Monday, June 06, 2005

Intel inside Apple

This is bumming me out. As this poster put it on Slashdot:
Yeah, we got Word and IE and the other big apps relatively quickly, but that does not a software library make. You need support apps. You need Adiums and VLCs and Colliloquys. You know, the little programs that maybe aren't in day to day usage and maybe not everyone -- but everyone needs one of these apps eventually, and when you need them, you need them. Unless like me you were lucky enough to know how to escape into UNIX-land and use the software library there, for a long time you would find yourself periodically screwed. But, this was necessary, and this passed. It took five years or so, but the software library has now gotten to the point where if I suddenly find myself thinking "hmm, I need an app that does blah" I can look on versiontracker and more likely than not find it.

Except now this new transition is going to make that library restart once again at zero.

And this transition is different. There isn't a viable benefit to the customers. When the whole thing's done, in three years or whenever, we'll have a marginally faster computer, maybe a few tens of percents faster. Or rather so long as you weren't using any Altivec-heavy apps (since SSE is a poor replacement) and as long as IBM doesn't continue to grow the PPC the way it looks like they well might, then maybe we'll have a marginally faster computer. And that's it. The power boost isn't sufficient to wipe out the speed losses from emulating the old architecture, and the architecture that is being moved to is (due to unfortunate design differences) at a rediculous disadvantage when emulating PPC anyway-- I don't know what the exact technology behind this "rosetta" thing is, but I don't buy the idea it'll be worth it. Meanwhile most of us already using Macintoshes weren't doing so for the speed; the PPC->x86 speed boost is going to be not a benefit to a great number of us. But we're still going to have to deal with it. All of us.

And it won't be fun. Oh, but it's just a recompile to add x86 compatibility! Well, I've heard that line before. And that's fine for the handful of great OS X open source apps, but for the rest good luck finding someone to do that recompile. I know it wasn't easy last time.

Mac OS X has been, from day one, a fantastically portable OS. The Cocoa APIs, from day one, have had quirks (for example in threading) that are actually listed in the docs as being in case the architecture the API rests on has to change someday later. The package architecture has had that space for multi-architecture machine code since day one. Apple could have, if they wanted, had us build fat binaries from day one. They could have, if they wanted, made OS X a truly cross platform OS to begin with, meaning that a transition to x86 now would be painless. They could make OS X a truly cross platform OS now, meaning that those of us who have been apple customers for years wouldn't have to uproot everything and throw out the support apps we're used to. Instead, no, they made OS X a platform locked OS, first locked into PPC, then x86. And those of us presently with PPCs are now locked out, because rather than making mac/x86 and mac/PPC equal alternatives Apple is simply phasing PPC out. Which means-- just like last time this happened-- give it a year or so and developers will not want to bother to compile for us. My mac, which before I was expecting I could use indefinitely, for years and years at least, now has a limited amount of time to live before it becomes useless.

So Apple has decided that in a year or three, I am going to begin a painful and extremely nasty transition. Now I have to decide whether that transition is going to be to Mac OS/x86, or to Linux. At the moment I'm frankly not sure.

Of course, what does Apple care about any of that? They are trying to build a closed platform, not a hobbyist's OS. Why should they let us use VLC when they could get us to pay to use Quicktime and iTunes? Why should they care if they let us use OpenOffice if they are trying to up-sell us to iWork? How many transitions are Apple going to force developers to go through before everyone just gives them the finger?

Also, now I'm going to (of course) put off buying a Powerbook until there are x86 ones available. Maybe it would just make more sense to buy a Windows laptop.


Blogger Chad said...

I'm pretty bummed by the whole thing. It doesn't make any sense. I was going to buy a new G5 PowerMac this month, but now I think I might hold out.

1:32 PM  

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