Dusk of an age: Apple WWDC post-keynote predictions

Well, the Jobs reality-distortion field was in full swing again. The presentation was actually quite impressive, and the slightly ironic touch “this announcement should be news to almost all of you.. unless you read the Wall Street Journal” was amusing.

The performance of Rosetta JIT-ing PPC code was quite impressive, and the fact that it just works – running MS Office 2004 and Adobe Photoshop – was astounding (Jobs made another ironic gesture by tapping impatiently waiting for Photoshop to load its plugins). We don’t know how many times the two applications have been run, and how much instructions have been pre-cached, but I guess this is what Digital’s FX! 32 must have looked like. Now that’s one company that was the Xerox PARC of the ’80s-’90s: brilliant engineers, terrible management.

So, with the impending transition of Apple to Intel processors, what does it mean for other players in both the PPC and x86 camps? Here are some thoughts:

  • Sayonara, Yellow Dog Linux.Terra Soft, the parent company, might survive as a High Performance Computing vendor specializing in IBM PPC64 solutions, but seeing as Red Hat already partners with IBM, and with their engineers working on the GCC compiler for PPC64, there’s stiff competition there.
  • Is Intel really planning something big? Jobs tellingly focused on projected mid-2006 performance-per-watt figures, and Intel’s Paul Otellini made a self-effacing presentation showing Apple’s 1996 TV ad showing the Intel bunny man on fire, and interpreting it as a message from Apple that Intel CPUs need to run cooler. Since I can’t see Pentium 4s running efficiently anytime soon – and that dual core Pentium D is just a kludgy hack, forcing Intel to price their fastest non-EE Pentium D below AMD’s cheapest Athlon 64 X2 – that means.. dual-core Pentium M chips with x86-64 extensions? If the Israeli team works on it, it might actually end up looking good. They might want to redesign the FSB, though – copy AMD by integrating the memory controller on-die, and letting the two cores talk to each other without going through the FSB and back? They already pay AMD to license the 64-bit extensions anyway.
  • Why Intel? Power usage, assuming they are going to use Pentium Ms, and production capabilities. Though Intel chips are still not using SoI, so in that respect IBM (PowerPC) and AMD (Opteron, Athlon 64) arguably have a leg up. But it’s jarring to see Jobs comparing the two architectures as PowerPC vs Intel .. guys, let’s call an apple an apple (umm..) and acknowledge AMD’s contribution there. Debian actually calls the platform AMD64, and even Linus was known to be annoyed when Intel launched their “IA-32e” platform. You’re talking to your developers, it’s not like they’d get confused or anything. Guess the chance of us seeing some AMD-Apple collaboration is pretty low here, considering their focus on the Intel branding. Intel executives must be quite happy, after IBM’s PR wins in the console market.
  • Who wrote Rosetta? Presumably Transitive, and their low-key behind the scene approach probably explains why they were not named directly. Considering Rosetta was pretty much the coolest part of the keynote, probably as well for Jobs. It is interesting that the blurb on the site includes

    “Transitive expects to announce that a second computer OEM will deploy products enabled by its technology during the 1st half of 2005 and that others will deploy QuickTransit before the end of the year. Unfortunately, strict confidentiality obligations prevent us from discussing these relationships in any detail.”

    Timing sounds about right..

  • People speculating on running OS X on generic hardware are probably (slightly) deluded. I can see the technical possibility of running OS X on a suitably modified virtualizer, like VMware – the changes required might be as little as having a suitable ID reported by the BIOS – but a commercial solution will never be made available. The PearPC team’s job has just been made much simpler though.
  • Universal Binaries. Guess fat binaries don’t sound as cool. Oh well. Not a new feature, guys – NEXTSTEP did it (though of course NEXTSTEP is OS X’s older brother). Even Mac OS did it. And, if you’re on a Unix/X11 platform, ROX does it too.

The transition being stretched to several years is good news though. I’ll probably ditch my iBook – Linux desktops are looking pretty much almost there (wireless configuration, hardware management), and I like the feeling of helping out push a free solution rather than selfishly buying into the advance guard. And trying out Gtk#/Mono and Java-Gnome apps are much less convenient on a Mac!

So if anyone wants an iBook G4 1GHz, 768 MB RAM, in pristine condition around August 2004, let me know. If you want to wait for the eBay auction, that’s cool too.

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