The rants of a constantly ticking mind, combined with a mess of reviews and obscure titling methods.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Quality parenting, that

To the woman parked in a silver Vauxhall Astra outside a Spar in Plymouth: playing Kelis' 'Caught Out There (I Hate You So Much Right Now)' at high volume with your little kids slumped in the back covering their ears and looking unhappy - that does not count as responsible parenting, no matter how much designer clothing you are wearing.

What was behind Apple & Intel? - a short 'discussion'

So, as everyone knows, or at least everyone relating to IT knows, Apple have almost completed their switch from PowerPC-based chips to x86 (except for the PowerMac, which is likely to be known as the Mac Pro come switchover judging by their recent trademarking, and the XServe). The big question is why *did* they switch over?

The official Apple line for the switchover last year was down to heat and power consumption. Lots of heat and power consumption. The big reasoning behind why the iBook and PowerBook stayed at G4 whilst the Power Mac was a G5 (and had the potential to go higher) was because the amount of power required to run it and the amount of heat given off meant that it was virtually impossible without running out of battery too quickly to be to Apple standards. As I sit here, I can see that my iBook G4 1.33 has a 45W power supply. It has been rumoured that to run a G5 chip in an iBook would have required a double-size power brick (akin to the size of the XBox360's PSU) The Intel Core Duo chip was a more powerful chip and gave off less heat per Mhz combined with Watt per Mhz. Also, it's widely accepted that Apple had been developing an X86-based version of both Darwin (Apple's kernel) and Quartz (the window manager) for at least a donkey or two before they announced a Mac that supported them.

Also, as recently proved by Boot Camp, there was also an ulterior motive of Apple's to tread on Dell's toes and try and take over the PC business market, as the big problem with Apple users is that they couldn't efficiently use Windows software with PowerPC chips. Even worse, when the x86 Macs came along, it turned out the Windows bootstrap was COMPLETELY incompatible due to the new standard of bootloader used by Macs (called EFI, it isn't important what it stands for). Many people think that Apple and Microsoft are competitors, but that is absolute bullhonky. Microsoft is a software developer, Apple is a hardware developer. Yes MacOS feels like a competitor to Windows, but without some serious code hacking doesn't "do" PC. For the greater majority, the only way to get MacOS on a machine is to buy a Mac. By giving Macs an x86 core, they opened up a market for users to have one computer running both operating systems rather than having to switch over all the time.

The big question is: was that the only reason for Apple's decision?

Apple's announcement last year shocked more than a few: big-time Mac developer Adobe have still yet to make Universal binaries for their major product Creative Suite (Photoshop, Illustrator, etc.). The official release date is claimed to be around the 'second quarter of 2007'. It appears that they were more than a little taken aback by this move to Intel, which may show a possible rush job by Apple on the idea. Because of such a delay in this particular product, it may well be the reason why the Mac Pro is still yet to materialise. It's sounds like bad planning on the part of Apple, waiting on the Crusoe chip? Possibly, but there may be more behind the choice than meets the eye.

Say Apple wanted to increase it's product base. For years, Apple have been buying out companies and rebranding them. Take for example Logic. Highly successful audio editing and mixing product produced by EMagic which grew out of it's Atari ST roots onto Macs in the 90s, and bought out in 2002 by Apple. Final Cut Pro, a piece of software built by the creators of Adobe Premiere for Macromedia. Macromedia change directions, Apple buys product instead. Topple Adobe's previously steady market, putting Apple in the leagues of Avid (one of the biggest names in NLE software). Say Apple wanted to buy Adobe. Makes sense, seeing Adobe is one of the biggest names in Mac software development. However, Adobe is currently buying out reasonably big fish (it's last merger was with the aforementioned Macromedia) and thus have a lot of capital to throw around. They wouldn't want to be bought out with the price of stock they must have. However, say you wanted to reduce the cost of that stock. The best way would be to do something that frightens the traders, like say: putting the codebase to one of the most major pieces of software they sell on hold whilst all the programmers rewrite it. If Apple get the Mac Pro out the door before Adobe have a chance to complete their code crossover, and maybe release a product that does much of what Adobe's products do... Apple may end up rebranding Photoshop, and possibly tieing it to their platform much like they did with Final Cut. You can sense there is conflict between the two. Take Apple's Aperture vs. Adobe's upcoming Lightroom. Shake vs. After Effects. Soundtrack Pro vs. Audition (technically, Audition was another 'off the shelf' buyout by Adobe). Adobe are trying to hold onto the PC share, which is probably the best idea for Adobe at this current time. It's fairly unlikely that Apple would buy out Adobe entirely, but for buying more stock in a company that is highly ranked the time may be now while they're still getting their boots on.

There have been a few that have claimed that Apple's move to x86 was to create a better chance of cross-compatibility with Windows codebases. Essentially, that's again a load of bullhonky. Sure, it's now running on the same chips as Windows boxes, but it's a bit like saying you can fit bits of sand buggy in your car because it's got four wheels. The closest comparison to OSX is either BSD or Linux, BSD being the closer of the two. Last time I checked, there wasn't a whole load of consumer products for BSD. Combined with the fact that any software has to run in the X11 compatibility layer without major changes makes the whole idea an insignificant point in the grand scheme of things, and when you've got people like Sun claiming that the X11 version of OpenOffice for Mac should be made the official port because 'people don't mind it running like that' I think there's unlikely to be a lot of new ports of software just because the chip has changed.

