The Future Of Mac: A Discussion

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Tom Bridge

Tom Bridge
Oct. 01, 2005 04:26 PM

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All of this text is transcribed as it happens. I realize I had to paraphrase, speech attributed to individuals is paraphrased and often incomplete as I did not have a recording device handy. Corrections are, of course, welcome.

Moderator: With Apple doing fantastically, and a huge lead in the music market, is this the second coming of Apple?

Rik is the editor of MacAddict Magazine.
Tom Negrino is a book author and longtime contributor to Macworld.
Dori Smith is a book author and longtime contributor to Macworld.

The questions were prepared by the NCMUG membership, and 15 minutes per.

Question 1. Why did apple really switch to Intel, and should I hold off on purchasing?

Dori: They're two questions, let's handle them separately. Why is Apple switching to Intel

Tom: The real reason is what they said. There's nothing wrong with better faster and cheaper, and in terms of the power curve, when you look at the G5s and the Intel future road map for chips, the Intel chips are going to be better, cheaper and faster, what's not to like? They've got the software to work on it.

Rik: Intel is a platform company, not just a proc fab, there's terminology called Northbridge and Southbridge, Northbridge is communication between processor, memory, graphics and Southbridge is all the other stuff. Intel makes wifi chips, and all sorts of other great technologies. Apple should leverage Intel's development there. Apple gets to pick and choose out of the platforms, which is good. The new chips that are coming down the line are great AND low power. Power Per Watt becomes the new standard. Going down to the Xscale chips and there's a lot there for mobility devices. We'll see mild revolutions in early 06 and really revolutionary stuff in late 06.

Dori: One of the reasons I see is that Steve doesn't like to look like an idiot. He got a lot of grief for the 3.0 Ghz promise.

Rik: He hates being out of control more than that.

Dori: Apple would like to be shipping better laptops. They really, really would. They wanted G5 laptops, now they need to look elsewhere because IBM can't deliver.

Tom: The low power chips that are currently shipping are a "major crime". I've got a 2.5Ghz G5, it's pretty zippy. Dori has the top of the line powerbook (1.67Ghz G4), it's a 1/3 of the speed of my desktop. That's the best machine money can be. Both machines cost around the same. Apple is desparate for more powerful laptops, Intel can supply those, Apple cannot.

Rik: Soon after the switch was announced, Free Cell/IBM came out with a lower power G5, but it's not lower enough.

On to the second part:

Should I wait to buy?

Dori: No, buy it when you need it. You shouldn't be able to tell the difference, aside from speed and cost, and those always happen anyway

Tom: I have to keep up with the joneses, I have to buy a desktop every 18-24 months, pretty much since 1990 when prices got slightly saner, I've spent the same amount of money for every machine I've bought ($2500). That price I spent on the G5 gave me a little more machine than the 128k Macintosh I bought in 84. If you need a new Macintosh, get one today. There's no good reason not to. The software that runs on it today will run on it tomorrow.

Rik: Buy the tool you need. However. There are a few things that will happen when we move to Intel: Rosetta for example. It's a translator, it's gonna be a translator, things will run more slowly. We don't know HOW slowly. Native Intel stuff will run faster, though, but that won't be right away. Intel will happen for the laptops and minis first. You're not running after effects on your mini or your iBook. If you are, that's dumb.

Tom: Have you seen Rosetta running?

Rik: Yes, I have, and it depends on what you're running on it? Anything that does AltiVec or parallel processing takes a serious dive.

Question 2: If you could have two new features in the next OS, what would they be and why?

Dori: The two things I want are a decent Location Manager, and it sucks. I have a laptop that goes back and forth between office and house, and that needs to happen. I want JavaScript to run inside AppleScript Studio. It's a better language and it ought to be a multi-language application. Call it Scripting Studio.

Tom: I would like for apple to completely revamp the AppleScript Language so Dori will stop swearing about AppleScript. Things have to change. Other than that, Honestly, I'm not displeased with Tiger. I like what Automator can do, I like Spotlight and Dashboard. There are lots of little things about Tiger that are unsung. Setting up Printers for example, and network printers Just Work. It's little things, perhaps that you only do once or twice, and that's a big deal.

