Apple’s Intel Strategy

Apple announced it’s moving from the PowerPC processor over to the Intel platform. Most feel this is a good decision, some have reservations. Regardless Apple left quite a few unanswered questions that really impact how successful this transition will be, and what the ultimate benefit (if any) there is to the end user. I’d like to take a moment and look at a few critical questions:

Will there be 64 bit computing?
Apple with much fanfare introduced the 64 bit G5 processor and everyone talked about how that’s the future of computing. AMD, and Intel have also started producing 64 bit processors. Windows Vista (formerly Longhorn) will ship in both 32 bit and 64 bit flavors as Microsoft believes during it’s lifespan people will start using 64 bit systems. Will Apple even bother adopting 32 bit Intel chips? Or stick with it’s 64 bit strategy? ThinkSecret’s look at the Intel Mac has a nice list of what the processor supports:

PU, VME, DE, PSE, TSC, MSR, PAE, MCE, CX8, APIC, SEP, MTRR, PGE, MCA, CMOV, PAT, PSE36, CLFSH, DS, SCPI, MMX, FXSR, SSE, SEE2, SS, HTT, TM, SSE3, MON, DSCPL, EST, TM2, CX16, and TPR.

What’s not on the list is EM64T. Why wouldn’t Apple ship developers 64bit systems? Intel has been shipping them for a while now. Hyper Threading is available though. It seems strange that Apple hasn’t said anything on it’s 64 bit strategy.

Disk Formats
Apple’s alleged position on the idea of running Windows on a Mac is that they won’t support it, but won’t explicitly block it, though Mac OS X will remain Mac only. But I must question if it would be in Apple’s interests to support Windows a bit more, including re-examining disk format issues. Right now, A Mac can read/write HFS+ (Apple’s disk format), UFS, and FAT32. It can only read NTFS. This is a problem for someone potentially dual booting a system in Mac OS X and Windows. On top of this, the partitioning is also an issue. Apparently Apple’s Boot ROM historically will only will boot off of Apple partitioned drives (such as my disk0 below). Windows will only boot off of FDISK or MBR. So it’s impossible to have a dual boot system using partitions on 1 hard drive. I don’t have a developer Intel-Mac to test this theory on, but I’m rather confident on it.

Robert-Accetturas-Computer:~ robert$ diskutil list
/dev/disk0
   #:                   type name               size      identifier
   0: Apple_partition_scheme                    *74.5 GB  disk0
   1:    Apple_partition_map                    31.5 KB   disk0s1
   2:              Apple_HFS Macintosh HD       74.4 GB   disk0s3
/dev/disk2
   #:                   type name               size      identifier
   0: FDisk_partition_scheme                    *279.5 GB disk2
   1:           Windows_NTFS PC Backup          120.0 GB  disk2s1
   2:             DOS_FAT_32 MAC BACKUP         75.7 GB   disk2s2
   3:             DOS_FAT_32 MAC SCRATCH        83.7 GB   disk2s3

So what should Apple do?

Apple should encourage this behavior. It allows potential Mac converts to transition much more gracefully, and allows them to see the Mac as a much more valuable product. A few things really need to be done here:

  • HFS+ driver for Windows – That’s right, I said it. Apple needs to allow you to access your data on Windows. Adding HFS+ support to Windows 2k, XP, and Vista would be appropriate. The alternative is getting NTFS write support in Mac OS X, which isn’t likely to ever happen.
  • Allow Macs to boot off of MBR partitioned drives (FDisk_partition_scheme as it appears above on OS X) – this would allow you to use 1 drive and boot both HFS+ for OS X, or NTFS for Windows. *Note:* you would need to format the NTFS partition on Windows.

By doing this, the Mac is clearly the better computer. It allows you to use both operating systems fluently. You can create a 10 GB NTFS partition and install Windows XP, then use HFS+ for all your data, and your Mac OS X volume. This would also pave the way for even more top notch Linux support (on the same drive too)

Then Apple’s silver bullet would be a VirtualMachine package, so you can run Windows in parallel with OS X, or multiple instances of OS X, or Linux. This would also aid in the server market. You can run OS X, with it’s infamous stability and excellent interface. But still get to your Windows data and programs if you need. There’s no longer any reason to say No to a Mac.