An interesting issue that has sprung out of the rollout of the change was Intel's reaction to Apple's advertising of the Intel iMac. If you've forgotten, the voiceover for the new ad went something like: "For years, the Intel chip has been trapped inside PCs. Inside dull little boxes, dutifully doing dull little tasks when it could have been doing so much more".... and so on. This strategy was interesting. It felt almost like putting a proverbial nail in both Intel and Dell at the same time, combined with Intel's CEO turning up in that 'bunny suit'. The first thing that noticeably happened was Dell stopped supporting Intel all the way and switched it's higher-end products to AMD. Admittedly, it took a little time for this to happen (well, it would do with the amount of production and R&D they do each day), but they are now changing over. The situation could have been a lot worse, but Intel took the right decision in getting the wording of later versions of the Apple ad changed, minimising damage. Also during this time Intel were criticised for their 'high temperature output and high power consumption' according to many a data server owner. What followed was more servers with AMD chips inside. This also puts a bit of an odd twist on the reasoning behind Apple's move to Intel. If AMD are lauded for their lower consumption and lower heat per Mhz, then why go with Intel? Another big debacle no-one appears to be talking about is that the PowerMac has a 64-bit option, yet so far we've seen only 32-bit chips from Intel Macs. AMD is also famous for being the first with the x86_64 (AMD64) instruction set, which Intel has been forced to copy as they didn't get their chip out the door. Noting also that adding an Intel chip has hiked the price of a Mac, yet AMD chips tend to be lower cost....

May there be a possibility that Apple is pulling the wool over Intel's eyes? Maybe a brand change is on the cards, but by 'making' Dell (a former major buyer of Intel chips) and many other manufacturers switch to AMD, by the debacle regarding power and heat, and so on, if Apple pulled out of a deal with Intel and switched to AMD - that may well kill Intel off. To be honest, this idea is more than unlikely, but it may well mean lower cost chips from Intel.... we hope. The more likely reasoning behind a choice in Intel was purely that they could offer the product in high demand that other manufacturers couldn't.

Another interesting twist in the tail in the Apple-Intel story is that of PA Semi, a chip start-up that is set to produce high-performance, low-power PowerPC chips in 2007 (the first chip to go into testing this year is a 7W 2Ghz dual core in Autumn 2006. As a comparison, Apple's Core Duo runs at around 21-25W). This company was in talks for months before, all of a sudden, Apple decided to go with Intel chips. This came as a shock to PA Semi as they thought the deal was all but signed. There has been tossed up the thought that Apple couldn't wait that long for a chip, but maybe all is not over between Apple and them. It's does seem a little madness, changing your complete codebase instead of waiting that little bit longer, but more likely than not it wasn't just a decision of timeframe. I would have thought that waiting until 2007 before changing manufacturers would have been the worst idea on the cards, because it would mean their product line would have stagnated by now.

It does seem a little bit of a shame that Macs have essentially becoming expensive PCs running proprietary software, but in the end people buy an Apple for an Apple. High build quality, robust OS (though to say it's not without it's faults, but then again it would be impossible to build a one-size fits all system. Why do you think there are so many Linux distros?). To be honest, I would use my Apple more if it had a bit more brunt behind it. Even with a gig of RAM it still grinds to a halt on websites (Sports Relief being a perfect example), so my 3 year old £700 2800+ PC is still my weapon of choice. However, I have often used my laptop over my PC without need to, so obviously it has some attracting power to it!

Finally, a word on the whine. People have complained about the whining sound MacBook Pros make when they get toasty and the fan turns on. Unfortunately, I have to point this out to you. My iBook G4 makes whining sounds whenever it gets too hot, especially when I'm using it sitting on my bed (a fantastic source of poor airflow and heat absorption). It's a problem no-one who's used G4-based laptops have mentioned. Do you know why? Because it's such a rare occasion when it happens that most Mac owners think 'ooh, it's getting a little toasty' and move it onto a desk until it's cooled down. Unfortunately, the Intel chip has not solved the problem of heat, that whiny fan is coming on during normal use, and THAT'S the problem. Blame that new chip, because Apple's cooling has not changed.

Now, I'm not saying here that the future of Apple is to switch to AMD chips, buy out Adobe, kill off Dell and Intel, and take on global domination. That wasn't the point of arguing these in any particular direction. I'm more saying that Apple is in a very VERY strong position from a hardware and software standpoint. They've got more bargaining chips to play with than they've probably had since 1984 (I can almost hear a bunch of Mac fanboys now clammering to type 'What about such and such', or 'haven't you forgotten this and that?'). Looking at current market share, I know that it's gone down in the years that have passed, but there is a blatent reason for that. Apple is just one manufacturer vs. every PC manufacturer and builder out there. It would be tough for a gain in interest, especially in comparison to the Mac Clone era of the early 90s which hiked the market share tenfold. The only thing stopping them from regaining their market is price. Apple's products are not cheap, but with the position they are in, they are sure to be able to cut their costs. This may well mean even more cost cuts on the PC market (though it's up to you whether you think that's a good thing or a bad thing).

So, at the end of the day, Apple is becoming the biggest name in hardware, and that's got to be good for those on both sides of the fence (well, except maybe IBM's chip division, but they're still smiling when it comes to consoles!).

Monday, May 29, 2006

Someone doesn't want you to read this

I am supporting Amnesty International UK in a scheme called Irrepressible, a call for information freedom on the net. You should too.

Just click the banner for more information, or reload this page to read another bit of information that has been censored on the internet.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Oh dear lord!

Right, I've *finally* completed the last piece of coursework for this year. Hurrah!

Now I've just got to stick the bits needing to be stuck into my workbook, stick the work in a folder, stick the folder in the office, stick the office in the ground, stick the ground on the Earth, stick the Earth in a higher orbit, stick the higher orbit in a greater plane of existance, and stick existance on the wall next to my Back To The Future poster.

Oh, and then go see Chrissey. :)

All contents (C)2004-07 Rich Jeffery & Chrissey Harrison. Please ask permission before copying.