Friday, June 17, 2005

Wintel, Lintel now Mactel(?) ... are we in the Post OS era?...

Strangely I haven't yet heard anyone put forward an offering for this, I think Mactel sounds better than Apptel personally. Although we could go a bit all out for something different and use Intac...Perhaps not. Of course I am referring to the worst kept secret in the IT world, which Steve Jobs finally let out of the bag at the Apple Developers conference the other week, that from June 2007 every single computer sold by Apple would be built around Intel chips.

This is truly big news, for many people. Best of all it was delivered in Jobs' perfected nudge, nudge, wink, wink style of delivery. I cannot recommend enough that you watch the whole thing (in QuickTime of course) here. It is a masterpiece of unveiling, starting with the typical catch up on how well Apple has been doing over the last year, then moving into the wonderfulness of Mac OS X 10.4. Jobs focuses a lot on the new Dashboard features, not missing an opportunity to have a dig at Microsoft along the way by showing off the count down calendar, entering 2009 and labeling it Longhorn.

After about half of the presentation he moves to the big build up, talking about the major changes in Apple's history, moving from the 68000 to the PowerPC and then Os9 to OSX and then he simply puts up a slide saying "It's true", the dropped 'e' matching perfectly to the Intel logo. The master stroke though is proving the doubters wrong about how good Mac OS X will be on Intel by revealing that the machine he had been demoing on for the last 40 minutes was in fact an Intel machine...he shoots, he scores and the crowd go wild...

So we come into the new world with three different *tel platforms, what does this mean? Well for a start it will, as many are saying, hurt Apple sales in the short term. This is the reason that they waited and presented a complete and finished solution to the world, and most importantly the developers. So much emphasis was place on the idea of the "Universal Binary" that Jobs was all but screaming "please keep buying the PowerPC machines!!!". The first machines will be on sale by June 2006 and the whole line (by which I presume he means XServe, Mini and laptop machines) will be Intel by June 2007. After that Apple will be in a great position. Not only will they benefit from the greater range of chips that Intel can give them, therefore more powerful laptops which are what people have been crying out for from Apple, but also, and perhaps more importantly, they are no longer tied into a single vendor.

A few people have commented that it is strange that Apple would go for a link up with Intel when many see AMD as having much more momentum. They trumped Intel to the 64bit revolution (Apple and PowerPCs of course having trumped them both), and AMD are seen as being more innovative. Intel must be extremely happy, although perhaps not so much when they are being forced, as part of the launch of this new venture, to describe Apple as the best PC manufacturer and potentially pissing off their many other clients. Anyway, I am digressing from my point, which is that while they have linked up with Intel for the launch there will be nothing stopping Apple from moving away to the AMD camp in the future, or even running multiple lines with different chips.

I find the situation we will be in extremely strange. After all this time and development we are now in a world where there is one single unified consumer computer architecture, and it is the one that we started out on so many years ago. The humble x86 architecture is still in their somewhere and now it will be powering Mac OS X as well as Windows and Linux and Unix. Apple have clearly stated that they will lock OS X so that it will only run on their machines, and not other Intel based machines (presumably using the Trusted Computing Platform architecture). I wonder if that will last. Less than a week after the announcement there was an Intel version of OS X floating around on the net. Sometime soon are we going to be in the position where it really doesn't matter which OS we use, it will become irrelevant. Your choice of OS will simply be personal choice, probably more of a fashion statement (Apple must like the idea of that right now) and incur no technical or functional penalty.

We have been heading this way for years now in the development world. As a Java developer I almost never have to think about the platform(s) that the software will be deployed onto. Now with Mono even Microsoft's own runtime is available on all platforms. Looking at the server market, one which Apple has been storming over the last couple of years with XServe, OS X Server and XSAN. All of the *tel operating systems can claim to be in the running for super computer status, this is in fact the one area where Microsoft is behind. The recent push towards Service Oriented Architectures sitting on top of Web Services and the XML revolution moves us further away from OS lock in. Strangely Microsoft is moving XML Web Services down into the core of Windows with the Indigo project.

Development and the server markets always lead from the front but the consumer market is becoming less and less OS dependent. Microsoft shocked the world when they announced that their holiest of holys, Office, would move towards standards based document formats. We are only a short time away from 100% interoperability between Office and other suites such as OpenOffice. Look also at the resurgence of Web based applications as promoted through Google's efforts with GMail and Google Maps, even more importantly look at the world of blogs which we inhabit, there are people whose whole careers are now dependent on their blog software which they can access from any OS anywhere in the world anytime.

I now have Windows, Linux and Mac based systems at home and it really doesn't bother me which I use for most of the work that I want to do, this is surely a sign of things to come, and I haven't even begun to talk about the impact of portable devices....we truly are approaching Post OS era...long may it reign.


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