Hardware Lock in
This is the big question everyone wants to know. Today’s Mac’s are relatively easy to upgrade and repair using stock PC parts. Drives, RAM, most PCI cards (USB, Firewire, most networking cards in particular), etc. There are a few annoyances in Mac hardware today, the first being video cards. Sometimes you can hack the ROM and install Mac ROM and use them. Sometimes you can get a Mac version. Will there be good enough support to allow any AGP or PCI-X graphics card to just work? In theory, using an Intel architecture, the ROM should be the same now, so the issue may just be limited to drivers, so we may get lucky here. Presumably what makes a Mac exclusively a Mac will be it’s motherboard (or a few pieces of silicon and plastic on that motherboard). So anything else should be swappable with PC parts. Will Apple be pushing for more widespread driver support once the Intel Macs start shipping?

So Steve, if you happen to read this, and care to fill us in on Apple’s strategy, I’m sure we would all appreciate it. Apple’s Intel strategy is rather interesting, but it doesn’t quite say if Apple will be bridging the platform gap to allow for smoother transitions between Windows and Mac, or if it’s simply a processor swap.

Konfabulator is set free

Konfabulator is now free. Windows people rejoice. I assume this is an attempt to beat Google at the API game. Anyway, this is a big win for Windows people. Konfabulator isn’t quite as cool as Apple’s Dashboard, but still pretty cool. Windows people now get a little taste of how good Mac stuff is, at no charge.

Could this partially be a resonse to Google’s interest with Firefox? Mozilla’s also a rather robust platform for taking advantage of API’s. Just a pondering.

Help Wanted: reporter cleanup and bug filing

I could use a few volunteers to do the following:

Help me clean up reporter
Everything needs a cleaning now and then. Check for reports in reporter that just don’t belong. “Microsoft Sucks” isn’t a valid report. Some are merely tests. Find them and send me the reportID’s (you can leave a comment if you wish or send an email).

Help file bugs
We have a fair number of reports already. Start sifting and file bugs in bugzilla (under Evangelism) with good valid bug reports. Be sure to mention in the bug what reports found the bug, so we can have detailed info on the setup’s that involve this bug. Also please make it block Bug 301962 so that we can keep track of bugs based on reporter data.

Quiet Times

I’ve been somewhat quiet lately. I haven’t been coding much thanks to my computers all needing parts (hard drive, RAM). I’ve also just been taking some time off (away from the keyboard).

Today I even took out Sim City 2000 and installed it on my Mac mini. First time I touched that in several years. Ran rather well except for traffic not showing up well on the roads. Considering that’s a classic app, and I’m running Mac OS X 10.4, not bad. So much faster than it was a decade ago (I can do 1 year of simulation in about 10 seconds now). Getting it installed was the tricky part. Sim City 2000 came on floppy disks (remember those?) Had to boot up the old Performa, create disk images, and save it to a zip disk. Then use the G3 to convert the disk images to the newer dmg format as OS X Jaguar had no problem with it, but Tiger refused to read them. Then save it to Bender and download on the Mac Mini. That’s right, 4 Mac’s were involved. Thanks to only 1 floppy drive around (Bender has one, but there are no real OS X drivers for such an archaic device). So Sim City stole several hours of my day (damn it’s addicting).

Backorder Fun

It’s like waiting for paint to dry. CDW still says on it’s website that my new HD usually ships in 3-6 days. OK, great, but I ordered on 7/5/2005. Oh yea, Seagate keeps changing the date of the delivery for the next batch. They initially told me it was supposed to be July 11 (aprox), then July 22, now August 1. Not that I’m optimistic it will ship on August 1. Sigh. What an absolute pain in the butt. And here’s the best part. Depending on the sales rep you ask, they may or may not have gotten a shipment in the end of June. Seagate says they haven’t shipped as of 2 or 3 weeks ago. So somebody is making up stories.

