Apple OS

I saw an interesting blog post saying that rumors are rife that iOS and OS X are going to be merged (now that the relevant engineering teams are both under one person). It seems pretty clear to me that Apple would have to plan not to have two OSes at some time in the future, and the options are:

  • Phase iOS out in favor of OSX
  • Merge iOS and OSX
  • Phase OSX out in favor of iOS

The first option seems laughable, although it does have the advantage that Apple already has it all working (OSX can emulate iOS pretty well and could presumably be engineered to run it perfectly, probably even natively). It’s also hard to credit simply because Apple appears to be moving to use iOS across its product line (the new Nano is all but an iOS device, for example) and adding a ton of bloat to it wouldn’t help with this.

The second option, which is what the latest rumors suggest, seems like the most desirable option. The idea here would be that Cocoa and Cocoa Touch live on top of the same kernel, side-by-side, and run natively or possibly have a Rosetta-style ARM/x86 emulator sitting on the side to run older software (assuming Apple decides to pick one or the other CPU architecture for a given device — they could “easily” just stick some ARM CPUs in every Mac if they wanted to).

The third option has the advantage of delivering a simpler, lighter operating system in the long run, with the disadvantages of abandoning a huge amount of software, having to port or create from whole cloth entire slabs of functionality, and delivering a simpler, lighter operating system (after all OSX is pretty lean thanks to almost merciless shedding of “legacy” functionality). Ultimately, the third option would probably be to OSX what OSX was to Mac OS — devices would boot into iOS and then load the OSX “compatibility box” only as needed, and eventually not at all.

A resulting “AppleOS” will have a complete OS on each side of the divide, allowing Apple will to ship touch-only devices with pure touch interfaces, non-touch devices with pure keyboard/mouse interfaces, and hybrid devices, such as a “Macbook Flip” which can mix and match. Beefier devices can have all the software installed, while leaner devices can essentially just have the iOS components.

So, I predict that iPhone OS will subsume Mac OS X within three years. Obviously, it will long since have ceased being iPhone OS, of course. Hence, the title of this post.

That’s me, in 2010, predicting the third option’s inevitability. I guess I could point out that Steve Jobs died in the mean time, which may have slowed things down (one can only imagine that the process of merging the two operating systems caused significant internal tensions). I guess I’ve got another year before I’m wrong, but I still think it will happen by 2014. I would further argue that the accelerated pace of Mac OS X releases (which would deliver 10.10 in 2014) gels with this speculation.

But there’s actually no real way to tell the latter options apart — assuming iOS has been built with an eye towards eventual reunion it’s quite possible options 2/3 are working in the lab right now (just as NeXT had NeXTStep running on PowerPC hardware years before cutting the deal with Apple).

Early 2009 Mac Pro: Update!

Bare Feats has some interesting benchmarks of the new Mac Pros. (Could they have labelled their charts any more confusingly? I doubt it.) It’s also nice to see they’re using Geekbench instead of the lamentable Xbench, although Geekbench doesn’t try to do the many things that Xbench does so badly.

As I expected, the new “base” 4-core Mac Pro is slower than the old base 8-core Mac Pro, so that for the $200 you save over the old machine’s price you lose significant CPU performance, albeit not as much as you might think (it looks like ~10%)! The new CPUs have double the memory bandwidth of the old, and with their considerably superior graphics cards in the end are probably better balanced machines. Oh, but the memory requirements are annoying (you need to buy your RAM in sets of three for optimal performance with one 4-core CPU, and six for two 4-core CPUs).

I’m using a (borrowed) 2008 8-core Mac Pro and it very seldom makes use of its extra cores. So I guess the new machine looks like it’s probably slightly better value, all-told, than the model it replaces. Nothing like the value proposition of the new Mac Minis though.

Quad Core iMacs

Given that Dell is currently selling quad core XPS desktops for $799, it would seem to be a no-brainer that Apple will put quad cores into at least the upper end iMacs, possibly the whole line, and possibly into a Mac mini variant.

This will, unfortunately, close the gap between the iMac and Mac Pro product lines, which makes the introduction of a headless iMac with upgradeable video even less likely.

Running Windows Apps on a Mac & Other Stories

One of the best stories I’ve heard about Apple’s history concerns Ellen Hancock, whom Gil Amelio brought into Apple as Chief Technology Officer. Her role is pretty much overlooked these days, but she is responsible for pulling the plug on Copland, looking for a viable replacement, and — ultimately — acquiring NeXT, Steve Jobs, and Avie Tevanian (her successor).

Anyway, back to the story which I am reciting from memory. Ellen Hancock comes in to work and she is the most senior woman — ever — at Apple, surrounded by a lot of cocksure guys. She holds a meeting with her key reports and during the meeting utters the following statement. “One of the things that’s always puzzled me about Macs is why when I have a Windows .exe file on my desktop and I double-click it, it doesn’t just work.” The reaction is one of utter consternation. How could anyone working at Apple, let alone its new Chief Techology Officer, be so utterly clueless. And then it starts to dawn on them:

1) She has a PhD in Maths.
2) She has done serious shit at IBM.
3) She’s right.

Not long after this, Virtual PC added a feature which actually allowed .exe files to “just work” if you double-clicked them. It was a horrible kludge — you double-clicked the .exe and Virtual PC (which claimed ownership of that type of file) launched, loaded up the last version of Windows you had run with it, booted Windows, copied the .exe file over to some place Windows (under VPC) could see it, and then attempted to execute it. If the .exe required a bunch of local context to work (as most Windows .exes do) it quite likely crashed.

But the principle was there.

The only word we’ve seen from Apple on Windows compatibility lately is (a) Bootcamp — a pretty much wholly unsatisfactory option for serious users (it’s a great security blanket for switchers). (I am not going to reboot my Mac to run some dumb Windows app; I hardly reboot my Mac at all period. If a Mac OS update requires a reboot, I often leave the dialog up for days before I finally click “Restart”…); (b) pushing Parallels Workstation — almost as unsatistfactory as Bootcamp since it won’t run games, which are Windows’s killer app; and (c) a statement by Phil Schiller that Apple is not going to implement virtualization in Leopard.

So Apple has implemented one pretty much lousy option, is pushing a second, also lousy option, and has denied that it will implement the second lousy option itself.

What Apple hasn’t denied, because no-one has asked, is whether it will implement the correct answer to Hancock’s question — a Win32 compatibility box in the Mac OS X block diagram. You know, those rectangular diagrams which show “QuickTime” in a box that is kind of offset on top of another box labelled “Quartz”. The one with “Carbon” and “Cocoa” sitting side-by-side.

This isn’t the stuff of Science Fiction or a bad rumor page. It has existed under UNIX for years, Linux for not-so-many years, and is currently available for free as Open Source WINE (WINE is not an Emulator) and in various commercial forks. Apple in fact used to sell an equivalent product for UNIX that let you run Mac apps on Sun workstations. Unlike bad option #1 it doesn’t require rebooting your Mac, and unlike bad option #2 it doesn’t require partitioning your hard disk, booting up Windows in a virtual environment, or giving up games. Word has it that World of Warcraft (for Win32) actually runs faster under WINE than under Windows itself.

Let’s see. This option is Open Source or (for certain versions) fairly inexpensive to license, works better than any other option, satisfies the it just works mantra, is unbelievably cool (as in “would make a kickass TV ad”), is already out there, and Apple hasn’t denied that it is working on it. Oh and it doesn’t sell more Windows licenses.

But, you know, maybe Apple will just buy Parallels.