big trouble. Lots of the GNU software that is created on Linux will stop being developed. This will mean many of the applications and services that Mac OS relys on will end up becoming old and unsupported and this will affect you.

It’s obvious you don’t know how much Linux has influenced Mac OS. BSD has played a large role, but Linux has played and equal or larger role.

Get the facts, and I’m referring to the Microsoft campaign, get the real facts. Fanboy.

Rich Trouton

Jeffery,

I wouldn’t worry about Apple dropping support for PPC within the next five years. People are still able to run some 68k apps (running in Classic) because of the 68k emulator that’s built into PowerPC chips. Apple hasn’t made a 68k machine since 1995 – 1996, so they’ve been supporting 68k running on PowerPC for at least the last ten or so years. I’m willing to bet that Rosetta will continue to be a part of OS X running on Intel long after most of the apps have been updated to be either Universal or Intel-only.

mpeychich

it will work on your dell! youll just need to fork out the 1500 for the select membership and the dev kit. the dev kit runs on standard hardware. but then again it is just dev

Gary

To Jeffrey
Steve Jobs said a long time. And with universal binaries, it won’t take much effort. I was planning on getting a new iMac before the keynote and I still am.

Gareth Potter

Mike,
It may well be that something good will come out of IBM, but as it stands, their roadmap is not really compatible with Apple’s needs which are, as I keep saying, regular speed bumps. And as we know, they’ve had issues delivering the chips. Godknows what’s going to happen when they need to churn stuff out in volume for the consoles.

As to your suggestion that Apple give us a choice between x86 and PPC, whilst of course it is technically possible, it’s probably less viable economically, and it’s rather impractical. Developers don’t want to be compiling software for and, more importantly, compiling device drivers for both architectures forever.

John,
I think you’re being overly paranoid. :P I’m not famililar with the technical niceties of either the PowerPC and the x86 – not at that level anyway – but I genuinely believe that Apple is fed up with IBM’s failure to deliver faster chips. And the Pentium M in a PowerBook is too good a proposition to pass up on, especially when you have nothing else.

Jeffrey,
I don’t know what your wife’s usage requirements are but is the “five years of upgrades” thing an absolute prerequisite? A lot of Mac users tend to use their Macs until they are well and truly dead, no matter the operating system etc., and I see no reason why your wife would not be able to do this if she has the tools she needs to begin with.

By way of empirical example, I still manage over 17,000 photos in iPhoto on an old iMac G3 400. It’s slow, but it keeps going.

Remember: this isn’t the Wintel world – it’s a tool that does the job that it’s supposed to do, like a fridge or a lawnmower. It’s not something you upgrade.

Jeffrey Goldberg

Has Apple given any hint of how long OS upgrades will be available for PPC? This is a crucial question for me. I had just persuaded my wife to replace her Win2K system with a Mac, when this announcement came out. Her system needs immediate replacement, and I would like to know that we will get at least five years of upgrades for it.

By the way, I am a both OS X and Linux (and FreeBSD) user. Since Jaguar, I believe that a number of Linux people have switched to Macs for their desktops.

John Bergamini

The PowerPC has a Branch processor where all program branches are executed. This means that if the action at the branch processor is monitored (with some accounting instructions spliced in), it is possible to know exactly what instructions were executed to get a result. See, for example, “Implementing Cardinal[Time][…] on the PowerPC” at “[LINK]“.

To the best of my knowledge, this is not true of most Intel processors (please correct me if I am wrong!). This fact is consistent with Intel’s interest in hardware solutions to satisfy copyright law and various features to restrict, encrypt and appropriate code.

Here is my paranoid thought:

The real reason the Mac is going Intel is because the processor can execute hidden branch processes which are intrinsically undetectable. This means, anyone running an Intel processor can be monitored without detection. In other words, big Capital has decided that the general public must have machines that can be monitored without their knowledge.

If someone wants to prove me wrong, then they have to show an algorithm which can be used to account for all machine instructions used by any procedure on an X86.

Please… prove me wrong!

Jack B.

MIke

I know Apple’s point for going to Intel but why can’t we have both?

One of the reasons I always used Mac was the Risk chip but with this new universal code why not have best of both worlds.

Who’s to say Intel is better then IBM or visa versa in 5-10 years.
After all it’s just a purposed road map Intel laid out. This doesn’t mean they will meet their goals or have the technology to do so.

Also if IBM ends up making better stuff and faster then expected 2-3 years from now that blow Intel out of the water are we going to recompile everything over again.

