• Newsletter Issue #292

    July 4th, 2005

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

    With the fourth of July weekend approaching, we featured a specially selected “Best of” episode originally broadcast on April 28th. Featured guests included Jeffrey S. Young, co-author of the controversial unauthorized biography, “iCon Steve Jobs.” We also talked to Adam Engst, editor and publisher of TidBITs and Andrew Stone of Stone Design.

    We have a brand new episode on July 7th. The guest list isn’t final, but, so far at least, authors Andy Ihnatko and Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus will join us. Another guest or two will be announced shortly.

    Now many of you have asked when we’ll be offering Podcasts of the show. It’s definitely in the works, and it won’t be long before you’ll be able to subscribe to The Tech Night Owl LIVE directly from iTunes 4.9 and download your favorite episodes to your iPod.

    And don’t forget our weekly contests. So far we’ve given away such prizes as iPod shuffles, memory upgrades, network music players, software and books. More great prizes are coming this month.

    If you haven’t heard our program, be sure to visit The Tech Night Owl LIVE Web site to listen to our archives. Enjoy.

    THE APPLE/INTEL REPORT: THE FAQ: PART ONE

    Nearly four weeks since the fateful announcement of Apple’s impending processor switch, I still see a frightening number of blatant examples of myth-making and foolishness during my online excursions. Some of it comes from supposedly mainstream news sources, who should know better, and it makes you wonder just how accurate their reporting of everyday world events might be.

    But that’s a subject beyond the scope of this article. Instead, I’m going to focus on what Apple is actually planning and what this means to Mac users and to folks who might some day switch to Macs. First and foremost, I will take Apple at its word about the matter, lacking any reasonable or logical evidence to the contrary. But this isn’t the last word on the subject by a long shot. It’s just a work in progress and as things change, I’ll deliver a Part Two, Part Three, and so on, revising answers as needed.

    So let’s begin:

    Q: What did Apple actually announce?

    A: Beginning in the middle of 2006, Apple will begin to move from those PowerPC processors made by Freescale Semiconductor and Motorola to chips from Intel. Some writers suggest the first Macs with Intel Inside will be announced at the Macworld Expo in January. I suppose it’s possible, but Steve Jobs specifically said the middle of the year, not the beginning of the year, and we might as well take him at his word lacking any evidence to the contrary.

    Q: Why is Apple embracing one half of the infamous Wintel team after claiming for so long that the Power PC smoked a Pentium?

    A: Freescale Semiconductor is largely concentrating on embedded chips these days, those used in such products as automobiles. Apple is just a smart part of its business, so it doesn’t get a lion’s share of Freescale’s development efforts. As far as IBM is concerned, clearly it hasn’t been able to deliver the parts Apple expected. When Steve Jobs first announced the G5 in 2003, he said that a 3GHz version would come within a year. Two years down the road, it still hasn’t happened. Worse, Apple has had ongoing difficulties getting chips in sufficient quantities, and last year’s iMac update was delayed at least two months as a result. That was a particularly embarrassing situation that also hurt the company’s bottom line. In addition, IBM has so far failed to tame the G5 for laptop use. It still runs hot and draws too much power. The speediest Power Macs, in fact, require liquid cooling. Imagine having to do that with a PowerBook, even if you could get adequate battery life.

    Q: How long will it take to complete the transition?

    A: Until the end of 2007. That doesn’t mean, of course, that Apple won’t keep a legacy product or two in the lineup for those who require PowerPC for business or educational use. As you might recall, when Apple officially ditched dual-booting Macs, models that could start in either Mac OS 9 or Mac OS X, older Power Macs remained in the lineup for a few months for those who needed Mac OS 9 booting capability.

    Q: Which Macs are going to get Intel chips first?

    A: I’ve heard several versions of this answer. One sensible possibility is that low-end models, such as the Mac mini, will become Macintels first, and that since the mini closely matches the iBook in terms of componetry, the iBook and PowerBook will probably come along for the ride. From Apple’s standpoint, it’s appears to be super-critical to get a line of super-powered laptops out the door, and the availability of a dual-core Intel chip with stellar performance and modest power requirements would be just the ticket. Power Macs may not receive Intel chips until the end of the migration cycle. One reason would be to give developers more time to upgrade the mission critical applications used by Mac professionals. On the other hand, if those upgrades move real fast, Apple might take a different route.

