J Angelo Racoma looks back at the argument that Apple switching to the x86 would be tantamount to the suicide of Apple Computer, Inc.
I think the analysis that is missing is the fact that the Mac/Intel platform is not equivalent to the Win/Intel platform. If anything, Mac/Intel is a superset containing Win/Intel, in the same way that AMD64 is a superset of x86.
The beautiful thing about running OS X on an x86 platform is that you don’t have to worry about backwards compatibility. Windows is still tied down to 1980s era hardware paradigms. It still needs to worry about the 15 IRQs of the original IBM PC. It still has to worry about real mode vs protected mode. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s still code sitting in their kernel that deals with ISA hardware. In other words, Windows needs to deal with BIOS, and BIOS is ancient technology as far as computers go.
With OS X, you can throw away all that cruft, which they do. (Disclaimer: I have yet to buy a Mac/Intel machine, as I’m waiting for the release of Leopard.) So BIOS is replaced with the more modern EFI. MBR is replaced with GPT. No more worrying about conflicting IRQs. No more worrying about being limited to one primary partition and one extended partition. Mac/Intel is, if anything, reviving the x86 platform and making it more modern.
This is ultimately the only reason PPC is superior—it too is not tied down to 1980s paradigms of hardware. It is at least grounded in the 1990s, and Open Firmware can at least deal with PCI, AGP, USB, and Firewire in a native fashion, not in the patched-up and kludgey way they try to make it work with BIOS. People talk about speed as if MHz were all that mattered, but when you got right down to it, you have to look at the entire platform.
In any case, one of the cool things about being on a non-Intel platform was that you didn’t have to keep up with the Joneses. When I used an x86 machine, I felt like I was upgrading my CPU every 6 months or something insane like that. Meanwhile, I’ve been happy with the performance of my PPC machines for the past four years. Maybe it’s just a change in expectations, since I was never a gamer in the first place, and am even less so now.
Even in the Motorla days, that’s what impressed me about the Mac. People would keep their Macs alive for years, and I never saw them as frustrated as I would get when Windows would blue screen or when some of my cheap hardware would basically burn up in a shower of sparks. People talk as if all hardware were equivalent, as if that cheap-ass motherboard is as good as a decent Abit or ASUS mobo, but in my experience, that’s not true at all. You get what you pay for, and if you buy cheap stuff, it just doesn’t last.
And at this stage in the game, Macs no longer cost twice as much as Windows machines do. The last Mac I bought cost $599, and I didn’t even have to assemble it myself.
I wonder if the Vista kernel still has code for dealing with ISA hardware?
Ultimately, this is where Vista will inevitably fall down. It is locked down to the hardware paradigm of 20 years ago. People will continue to make ridiculous claims like BIOS should be good enough for anyone, and who really needs more than 640kb of RAM. But I think change is good.
Maybe in another six years, Windows will come out with a version that is actually written for a modern hardware platform.
The next new thing will be hypervisors, like Xen and Parallels, and I think a modern hardware platform without any legacy cruft is a must for this to take off. One day, everyone will be running both Windows and Mac OS X on the same machine the way you can run Aqua and X simultaneously in OS X.