Apple/Intel : The marriage of convenience exacerbates passions

This article has been originaly published in french in the magazine Univers Mac. It’s been translated into english by Catherine Marchive and republished here with the authorisation of Eric Larcher, editor in chief, and Bernard Montelh, publisher of the magazine.

Apple is on the point of leaving aside the PowerPC processors for the so deeply criticized x86 created by Intel. As programmers’ bitterness and incredulity left room to common sense and reason, on hackers’ side conjectures and speculations are going at a good round pace.

Before Steve Jobs broke the news nobody really believed it. As soon as 2006, the Mac will be PC, physically transformed and equipped with Mac OS X. A vast majority of publishers willingly plight their troth on Apple’s side. Independent programmers fell into step with them or even preceded them, crazy about the machine itself, rented such a high price by Apple. However all is not so easy in the universe of the apple : some artful hackers would have managed to make MacOS Xwork on normal PC.
“What a surprise it was”, Frank Lefebvre remembers, the vice-president of the association of the french programmers for MacDev Fr. “The members of the association attending the WWDC remained speechless. I did not pay any attention to the pervading rumours which had been spreading for a few days.” But then, safe some grumblers
nobody seemed really moved. Everybody realized that was not going to be a true revolution. “A great number of people thought : what is the problem ? There’s no problem. We changed from Motorola 680×0 to PowerPC”, says Benoît Leraillez, president of the association.
In fact the programmers for Mac OS have lived many changes : from the NuBUS to the PCI, then from the SCSI to the ATA, the coming of USB… “Today you can buy components for your Mac without asking yourself too many questions”, Frank Lefebvre underlines.

An easy migration
Frank Lefebvre explains that the members of MacDevFr have already started the migration : “‘some legally and officially achieved it for good in San Francisco. The making over is not so complex, not so complicated. What can be long are the problems dealing with the order of the octets within the words. But this concerns only the sizes of the files Mac or the applications and the pilots in close contact with the material.” As for the change of the environment of development Code Warrior to Xcode, “‘it works rather well on its own if we work on projects defined after a new version of Code Warrior.” Timothy Hatcher, the programmer of the Colloquy confirms : “I began to port Colloquy on the x86 architecture only two days after the news. It took me three days. I used Xcode without knowing anything about the result, and without having the x86 version of Mac OS X [NDLR, alias Mac OS X x86] just for a try . And it worked properly without any problem.” According to him the x86 versio of Colloquy had already been downloaded 800 times in the middle of August. The users who were asked about it agree that it works quite well still being as performing as it is usually.
Ryan C. Gordon who adapted Unreal Tournament 2004 to Mac OS X, succeeded in transcribing his game for Mac OS X x86 during the WWDC. Many development tools, like BBEdit are already available for x86 and PowerPC. According to Frank Lefebvre, “the programmers are just waiting for the launch of the very first Mac equipped with Intel processors.” Only a few ones have already taken the plunge such as Adobe which has already promised to follow Apple like about fourty publishers. On his blog Michael Gaiman (http://unibin.blogspot.com/) keeps an eye on the publications of “universal binaries” that is to say of software for Mac OS X compatible with PowerPC and x86 processors. The price of the transition kit, rented 800 euros to the programmers Select ADC (400 euros a year the subscription ) for eighteen months doesn’t seem to disturb anybody. To Timothy Hatcher’s eyes there is nothing wrong about the fact that the programmers can’t keep by them machines which are not made once for all ; in fact they are always on the making. And Benoît Leraillez thinks Apple must have made tremendous financial efforts to rent such a machine only 50 euros a month. The expected qualities seem to be where they are expected to be : “the Finder looks more efficient, reactive on Intel machines”, Frank Lefebvre explains. The applications using Rosetta “work quite well.” On the whole, “it is difficult to make the difference between a Mac Intel and a Mac PowerPC, unless you have a look at the information of the system.”
Forrester thinks that this “migration” to x86 architecture will give Apple the opportunity to widen its horizon. It shouldn’t be a tremendous financial success but firms will start to pay a real attention to Mac for their executives and their engineers and those detaining important information. According to Forrester, 8 per cent of SMB and 11 per cent of SOHOs would be ready to rely on Apple for their new personal computers. As to him, Gartner advises firms to keep on buying Mac but to migrate or change to x86 as soon as these machines are available.
On the contrary people are asked by this “cenacle” to delay their purchases as concerns sofware by the publishers “who have not officially supported the new architecture yet.”

