Enter another one of Intels platform pieces, VT (Virtualization Technology). VT makes it possible for one machine to run several different operating systems at once.VT demos have been fairly primitive so far, forcing users to switch from one virtual desktop to another to run software in different partitions. Microsoft has the technology to create a more natural windowed environment, but so does Appleand Apple has proved more agile in developing user-interface technology over the last few years. Again, Jobs said nothing about this prospect, but I know Apple could make this work, and I doubt theyll overlook the opportunity. Properly implemented, an x86 Mac wouldnt need to boot Windows to run Windows software. Mac OS would be the primary operating system, but if the customer wants Windows, Windows could get its own partition. With Windows running on the same machine, Apple can make Windows applications part of the Mac OS X environment. Apple could end up with the best of all worldssimultaneous Mac OS and Windows operation on a wide range of commodity platforms. Today, it isnt practical for Apple to develop its own tablet computers or eight-way servers because of hardware engineering costs. With suitable hardware available off the shelf in the PC industry, Apple can create such systems just by doing the necessary software development. Most of this work, in fact, has already been done. Reaching this promised land will still take a lot of hard work by Apple and its independent software developers. Apple is targeting the 64-bit mode of Intels x86 processors (the mode originally developed by AMD and dubbed AMD64). Apple already has 64-bit support in Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger), but almost none of the Tiger code runs in 64-bit mode. Apple will have to make the transition to x86 and 64-bit operation at the same time. Its unclear how much of this work has been done. Jobs announced that for the last five years, it has pursued a cross-platform development strategy; Apples operating systems and applications have all been built and tested for x86 and PowerPC compatibility. But Apple hasnt had access to 64-bit x86 platforms for all this time. I think its likely that the 64-bit transition is still under way in Cupertino. Its ironic that up in Seattle, Microsoft is moving the other way. We usually think of Microsoft as a software company, but it sells many more Xbox consoles than Apple sells Macs. With similar needs for multimedia processing and price/performance, and a large installed base of x86 software, Microsoft selected PowerPC for its next-generation Xbox 360. For similar reasons, Sony is moving from MIPS processors to PowerPC in PlayStation 3, and Nintendo is sticking with PowerPC for its forthcoming Revolution system. IBM designed all three of these new PowerPC processors; together, the three consoles will ship almost as many processors as Intel. Apples future includes less RISC, but more risks. Faced with a straight-up choice between Windows Longhorn and Mac OS X "Leopard" on the same hardware, some Microsoft customers will switchbut will there be more switchers than Apple would have attracted to the PowerPC platform? And what about Apples short-term prospects? Pending the arrival of better Intel microprocessors, the first generation of x86-based PCs wont be dramatically better than the new Power Macs Jobs promised us. Power Macs will also have better software support for years to come, but will Apples existing customers be comfortable buying a platform that is scheduled for cancellation? Apple is looking at a year or two of combining nervous uncertainty with the hope of fantastic success. Realizing this dream will require a lot of engineering effort from Apple and Intel, and a lot of faith from Apples faithful. Peter N. Glaskowsky is an analyst with the Envisioneering Group in Seaford, N.Y., a former editor of the Microprocessor Report newsletter and an architect with MemoryLogix, a microprocessor design firm. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on Apple in the enterprise.
Intel has partnered with software virtualization pioneer VMware to implement its own software layer for VT; Microsoft will have another.