    Q: Will they really be called Macintels?

    A: No. That’s just a nickname that some of us have created just to describe the new generation of Macs.

    Q: Which Intel chips will Apple use?

    A: Officially there’s no answer from either Apple or Intel. But Apple will, according to Intel, be regarded as just another OEM customer, which means that you could look at Intel’s roadmap for next couple of years and make some educated guesses.

    Q: Will it be possible to run Mac OS X on any plain, vanilla PC box?

    A: Apple has in the strongest terms said no. Apple’s Developer Transition Kit that programmers are now using to update their products includes an Intel compatible version of Mac OS X that will definitely not install on a regular PC, despite one report to the contrary. It doesn’t take a crystal ball or psychic powers to speculate that Mac OS X will require special hardware to install or run, and that hardware will only be used on a Mac. While it’s possible that hackers will find a way to reverse engineer the technology, you can bet that Apple’s legal eagles will put a fast stop to that process, so only a few owners of hand built PCs will be able to get it done.

    Q: Wouldn’t it make sense for Apple to license Mac OS X to other PC makers?

    A: Well, we know that Dell would like it to happen, and HP, which sells rebranded iPods, also indicated they’d do it if the customers asked. However, Apple benefits by building the entire system, from operating system to hardware. If the platform is opened to outsiders, there is a far greater opportunity for hardware conflicts. The PC universe is the wild, wild west in this regard, and that’s one of the reasons why Windows is so unpredictable and why it takes so long for Microsoft to release updated versions. By the same token, Steve Jobs clearly doesn’t want to replicate the sad situation of Mac OS cloning in the mid-1990s. There, companies simply put Apple-designed logic boards in cheap PC cases, and went with a vengeance after the mother ship’s core markets. It nearly killed Apple and if Steve Jobs were to allow such a thing to happen again, it would be under strict controls, limiting Mac OS clones to markets the company doesn’t presently reach to any reasonable degree. I suggested a Dell server running Mac OS X Server as one possibility. Then again, Jobs may just decide not to take such a risk, even if it limits the Mac’s potential market share.

    Q: Will I be able to run Windows on a Macintel?

    A: Apple won’t officially support it, nor will they prevent it. I’m guessing is that you could simply set up a separate partition on your hard drive, formatted with a Windows file system and install whatever version of Windows you want. But there will be potential driver conflicts. As a practical matter, Microsoft might just release a version of Virtual PC for a Macintel, which will work just as Virtual PC does now, except it’ll run Windows at close to native speeds. There will probably be third party products that will allow you to run a Windows application on a Mac without the need of emulator or a reboot.

    Q: Will it really be as easy as Steve Jobs claimed for developers to update software to work on the new Intel-equipped Macs?

    A: Apparently, if developers used Apple’s Xcode software to build their applications. The new version, 2.1, has a checkbox for both PowerPC and Intel, and if you check both, you get a Universal Binary, an application compatible with both chips. For many developers, the process will involve just recompiling their products and perhaps making a few minor code changes here and there. But many applications were built in Motorola’s CodeWarrior, and the code base will have to be moved to Xcode first, so it may mean weeks or months of additional work.

    Q: Will I have to buy all my applications over again?

    A: For some developers, the Universal Binary version will be a free downloadable update. For others, the changeover will be part of a regular feature upgrade, so the publisher can charge the standard upgrade fee. Key Mac developers, such as Adobe and Microsoft, have pledged support, but you can pretty well bet that those updates will be part of the next full versions of their products.

    Q: Will I be able to run existing applications on a Macintel?

    A: It depends. Apple’s current guidelines for the Rosetta emulation scheme state that Classic Mac OS applications won’t be supported, and that appears to indicate that Classic will be history. Most Mac OS X applications will run with decent performance. Drivers for such peripherals as printers and scanners will have to be updated to support Intel chips.

    Q: Will Apple’s sales drop as Mac users put off buying computers until the arrival of Macintels?

