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2005/06/13 Mac OS X on Intel CPU's

© June 2005 Tony Lawrence

Apple has officially announced its decision to switch to Intel cpu's, probably for reasons of cost and reliability of supply. That has generated tremendous amounts of speculation and even some concern. I don't think I have all the answers, but some things are pretty obvious:

First, it's not likely you'll be able to install OS X on non-Appple hardware. Apple is a hardware company and needs that revenue. At $100.00 a copy for the OS, there's no way they could survive just selling that. So there is no doubt that the Intel version of Mac OS X will be crafted to run only on Apple's hardware.

On the other hand, that's not necessarily easy. The most likely scenario is a proprietary motherboard or an internal "dongle" that OS X will look for and require (see https://www.vnunet.com/vnunet/news/2137787/security-chip-block-non-macs also). However, it's just software, and software checks can be bypassed. I'm sure Apple won't make it easy, but pirate versions could appear and do damage to Apple's plans.

Of course the opposite situation will probably be easy: having a dual boot Windows/Mac machine should be trivial. Of more interest to me is having a dual boot Mac/Linux box, but that should be just as easy. But what I'd really like is a Vmware setup, and that too should easier to accomplish. I'm sure Apple must realize what an attractive box that would be: being able to run Windows and Linux as guest operating systems under Mac OS X with Vmware would give Apple hardware both a blessing to invade corporate desktops and a tremendous desire to bring them in. You wouldn't have to give up anything, and could run whatever, wherever. If I were Apple, I'd be working with Vmware right now, and would make sure that nothing got in its way. Virtualization is the future, and Apple has put themselves in the ideal position to take advantage of that: nobody else will be able to offer Mac OS X as a guest OS, but they can serve up anything they want.

If Vmware or some other virtualization software can be had for the Intel Mac OS X, that would let both Windows and Linux (and quite a few lesser known OSes) be run as guest operating systems without instruction set emulation. That ability, should it become reality, opens up the corporate desktop world to both OS X and Linux, which is a pretty powerful one-two punch. No more worrying about whether you have the right OS for the app you want to run; you do. Does it run better on Linux than OS X? No problem at all. Still have some "must have" Windows apps? Again, no problem. Do you feel BSD is the safest place for daily activity? Fine, then OS X is where you'll run your mail and browsing. Think Linux is better at that? Run 'em there. In other words, have your cake and eat it too.

That would also free developers from the tyranny of "wrong choice". Many now are "stuck" with Windows because of the popularity factor, but would prefer Linux or Mac for development. If this caught on, developers would have whole new markets to exploit. I think that Windows development would die a death of attrition (aw gee, what a shame - not!) but niche OSes and less popular Linux distros could benefit greatly..

I know that someone is going to point out that, disregarding OS X, you can do that now and it hasn't exactly caused a sea-change in the computing world. I am of the opinion that adding OS X to that mix could be the force that moves to the necessary tipping point. Yeah, yeah, some Linux folks are going to ask "what the hell do we need OS X for?" and some Mac folks are going to ask the opposite question, but I see this as something with powerful synergestic possibilities.

There's another possibility here. While Apple may not make it easy to run OS X on your Dell PC, nothing says that they couldn't licence that capability to someone like Dell. Would it make sense for Dell to get out from under Microsoft's yoke? I'm not sure about that, but if the Vmware becomes reality, maybe it would.

This wasn't the first flirtation with Intel chips.

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Mon Jun 13 13:28:26 2005: 650   BigDumbDinosaur

Apple has officially announced its decision to switch to Intel cpu's, probably for reasons of cost...

I'm not sure that cost really gets into the picture all that much. After all, if Apple really wants to reduce cost while heading down the Intel architecture road, AMD's processors would make a lot more sense. Also, in terms of performance, AMD's 64 bit offerings are clearly superior to anything Intel has right now. Why would Apple want to take a step back in technology with Intel's dated 32 bit MPUs? This whole move on Apple's part makes little sense to me.

Mon Jun 13 13:49:57 2005: 651   TonyLawrence

Perhaps Apple doesn't see AMD as a reliable supplier. Or maybe Intel made the pot so sweet they couldn't resist. Again, they have much more muscle than AMD so they can.

Technical superiority doesn't necessarily win. If it did, Windows never would have become so popular.

Tue Jun 14 12:10:56 2005: 652   anonymous

AMD's at the top end of its production capacity at the moment, and lacks significant capital for the massive expansion of its fabrication plants that would be required.
Intel on the other hand has oodles of spare fabrication capacity, as well as a defined roadmap. This means Apple has a guaranteed development path to work with.

In addition, Apple's notebook CPUs are superior to AMD's offerings, and notebooks is one area in which Apple forsees even greater growth, judging by Jobs's comments.

Tue Jun 14 23:16:54 2005: 655   drag

Intel shouldn't have to bump up it's production a whole lot. Apple is a small blip compared to other stuff that it does. Even for IBM PPC stuff Apple wasn't that important, but it's very high profile, Even if Intel were to have to support the entirety of Apple's hardware business today it would probably account for less then a 6-8 increase in sales/production.

As for laptops and such, it's now said that laptops are outselling desktops. Simply more people just like the small form factors and mobility that they offer... Intel's Pentium-M series is simply the best that is aviable out their right now for a powerfull cpu with low wattages. Their centrino hardware design has everythign that most people want and it's designed to function properly in terms of battery life and acpi. Even for Linux support it is very nice.

Wed Jun 22 23:24:53 2005: 685   dhart

The problem with AMD is that they never once produced a processor chip with a unique readable serial number whereas Intel did.

Thu Jun 23 10:16:27 2005: 687   TonyLawrence

This article: (link)
has a good overview of both Apple's and Microsoft's hesitations and concerns in this area. An interesting quote there is "Apple has been pretty explicit in saying that it's not going to invest in supporting businesses". I would hope that they mean BIG business, and not the tremendous small business market where the flexibility of a triple platform box really could be a great thing.

Tue Feb 26 18:08:07 2008: 3711   TonyLawrence

Apple better wake up:



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