Mactel Archives

June 6, 2005

I am freaking out

I read some of the Apple w/ Intel rumors this past weekend but pretty quickly I stopped because there was so much speculation and today's WWDC keynote was supposed to definitively answer the question. So Steve just finished the keynote and it's true, Apple is going to move away from running on PowerPC chips to Intel chips. Not Intel-made PowerPC chips, not 64 bit Intel chips but run-of-the-mill 32 bit x86 chips, Pentium 4s and such. Apple to Use Intel Microprocessors Beginning in 2006

Why am I freaking out? Mostly I think it's irrational, an indicator of how far down my brain stem Apple has managed to insert itself. The rational part of me says it's because Macs are objectively good ("oh sure, but look who's telling me that!") and this third major transition could jeopardize its future. Apple's fortunes took a major downturn during the 68K->PPC transition but it's not clear that the transition was really to blame. It is the OS that counts more than any other component of the Mac so in that sense the OS 9->OS X transition was much more risky. However with that transition there were so many advantages to be had.

What will switching to Intel do for Apple? Yes, overall performance will be better but unless there's some more major news, overall performance gains will be at the expense of the specialized performance of features like Altivec. I think the much bigger advantage is the elimination of chip shortages hurting Mac availability and therefore sales. Who knows how many sales have been lost due to such shortages? I bet Apple has a pretty good idea.

The computing environment is becoming a little more homogenous. It seems particularly unfortunate that the x86 architecture, which seems to have so much historical baggage, is even more solidly the standard.

June 7, 2005

no Open Firmware for Mactel

This was mentioned in on a mailing so I was compelled to go looking for a definitive source. From Universal Binary Programming Guidelines [pdf] (pg. 47), "Macintosh computers using Intel microprocessors do not use Open Firmware."

What are the ramifications of this? Will I be able to hold down the C key to boot from a CD-ROM? Will I be able to hold down the mouse key to eject media? How will I netboot? And, perhaps most importantly to me, will this mean Target Disk Mode is gone? If there's no Open Firmware, what is in its place? Surely not the unpleasant BIOS found on PC hardware. Despite the fact that shutting down is not often necessary and somewhat discouraged, the Mac boot process and its capabilities are an important part of the Mac experience and not to be trifled with.

If Open Firmware is going, what other parts of the Mac are going and why? Does using an Intel processor necessitate such changes? Are Macs going to have not just Intel processors but Intel motherboards with only minor changes centered around keeping OS X on Mac-only hardware?

April 5, 2006

I Don't Know but I've Been Told

Wow, after saying ever since the Intel announcement that Windows might run on an Intel Mac but that Apple wouldn't support it, Apple releases Boot Camp, a tool to aid dual booting OS X and Windows XP. Now, they still don't support Windows but they are providing a nice tool to handle the partitioning, A Startup Disk control panel for Windows and, most importantly, Windows drivers for all the hardware including the little stuff like the eject key on the keyboard. The partition tool actually resizes the existing single partition which is pretty great all by itself.

Even with the Apple provided drivers, not all Mac hardware is supported when running Windows. The biggest disappointment is probably no support for integrated iSight cameras but this may be a temporary situation.

Ultimately this will be included with Leopard, OS X 10.5, but I think this beta release will still stir up the rumors (as well has hopes & dreams) of support for virtualization, allowing you to run OS X and Windows side-by-side. Even if it does, it's possible it won't support true virtualization on the current Intel processors, Intel (and AMD) are coming out later this year with processors that specifically aid the operation of multiple operating systems simultaneously. Mac virtualization would be a nightmare for PC manufacturers because even if they (or Microsoft, perhaps using the now-free Virtual Server) could run OS X on their hardware, Apple's licensing doesn't allow it. Sure, some people would do it anyway but it wouldn't be supported by any major manufacturer or Microsoft.

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