    A: This could be a self-fulfilling prophecy. But don’t take surveys that purport to show such a thing seriously, because they were probably not conducted using standard polling methodology. In the end, it may be a mixed big. Some will choose to wait, others will choose to stick with a Mac with PowerPC, because they need a new computer now, or because they’d rather not expose themselves vulnerable to possible bugs and performance bottlenecks in the first generation of Macintels.

    In the end, however, a Mac is still a Mac, and the brand name of the processor inside shouldn’t make a difference.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: THAT, SIR, IS ILLOGICAL

    Just the title itself is so open-ended, it could refer to almost anything, but I’ll just focus on a handful of obvious candidates, and fill in some more from time to time.

    Just a couple of weeks ago, for example, I railed against the practice of ensconcing products in blister or clamshell packs, making them almost impossible to open without risking damage to your fingers courtesy of scissor or knife. Well, one of our readers let me in on a product that’s supposed to save us from all that grief, known as “The Amazing” Open X. This clever little item is designed to do what the name implies, and that is to upon “those stubborn plastic packages with ease!”

    The relatively small yellow plastic device contains a retractable blade to pierce the plastic package, and a second blade within a front hook-like opening to pull the rest of the package open. The two-step instructions imply the process is butter smooth, although it’s rather more awkward in practice on some blister packs. It is, however, a far better solution than a scissor or knife.

    So what’s illogical about Open X? Well, it comes in, you guessed it, a blister pack!

    The other bits of illogic can be found in the summer blockbuster movie, War of the Worlds. Now with Tom Cruise and Stephen Spielberg responsible for this remake of the 19th century H.G. Wells novel, you know it’ll be big, loud, and bold. Your ears will vibrate, the colors will be bright, the action frenetic.

    As you’re probably aware, the novel is considered the progenitor of many of the aliens-on-the-loose tales over the years. I’ll forget, for the moment, the political statements attributed to the original book, the infamous Orson Wells radio program, and the movie versions in 1953 and now in 2005.

    Instead I’ll focus on the fundamental logic of the story itself or lack thereof. From here on, unless you’ve read the novel, or seen one of the movies, consider this a spoiler, so don’t read any further.

    In the original novel, the invaders are Martians. The latest version never suggests where the aliens originated from, but has them speed to earth upon what appears to be lightning beams, entering tripod-like devices that were placed underground on Earth at some unknown time in the past. Now here’s the first logical lapse. Why would the aliens go through all this trouble to place hundreds or thousands of these devices beneath the surface rather than just use them as soon as they arrive? Why wait until our civilization has reached its present state, when our planet could have been taken over long before humans became the dominant species?

    Why indeed!

    Now one might suggest that the devices were implanted there as a contingency measure, in case the aliens were one day forced to leave their home world due to depletion of natural resources or some unexpected catastrophe. But the second bit of illogic is not so easily explained.

    You see, in this story, humans do not actually defeat the aliens. The invaders defeat themselves by succumbing to the terrestrial microbes that we take for granted. Whether flu or a bad cold doesn’t matter. The aliens die because of their stupidity, by failing to take into account how their bodies might react to possible infections on our world. If they are so advanced that they can travel here across space and come close to exterminating the human race in a matter of hours, surely they would be smart enough to send robotic probes to take air and soil samples, and take appropriate precautions to protect themselves from Earth-born illnesses.

    Such matters were no doubt not considered by scientists of the 19th century, so you could not expect H.G. Wells to account for them in his novel. But you have to expect that a 21st century remake would alter the ending to account for this situation.

    Another movie loosely based on the very same novel, Independence Day, also defeated the aliens by giving them a “cold” in a manner of speaking, but that cold was a computer virus that shut down the shielding systems used on the spaceships so they’d be vulnerable to Earthly firepower. Of course, there was a blatant example of illogic here too, and that is how our hero could, with hardly any effort, wirelessly interface with an alien computer and send such a virus. Remember, the aliens are far more advanced than humans, so even if we could communicate with their computers in some fashion, they, too, would have taken measures to protect themselves from alien intruders.

    Or maybe they were too egotistical to care, but that doesn’t seem terribly likely either. On the other hand, if you’re able to put your belief systems on hold, you’ll have one grand time watching films of this sort.

    THE FINAL WORD

    The Mac Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Worldwide Licensing and Marketing: Sharon Jarvis



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