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Dark Matter

Oh, I can hear it now. “So, what do you think about Steve going over to the dark side?”

Well, it’s true. I love to hate Intel (what is it with that lazy e?) almost as much as I love to hate Micro$oft. Yes, there’s a lot to admire. But the x86 architecture is so lame. I guess that is why I am glad there are compilers. I more deeply regret their hand in the death of the DEC Alpha architecture. Apparently some of the goodness that was Alpha has made it into Pentium.

But I digress. O’Grady expresses much of my opinion. We all knew that Darwin was running on x86 platforms. We all know that BSD (Free, Net, and Open), the underlying technology of many large ISP’s and the flavor of Unix that Darwin is based upon, runs on most platforms. We all knew that Next, the basis for Cocoa, ran on x86. We all know that gcc compiles to practically every instruction set in the universe. So, how hard could it be?

Apparently not hard at all. And they’ve been doing it all along.

Rosetta was a bit of a surprise. But advances in dynamic recompilation have been happening for a while. The x86 is a popular target. The PowerPC has a very regular architecture, much like a typical virtual machine.

So, what do I think? I think that by admitting that they can retarget to the x86, Apple is in a very powerful position to use whatever ISA (instruction set architecture) suits. Right now, Intel has more bang per watt, and that is what us laptop users crave. But if the Power architecture is better for something else (like your server farm, or your car dashboard) they can target that instead. Application developers who buy into the ‘universal binary’ will have the same benefit.

Where it gets interesting is — what happens with Virtual PC? It should become very fast on an x86 mac. It becomes a way to sandbox your essential Windows apps so you can run them without risking your entire computer. (Gee, Darwin’s Mach micro-kernel was actually meant to run several operating systems simultaneously…)

And what about becoming a software-only company? Like the 47th biggest company in the world? Would that be a good thing? Maybe. I still think there is an advantage in knowing the platform the software is going to run on. The reliability should be better. But for those who prefer an unreliable but cheap platform, should they be denied? Maybe they should.

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