[Side note: IBM is now setting up a 45nm Process]

Also I have read that Intel is going to ditch their current chip architecture for silicon using nano-carbon tubes by 2011 so this may not be x86 anymore by then perhaps a another recompile.

where as IBM has always took chances in development that is why they have always been innovative. Their new cell technology is said to be able to get 256 Gigaflops that’s fast for one chip.

To put this in persecutes one of the fastest vector chips in the world is designed by Cray is 18 Gigaflops also manufactured by IBM.

Just my thoughts but if I were apple I would stay open.

Give me a chose even if it is in only the servers and a workstation. That way you can Intel on the laptop and quad Power PC’s in the workstation / (Power Mac) even if it is only build to order.

This is why I am not happy with apple after all Linux runs on both so does Sun’s Solaris so why not Apple. This would make it much more appealing to every one also it would be good for sales instead of the slowdown Apple is going to see until Intel arrives but if Power PC was in the road map for the future with Intel I can’t see why anyone wouldn’t buy either.

al

“In fact, what you’ll probably see is that not until Mac OS X 11 will the system be x86 only. And that’s a way off.”

OS X 11?!? Is that like OS XXI? =)

Daveed Vandevoorde

It will be in Apple’s interest to tweak GCC on x86 as much as possible, and this will mean faster apps on all open source operating systems (that use GCC).

I’m not sure about that at all. Some time ago, there were rumors of Apple looking for a non-GNU-licensed alternative to gcc/g++. With the switch to Intel, they have that alternative: Intel’s compiler is extremely compatible with gcc/g++. And in fact it is shipped on the transition kit!

I’m not sure what the transition kit does with Objective-C, but that language is a sufficiently small extension to C (or C++) that Apple just might be able to convince Intel to add it to their line-up. Or Apple may do it themselves if given access to the Intel code.

Of course, since the Intel compiler also works with Linux, you could argue that improving that compiler for Apple would also help Linux. However, it’s far from the preferred compiler for the small open source developers.

Daveed

Gareth Potter

And frankly, Linux is teetering on the brink of utter irrelevance right now, so even the slightest insult can have a big impact.

Linux hasn’t had a major release in four years, and frankly it wasn’t that great when it was new

Forgive my frankness, but this is complete and utter rubbish, and I’m no Linux fanboy. Mac fan/evangelist though I may be, I know the platform’s limits, and in so many cases, the key one is cost.

Unless something really massive changes at Apple and they become a software-only company, they are always going to be tying Mac OS X to their beautiful but expensive hardware. Not very expensive, but a little bit pricier. If you won’t acknowledge that then we’re sunk, but I’m going to proceed anyway.

Most enterprises don’t care about beauty. They want a tool that lets them do word processing, e-mail and PIM and that’s it. The only factor is cost – very few businesses are far-sighted enough to genuinely think about ROI and TCO and so even consider a Mac; the Dell looks cheaper, and in a decent network configuration shouldn’t give any virus troubles. At the moment they run Windows, mostly for reasons historical, but Linux will slowly take over this market, because it’s cheaper at the end of the day.

There is a large class of home users who are exactly the same, for whom cost is the only factor, and that’s why Dell can churn out these anonymous black boxes – because people want them. And because these people only want the Internet, e-mail and word processing, Linux can suit them fine too.

The Mac has its place, but don’t expect Apple’s attempts to advance it into the enterprise to be at all hastened by the transition to x86. As should be patently clear, very few people care what processor is inside the machine, and certainly no business is going to choose a Mac over Linux because now they both have the same CPU.

Dan

First of all, there is a bigger overlap between potential Mac and Windows users than there is between either of them and Linux users. Linux users are just as brazenly loyal to Linux as Mac users are to Macs.

Linux distributions may come and go, but the major force behind Linux development are volunteer open source programmers. It would be almost impossible to stop that kind of development. They all get their money from somewhere else.

The Apple-Intel deal will have very little effect on Linux. I do see, the possibility of Apple contributing open source tidbits, like GCC and, perhaps Wine.

On a completely different note, Microsoft must be kicking themselves for buying Connectix. They obviously didn’t see this coming.

Apple should start perfecting their own version of Wine. Wouldn’t it be great to use Mac OS X, and then, if you have Windows-only software, have the capability to run it on its native processor…

TS

“Linux hasn’t had a major release in four years”

Dude, with that you just proved that you don’t know much about Linux.

First, ‘Linux’ isn’t monolithic. You can’t talk about it as if it is.

Second, every important Linux distribution has seen at least one new release in the last four years. And that’s putting it mildly, because of the next point.

Third, the theme in the Linux world is not revolutionary change, it’s constant and relentless evolution done in a distributed fashion. You shouldn’t expect huge changes from one version of a distribution to another. That’s just not the way it works. In the Linux world, distributions (for the desktop, anyways) are expected to release early and often. (Server-oriented distributions are of course more conservative.)

