June 10, 2005

MacOS X on Intel


There was a rumor dating back to mid-2002 about such a thing already happening. Back then I posted a comment on this blog saying that for this to happen they need to have most of the applications ported to the Cocoa API, and also prepare to change the business model.

The technical part is relatively easy. Back in the OPENSTEP days their operating system ran very nicely on Motorola 68040, Intel Pentium, HP's PA-RISC and Sun's Sparc. The operating system had support for the so-called "fat" binaries, which could bundle in a single executable code for multiple processors. I haven't seen the new porting toolkit, but I guess a similar approach is employed for supporting Intel processors. Back then you could choose to build fat binaries by simply enabling some switches in the development environment. With most of the applications now implemented in Cocoa, this should be an easy transition.

On the business side I wonder how their hardware business will change. I think on Intel platforms is very hard to keep your hardware proprietary: sooner or later people will find a way to either build their own, or modify the operating system software to run on their hardware. The only reason to switch to Intel chips is to take advantage of all the commodity hardware out there, and have the manufacturers support their components on your operating system. I guess they can build a proprietary chipset, and make their operating system support only that chipset. But even that is very hard, with Darwin out there in source code, people will find a way to compile the necessary drivers and/or the kernel to make MacOS X run on non-Apple chipsets.

I think the only viable long-term strategy is for Apple to sell their operating system for generic hardware, just as NeXT did with OPENSTEP, when it was first released for Pentium. At that time NeXT went out of the hardware business entirely, and became a software company. Will this signal the same shift for Apple? This could mean a head to head competion with Microsoft, which won't probably allow it.

Nevertheless, interesting times ahead...

Posted by ovidiu at June 10, 2005 04:10 PM |

Not sure why everyone is worried about keeping the hardware proprietary and preventing running MacOS on commodity hardware. Hardware clones are not stopped by proprietary chips in the hardware -but by copyright law, no company can sell hardware with MacOSX bundled without a valid license from apple. Some hackers installing OSX on generic hardware - that's a tiny percentage of the market, and most hackers who want MacOS, they do this because everything just works and the cool/quality hardware.
Running MacOSX on a Sony or Dell or generic will be as hard or harder than running linux - display drivers or suspend or the wireless will still require lots of effort and never work as well as on a native mac.

Apple does have the choice to license MacOS to a select few ( HP ? ) if they can't have enough volume or if they want to take more market from MSFT or to have a better entry in enterprise desktop ( multiple sources, etc ).

Posted by: Costin Manolache on June 13, 2005 02:55 AM
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