Oh yea, FedEx isn’t exactly an angel either. As others have noticed FedEx has a policy against 1 day delivery for ground or FedEx Express shipping. Even if you ship within the same town, or neighboring towns, you will almost definitely wait 2 business days. Most likely so you cough up $20 or whatever it is for overnight shipping if you want things next day.

So yea, ordering online is great, but backorders and delivery can totally suck.

Bargain Shopping

It feels really good when you get a good price on something. I found out this afternoon that Circuit City had a 300GB Seagate drive for $99 after rebates. Yea rebates are a pain, but for that much of a discount, it’s so worth it. At $99 that’s $0.33 per GB. So I ordered the AMS Venus enclosure I planned to get the other day. I think that’s a pretty fair deal.

Still waiting on my massively overpriced (but much needed) laptop hard drive, still on backorder. Hopefully it will ship soon as expected. I’m not holding my breath.

The ultimate backup solution

Ok, thanks to my whole laptop situation, I’ve decided I need a real backup solution. So here’s what I’m contemplating:

I’m wondering if I can effectively partition it? Save 80GB for laptop backup, 80GB for Mac Mini Backup, and 40GB for Linux Backup (those are drive sizes, not file sizes, yes I know 250GB isn’t really 250GB. That way I can back everything up rather well, and still have a little space left over. A firewire drive is faster than the internal mac mini drive, so I can use it as a scratch disk when compiling Firefox on the Mac for a performance boost. Carbon Copy Cloner (free), SuperDuper ($19) are good options on the mac side for backup.

And that backup system will cover 2 computers. I’m thinking when I finally get my new hard drive, that’s going to be my backup solution.

Camino Nightlies Rock

My mac mini right now is my primary system as my laptop is down with a bad hard drive (and still on backorder). Typically my PC handles my mail and basic web browsing. So I was still using Camino 0.8.4 until just tonight when I leaped into nightlies. I’m posting just to give a giant thanks to the Camino team for their amazing work on this browser. The only complaint I have right now is the lack of extensions (and that will remain indefinitely due to it’s design). It’s extremely fast (one bounce to launch), looking extremely good, and even fixed some of the ugly stuff I hated about previous versions (like those uber-ugly tabs). The new design is sleek and just perfect.

So once again thanks to everyone who make Camino what it is. If only some of this performance tuning could be brought to Firefox, and especially Thunderbird (which is extremely slow on my mac mini).

Anyway. It’s pure bliss. If you have a Mac, I’d suggest downloading, “installing” (you Mac guys know how great our “Installs” are), and give it a go.

Memory Frustration

Ok, so first my Hard Drive goes (my good one). So I order another. Thankfully CDW doesn’t process the order, so when I get back from vacation I need to place the order again (note that sarcasm). So I move my mail and such over to my mac mini, which has so far been my secondary system. I use it for fun. My laptop does the mundane email and other associated BS. My mac mini is like that garaged car you take out on days when you want to enjoy the nice weather and open roads. CDW was initially telling me it would ship by 7/8 or more likely 7/13. Ok, so I should have it by Friday. Wrong. Now were looking at least 7/22.

Now my mac mini is only running 256MB of RAM. For a few days I would have made it work, and then go back to it as a secondary system, less apps running means I can get away with it a bit. Now I need to get this thing going for a longer haul. Best Buy has 512MB for $29! Unfortunately they don’t even sell a 1GB stick for less than $200. Yea, that’s right. So my best bet is Crucial. Still I feel ripped off. $29 for 512MB, or $105 for 1GB. How the heck does that work out? Only having one RAM slot makes the system fit so well on my desktop, but it sucks when it comes to purchasing RAM.

Sigh… so if you’ve noticed I’m not doing much lately, it’s because my computers suck. My Thinkpad is down and out, and my mac mini is struggling to perform and just frustrating me. I think I’ve got to bite the bullet and just cough up $100 so my mini performs better, and wait for a good HD to ship.

I hate this stuff.