Thursday, June 9, 2005

Glasses half full... Apple & Intel

I admit it.  I'm an incorrigible optimist.  In the recent announcement by Apple regarding their move to using Intel CPUs, I only saw it as a good thing for the industry.  I also see it as a potential opportunity for Borland.  I'll predicate all of this with a huge dose of speculation, wishful thinking and downright optimism on my part.  Nobody has a magical crystal ball and cannot predict the future.  Yet, unlike Danny's post, I have a more positive outlook.  Now, there are those that scoff at the notion of a Mac OS running on Intel hardware.  Generally, these are emotional responses, or the obligatory “oh no!  The Intel monopoly is expanding!” concerns.  Ever since the first release of OSX running on the BSD kernel, rumors have abounded about how easy or hard that it would be to get OSX running on an Intel platform.

How does this all relate to Borland?  Right now, it doesn't.  It's just an interesting development in the industry at large.  As Danny posits, if Apple is going to go totally for the EM64T/AMD64 side then the route to the Mac is certainly riddled with far more land mines.  However, according to Corbin Dunn (former Borlander and now on the Cocoa team at Apple) in a comment to Danny's post:

“The intel x86 machines are not limited to 64-bit (trust me on that one). So, in theory, it would be possible to port Delphi to Mac, since the compiler is already spitting out x86 code. But, as we know from the Linux port, it isn't as simple as it seems. But, it would be simpler since BSD isn't such a far stretch from Linux.”

I'm sure another one of the big questions on everyone's mind is this: “can I take a plain-Jane ASUS motherboard, throw on the latest Pentium, slap some memory in, drop in a decend graphics card, hard drives, cdrom, etc... stick in the OSX disk and install?”  Hm... I don't know.  I'd imagine that to almost be the case, but since Apple keeps such tight control on the hardware spec, there probably isn't too many graphics cards, or other esoteric types of hardware that it will support.  Now, if Apple opens up their video driver architecture, and other subsystems we may be able to install the latest ATI or nVidia hardware.

So there's that question.  Apple did try to go down the licensed hardware route back in the late 90s, only to eventually reneg on that whole endeavour.  There are some rays of light in this article about the move to Intel.  According to the article:

The first challenge ended up not being much of one at all, as Jobs revealed that OS X has been running on x86 platforms for the past 5 years; every release of Mac OS X has been compiled for PowerPC and Intel.

Hmmm.... Did they design some special hardware 5 years ago just to run this port of OSX?  I doubt it.  I imagine they bought some off the shelf Dells or built up some systems from stock mother-boards and components.  Even the Mac has a PCI bus (don't know if the newer Macs have AGP or PCI-Express), in which they could just put in one of their normal graphics cards.  So this might lend some credence to my supposition that you may be able to slap together some cheap hardware and boot up OSX.

Basically, if there is going to be a 32bit version and a 64bit version of OSX on x86 hardware (as Corbin seems to indicate), then we have at least one item covered... sort of..  There are some huge hurdles, like the linker, codegen ABI tweaks, executable format, VCL, IDE, etc.  As for x86-64... well I think we all know how high that hurdle is going to be... 

So why am I so optimistic in the face of all these challenges?  Simple.  I see this as a good move for Apple.  I think it will help boost their sales.  And if they can become a true competitive force in the industry at large, then maybe Borland would have no choice but to turn some attention to that platform.  So it remains to be seen and you can be certain that we'll keep an eye on all these developments as they continue to unfold.