Mark Wubben

I’ll be ordering my PowerBook next week… why would I wait two years just so I can have an Intel one? So I can save money now by buying a Dell laptop? Makes no sense to me… :)

JT

Linux still aims at a different market than Longhorn and Tiger. Yes, their ultimate goal is the desktop but they’re no where near that yet. Why in the world would one need Dashboard on their webserver?

The Linux community doesn’t have a high priority on flashy GUI innovations. [joke]So darn, I guess my linux router isn’t going to display a fireworks show each time it blocks a packet.[/joke]

JohnK

I will buy a new PowerBook later this year or next spring (as I had planned before the announcement). If anything, I’d rather have the last G4 powerbook than the first Intel based PowerBook. It will be sure to run all my existing applications. It will carry me through the next two years by which time it should be safe to switch.

Jeff Harrell

Linux hasn’t had a major release in four years, and frankly it wasn’t that great when it was new. In the face of both the vaporware innovations of Longhorn and the actual innovations of Tiger, Linux has offered … nothing. It had a long way to go to catch up when we were comparing Linux to Jaguar. Now it’s fallen completely off the radar.

I think I was being generous when I said that Linux is teetering.

Does Linux have a place in cheap, headless servers? Sure. But so what? That’s an evolutionary dead end. Linux’ fleeting mindshare, totally lost to both Microsoft and Apple, has left it in the niche that was for so many years occupied by BSD and UnixWare and Solaris for IA-32. They’ve persisted, lurking in the dim, deep places where humans rarely go, like coelacanths hiding in the dark. They live their quiet, purposeless lives unseen and unremembered.

Survival? Sure. But to what end? At that point, you’re just part of the carbon cycle.

Rich Trouton

Jeff,

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Linux is teetering on the brink of utter irrelevance. It’s not used much by Mac shops, to be sure, but it’s being adopted by more traditional enterprise shops that were using Sun servers and now are looking for a more cost-effective alternative. For those enterprise shops, the preferred alternative is not (currently) Mac OS X. I do think Mac OS X put a big hurting on “Linux on the desktop”, but not back in the server room.

Jeff Harrell

Actually, I think Dvorak is right on this one, though not for the reasons he thinks.

Apple doesn’t really compete with Microsoft. People who are going to buy PCs buy PCs, and people who are going to buy Macs buy Macs, and there’s very little overlap between them. Of all the Apple and Microsoft customers in the world, added together, a very small percentage would have gone either way.

But Apple does compete directly with Linux. Therefore anything that’s good for Apple is inherently bad for Linux, and vice versa.

This move is good for Apple. So it’s bad for Linux. And frankly, Linux is teetering on the brink of utter irrelevance right now, so even the slightest insult can have a big impact.

Gareth Potter

Dan,

There’s no reason anyone would buy a Mac in the next two years if they know what’s coming.

Well…actually, yes, there is.

Most people – a large proportion of the switch-it-on-and-it-just-works type that choose the Mac for that very reason – don’t know or care about any of this. They will buy a Mac and use it for five years. Maybe longer. Because it will do precisely what they want it to do. They don’t care about upgrades, they won’t need to worry about spyware or viruses, they can just be blissfully ignorant. For them, the Mac – whether one bought tomorrow or one bought in two years time – is just an appliance, a tool which does a job, and for that reason it really doesn’t matter what’s currently inside.

For people like myself and, I presume, yourself, given that you are brave enough to forsake Microsoft Office for NeoOffice/J, it’s a different matter, and none of us will be buying Macs until they have Intel inside. But dinnae forget the little people. For them, PPC is just fine.

With IBM having all three next-generation consoles to worry about, I can see them blowing off Apple’s requests for DRM.

Yeah, quite plausible actually, given the minimal share of PowerPC CPUs that Apple’s usage counted for. Still, I’d like to think that Apple’s not so much into things like Palladium/TCPA.

Dan Bruno

Most of these points seem sound to me, except for these two:

“No-one should buy a PowerPC-based Mac now” — Come on, you know it’s true. Your argument against this is based on the fact that PowerPC is not yet obsolete. But things are obviously heading that way. There’s no reason anyone would buy a Mac in the next two years if they know what’s coming.

“This is all about DRM” — While I don’t think this is true either, moving to Intel would make sense to me. With IBM having all three next-generation consoles to worry about, I can see them blowing off Apple’s requests for DRM. Meanwhile, Intel already has DRM in the works. Still, I doubt that was the reason for the switch.

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