When the music stops, which CPU? Which OS?

GNOME menu tweak allows me to switch between Sun Ray servers in less than 5 seconds I thought OSX on Intel was just another rumor fueled by the craving for an alternative X86 desktop operating system. This longing leads to some wishful thinking.

Will OSX turn a sow's ear into a silk purse?
Will OSX "X86" run on a typical X86 P.C.? Maybe, but don't expect Apple's legendary fit, finish and integration when you run OSX on a bargain basement collection of P.C. parts. Apple historically kept their O.S., development kit and hardware in a closed ecosystem. MS Windows, GNU/Linux and Solaris have a head start on dealing with hardware that is differentiated by more than keyboard color.

John Dvorak seems to think that OSX's "superior performance against Longhorn" will help it grab X86 market share from Windows and Linux. I found this interesting because even though most of us know that GNOME desktop performance has room for improvement, on my Pismo G3 powerbook GNOME 2.4 (yellowdog linux) was noticibly faster than OSX Jaguar. And since it is difficult to detect a consistant difference in desktop performance between GNU/Linux and Solaris, it seems that both are contenders for displacing Microsoft Windows desktops on Intel.

Platform hopping is becoming more popular. IBM seems to be demphasizing the X86 architecture, Apple is switching from PowerPC to Intel. Microsoft is rumored to be planning a switch from Intel to PowerPC in their game consoles. And of course, Sun's own Solaris is now available on Intel's X86, AMD (32 and 64 bit) and UltraSPARC architectures. Is it possible that finally, almost a quarter century after IBM's first personal computer introduced a near monoculture in desktop CPUs and Operating Systems, the industry is going multiplatform? I should confess that one of my first assignments at a medical device company was to replace any Sun specific code with the posix equivalent. If any of my old friends there happen to be reading this and are renegotiating vendors after the competing product was EOL'd, I hope they know it wouldn't be difficult to switch back to Sun. Writing portable code certainly helps negotiations with hardware vendors. Portable operating systems such as OSX, GNU/Linux and Solaris will help reintroduce competition to desktop hardware.

Who cares?
I'd like to see the numbers on which Steve Jobs based his claim that Intel work/watt is better than PowerPC and I'd like to see the same benchmark on AMD, Via and UltraSPARC (Niagra when it's available.) I'm sure the smart people at Apple do know how to make cool products without intel, they just chose not to at the moment. As Greg Matter notes, it would be wiser for Apple to move to an open architecture. It will be a while before I consider buying new Apple hardware. Until then, here's a fun JDS (GNOME) menu tweak, it takes me about 2 seconds to switch my Sun Ray appliance from Linux on X86 to Solaris on X86 or Solaris on UltraSPARC (see image.) We just added some utswitches to the menu so we could quickly choose between Sun Ray servers. This is a user tweak, not a planned O.S. feature, but it gives you an idea of just how stateless the Sun Ray appliances are. They can switch from one user running GNU/linux X86 to another user running Solaris on UltraSPARC in less time than it takes to adjust the height of my desk chair. The resulting desktops appear and perform almost identically (though the UltraSPARC server in our lab is the fastest hardware on my menu.) I often have to type uname -a in a terminal to remind myself which OS and architecture I'm logged into.

MacOS x86 already exists as the x86 version of Darwin. I don't know much about it, or what apps are available.

As for perf/watt, that is primarily with Intel's Centrino (Banias pipeline). The rumors are Intel's future desktop processors will be multi-core chips derived from Banias.

I think Jobs sees the future of personal computing as laptop driven, and the future of workstation computing as multi-core. In other words, he sees Intel's laptop and desktop processor vision meeting his vision.

There is no doubt OS-X is superior to Windows for media focused tasks.

So I think Jobs is making the same transition he made when he went from 68000 to PowerPC, and from OS9 to OS-X.

The challenges are two-fold.

One is will the potential marketshare growth enabled by Intel processors offset the marketshare losses which always occur during Mac ISA/ABI transitions?

Two, will Linux grow to take the creative professional/content creation desktop market which is the heart of Mac? As Mac moves to from BSD/PowerPC ABI/ISA to a BSD/x86 ABI/ISA, will Linux, with a very similar BSD/x86 ABI/ISA draw developer mindshare?

Posted by Mark on June 07, 2005 at 06:36 PM GMT+00:00 #

Brian, GREAT COMMENTARY! 1) Mr. Torvalds 'codes' on PPC based Cupertino ware likely supplied by Armonk. THINK CELL! 2) Thankfully, working within a GNU/Linux 'world' has caused my ware to run on ANY hardware and associated software. ARM, MIPS, x86, PPC and SPARC architectures are fine. Mr. Turing would have LOVED these times within Global IT!

Posted by William R. Walling on June 07, 2005 at 09:22 PM GMT+00:00 #

MacOSX on x86... hmm, I guess x86 does not have much room for a new OS. At least buying the x86 x-serves doesn't make sense! Why not buy a cheaper x86 box and run Solaris or Linux?

Posted by Rayson on June 09, 2005 at 07:50 AM GMT+00:00 #

Yes, Apple's switch would make more sense on portable devices than it would on servers.

Posted by bnitz on June 13, 2005 at 05:27 AM GMT+00:00 #

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