Make Room for Marklar

By Matthew Rothenberg  |  Posted 2002-12-23 Print this article Print

?"> Make Room for Marklar? Finally, I want to touch on the latest flurry of reports about Apples sub rosa Mac OS X-on-x86 efforts, a longstanding project to which we first applied a code name (Marklar) and a project size (somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 software engineers, some of them transferred from Apples receding Mac OS 9 development efforts).
Friends, Mac fans, chip champions, lend me your ears: I come not to stir up Marklar rumors, but to frame them.
When we first reported on this project, which reportedly hearkens back to the earliest days of Apples acquisition of NeXT Software Inc. and its Unix-based OpenStep OS, we couched it as primarily a backup plan that offered Apple insurance in case something went terribly wrong with the PowerPC architecture underlying current Macs and (most immediately) as a tool for negotiating with PowerPC developers IBM and Motorola. Now, recent reports have made the rounds to the effect that Apple may have something more substantial in mind for Marklar. Most recently, my very clever and well-informed colleague Ian Betteridge of MacUser UK has offered up some confirmation of an anonymous letter (posted to the MacRumors site and elsewhere) that asserts Apple is contemplating offering a shrink-wrapped x86 version of its client OS to capitalize on expected user dissatisfaction with Microsofts Palladium security moves. Meanwhile, Ive also heard rumblings that Apple has shown off Marklar to a number of server hardware manufacturers, including Hewlett-Packard. Whats going on here? I happen to believe that Apple is indeed dipping a toe here and there into the waters of PC compatibility. I also believe (like most Mac observers) that there would be tremendous hurdles to any such effort, client or server. As has been said many times before, Apple is primarily a hardware company; thats where the revenues are, and the company is not about to gut its core business on the slim chance that it can win significant OS share from disaffected Microsoft customers. While a server play would mean the company could charge more per seat and avoid blowing a gaping hole in its 25-year-old commitment to vertical integration of client hardware and software, it would also run the very real risk of alienating IBM (apparently a key architect of its forthcoming 64-bit platform), not to mention driving a stake through its own nascent Xserve server efforts. My theory? Apple, like any smart technology company in these troubled times, is working very hard to expand its vision—to evaluate all possible scenarios in case one of them contains the germ of a business model that will carry it through the coming decades. To evaluate something as radical as a multiplatform Mac OS, Apple has had to ease up on its traditional veil of secrecy and afford more vendors and customers a peek. While that gambit carries the risk that Mac watchers will misinterpret dialectic as product strategy, Im encouraged that Apple seems prepared to re-examine both its strategy and its tactics to ensure its continued relevance during the current tech shakeup and beyond. Mac veteran Matthew Rothenberg is online editor for Ziff Davis Medias Baseline and CIO Insight magazines.

Online News Editor
Matthew has been associated with Ziff Davis' news efforts for more than a decade, including an eight-year run with the print and online versions of MacWEEK. He also helped run the news and opinion operations at ZDNet and CNet. Matthew holds a B.A. from the University of California, San Diego.


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