However some uncertainties or doubts remain. Though being trustful in the future Frank Lefebvre remains cautious especially regarding the “port” or “support” of Intel educative games 64 bits or the loss of AltiVec, the accelerator of scientific and multimedia calculations being part and parcel of today’s PowerPC. Benoît Leraillez fears that Apple might be excluded from the calculation grid projects : “there are Unix for x86 why think of Apple without the existence of a PowerPC ?” Whatever may happen nobody seems to be mistaken about the price of the future Mac x86. After Frank Lefebvre the “migration”to Intel processors may not give buyers the opportunity to get a Mac cheaper than usual : “I’d rather think Apple will make more money though I may be wrong”. Forrester also shares Frank Lefebvre’s viewpoint adding : “Apple will go on concentrating on its customers’ satisfaction or success forgetting about a sharp struggle for the lowest price.”

The very first days of August some hackers managed to make MacOS X work on ordinary PC (read inset). Frank Lefebvre doesn’t worry about it. “It’s just a preliminary version ! We can imagine Apple will reinforce its safety measures”. According to him this abduction of MacOS X doesn’t really endanger Apple. If MacOS X could work on any PC, Linux might be in danger. PC users who are fond of hacking are the only ones interested in this. As for the others they will wait for a “MacOS X for all PC” ready made by Apple. Nevertheless, after Benoît Leraillez, such a Non Identified Flying Object is not ready yet, or is not for tomorrow. Apple should maintain or keep in store all forms of compatibility unless they should start developing myriads of pilots. This would not be so easy even with the help of independent software programmers.

In quest of a substitute for Windows, hacker were quickly interested in the x86 version of Mac OS X
A few weeks after the start of its spread among the very select programmers a copy of MacOS X x86 began to be available on the web. Several websites, forums, Wiki and blogs expressed their real interest in the new quest of the St Graal : to make MacOS X work on any PC. Judging by what we have been told, some would have succeeded in reaching their goal as early as the very first days of August. According to the hackers who were questioned about it MacOS X graphic interface would now work without any problem on all types of PC having a processor equipped with the instruction set SSE3 (a sort of equivalent for AltiVec, read our article about processors, Univers Mac 153 p.40). Some would have managed to make it work properly, in a satisfactory stable way, with processors confined to SSE2, the previous Intel multimedia instruction set, even during the carrying out of sofwares like iTunes. After the people who were questioned about it, a mere patch that is to say the addition of a programme of a tiny size would be enough to bypass the safety measures of the system and its starter Rosetta : by the time being MacOS X x86 would just check the presence of a TPM chip (Trusted Platform Module) on the mobo.

Most hackers seem to use VMWare to make Mac OS X work on x86 processors
This tool permits users to create virtual outlines and to develop in a large number compatibility experiments without changing their machine. According to the people who were questioned about it, the support of chipsets is rather aleatory – for example nVidia chipsets would not be compatible at all. And pilots of graphic cards from the same firm could not be loaded by themselves. On the contrary, Intel graphic circuits chipsets 830 and 890 could work quite well, as well as ATI graphic cards. But in all cases, no function aiming at generating the graphics acceleration would work properly by the time being and MaxOS X would be bereft of a great number of visual effects. OSx86 Project website (www.osx86project.org) brings a list of material compatibility up to date in its Wiki.

As concerns performances, many optimisations are clearly lacking
The experiments led under Xbench, in the middle of august, showed index numbers of performance reaching 41.36 with Athlon 64 3500+ or also 38.81 on Pentium 4, 2.8 GHz compared to more than 40 (the average number) for an ordinary Mac mini. Apple refused to comment on that sort of information and even summoned the website MacBidouille to withdraw the links to a video showing a PC starting under MacOS X.

Windows software under Mac OS X
When the news broke out as regards the migration by Apple to x86, many programmers started imagining Windows applications working under Mac OS X as the X11 or Classic applications do. So for Benoît Widemann, the author of Alias Menu a program allowing to individualise the desktop, “it would be smart to consider Windows apps in the same way as those mentioned above are made today : Classic or X11 ones.”
Just as a double click on an old application launches Classic, if necessary, the opening of a Windows application could start everything indispensable to work on its own without the help of the user. “This dream should become true in a short time. CodeWeavers CrossOver publisher which permits to make Windows applications work on PC equipped with Linux told us it wanted to adapt its programme to the x86 version of MacOS X. The Wine project aiming at making Windows applications work under Linux also wants to apply MacOS X x86.
However couldn’t this lead programmers to stop adapting their applications to MacOS X ? Frank Lefebvre and Benoît Leraillez, the vice president and the president of MacDevFr association, remain trustful. “X11 applications do not endanger the sales of softwares for MacOS. Users make the difference between the bad or the very bad applications fully adapted or not to MacOS X, especially with the absence of respect of the look’n feel [NDLR interface aspect and organisation, menus and controls functioning]. No X11 application ever won the battle against the launch of a rival programme especially conceived for MacOS X.” To their eyes, the opportunities offered by Wine or CrossOver above all will permit Apple to conquer anew the customers who for a while had to part with Apple as they could not use on Mac the applications proper to their profession. This is a viewpoint shared by Forrester’s analysts.