POSTS FOR 2005

Apple's NeXT Step: Mac OS X86™

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I’ve spent much of the last 10 years evangelizing for Apple, Apple’s products, and Apple’s PowerPC architecture. Even during the darkest times (1994 through 1997-ish), I remained one of “the faithful” to the Mac platform (along with hacking up System 7 with ResEdit =) ).

I have tons of clippings from old Mac magazines like MacAddict (back when they were still edgy and cool) still plastered on walls and binders left over from high school. To name a few:

  • [MacAddict] Fighting back for the Mac - 225 MHz! “Let’s kick Intel’s ass…”
  • [Power Computing] We lost our license for speeding… (the last ad due to Apple’s purchase of Power Computing and subsequent revocation of the Mac Clone license)
  • [Apple] Mac OS 8: An operating system so advanced, it could only come from Apple.
  • [MacWeek] Have a look at Apple’s new system… Mac OS 8 (with screenshots of the ill-fated Copland project)
  • [MacWorld] BeOS: Apple’s Next Operating System

When I heard the news that Apple really was switching to Intel — and not just Intel, but Intel x86 — I felt completely deflated… sick to my stomach even. PowerPC’s are awesome processors, and Apple has invested a ton time and energy into this architecture, but although the switch was a surprise to some (including me), it’s not all that far-fetched.

NeXTStep (including OPENSTEP, Rhapsody, and the Mach Microkernel ran on multiple architectures including PowerPC, Intel x86, SPARC, and even the old Motorola 680x0. Although Apple “officially” discontinued the x86 development after Rhapsody DP2, we now know they didn’t. NeXTStep (which Mac OS X is a direct relative to) was built to be cross-platform after NeXT moved from PowerPC hardware to x86 back in the 1990’s.

Now, having the Mac OS run on an Intel chip has been long-rumored since the days of the Star Trek project, and since that project was abandoned then we know that running Classic on x86 isn’t going to happen. Although I’m a bit disappointed about Apple leaving the PowerPC (which is really Motorola and IBM’s fault), I must say how impressed I am that Mac OS X runs so well on a Pentium 4, and I think that it’ll be interesting to see how this transition plays out for Apple and all of us Mac users.

Actually, this isn’t even the first time we’ve seen the “little checkbox thingie” that Steve Jobs mentioned when discussing the compiling of applications for both architectures. We saw this feature in Rhapsody builds of Project Builder (left over from the NeXTStep days, and was later was renamed Xcode). See for yourself:

PowerPC/x86 building for Rhapsody's Project Builder

Yellow Box support in Rhapsody's Project Builder

The only remaining questions I have (being the detail-oriented, organized person I am) is what on earth are they going to call the new systems? The G-series has always been a PowerPC nomenclature. G6? Gi686? Gx86? PowerMac²? We’ll have to wait and see.

Ryan Parman

Ryan Parman is an experienced Software/DevOps/Security engineer, currently living in Seattle. He is the creator of and , patented multifactor-authentication-as-a-service at , and came up with the idea of “serverless, event-driven, responsive functions in the cloud” while at AWS in 2010. Ryan's aptly-named blog, , is where he writes about ideas longer than . Ambivert. Curious. Not a coffee drinker.