Rik: I really kinda like the OS. I want to see Sharing completely rethought. I want to share things at a document level. I want it all to be done transparently. Let's make this human, not computer based. Rethink it all. On a small level, Spotlight does things that annoy me. It doesn't show you the volume of the document in the document path. I want to see the file path shown when I click on things, etc.

Tom: I would really like to use my desktop from the laptop or vice versa from any terminal.

Dori: Apple is 99% of the way there and that's important.

Question 3 Apple has two iPods that are USB only. What does this mean for Apple Hardware? Is Firewire dead?

Rik: It ain't dead. FireWire is far from dead. USB 2.0 is supposed to be faster, but Firewire beats the pants off it in disk transfer. Firewire is here to stay, well, the same was SCSI was.

Tom: Apple deals with different markets. USB 2.0 makes a lot of sense because all those iPods are going to Windows customers and they need USB 2.0. They need to sell a LOT of iPods and they do, you need to be working with USB 2.0.

Rik: Firewire puts out of a lot of Power out there, 15 watts. USB 2.0 is 500 mW.

Tom: The Video market is all about firewire. Those people pushing a lot of bits through a cable are doing it over FW800 and FibreChannel

Dori: I got nothing to add that hasn't been said.

Question 4 Do you see any significant changes in software development for the Mac as opposed to the PC?

Rik: This was a weirdly worded question. Intel's development tools are coming over, and Apple's tools are quite good. How are they gonna handle Intel boxes? Pretty good so far.

Dori: Two things i can think of. It's gonna be a pain in the butt who did their stuff with CodeWarrior or with older IDEs, they're gonna have to bring their code into the future (ed. present.) and they have a horrendous curve and they may have to rely on Rosetta. That's going to require a lot of changes. The other place is that there are gonna be a crapload of hackers trying to figure out how to run OS X on stock hardware. Apple's gonna work hard to keep that from happening. Many people want to buy $299 boxes and run OS X on it, and Apple wants to avoid that because they're a hardware company. If you can run OS X on any Intel box, Apple has failed.

Tom & Rik: it's part of the challenge.

Dori: you can get a refurbed mini for $399.

Rik: It will be tricky to move to Intel. You can code deep in the environment, not using the APIs, and those people are hosed. The Big-Endian, Little-Endian switch is going to be really, really hard on people. If you're writing for libraries, great. It's no surprise that Quark took forever, they had ancient, ancient code. Photoshop was similarly afflicted. This is a place for many people to move around and make advances.

Rik: we could talk about trusted computing, but that would suck, so we won't. If you google anything today, google Trusted or Trustworthy Computing.

Tom: Apple is going to use pieces of that tech to prevent the Apple OS from working on plain Intel. It seems to me that if Apple loses that battle, they may have lost the war.

Dori: Apple has to solve this. There are numerous reports of the current dev version running on Intel hardware and that's a real, big, big, problem.

Rik: It won't be as easy as you think. You might get it running, but things won't work.

Question 5: If I'm a windows user considering a switch, what are the pros and cons?

Dori: Pros are easy. Number One Con is what's your current investment in Windows software? You can get a Mac for $400, but your software investment might be a few grand. The software cost is gonna suck.

Tom: But there's a window of opportunity there, if you just bought a copy of Macromedia 8, the box comes with one license, for Windows OR Mac, but not both. [Discussion ensued about licensing issues here, not worth catching] If you're upgrading at the same time, crossgrades may be possible.

Rik: One of the cons is that you're gonna be lonely. There aren't a lot of us. You have to be independent. There aren't a lot of PC peoples. On the Pro side, this could sound squishy, aesthetics matter. They really really do. Mac OS X is a better aesthetic experience than XP, and I've played with Vista and it's still not as nice. When you spend all that time staring at a computer, it's important to be staring at something beautiful. It makes a difference to your soul [applause]. It's good for you.

Dori: Windows users have all SOLD their souls...

Tom: I've got a Mac and a PC, and I have that PC using Voice Recognition for my writing and there's nothing like that on the Mac. iListen isn't near as good as Dragon Naturally Speaking. I work in XP all the time, and I won't go that far to say I feel dirty afterward, but I never feel quite comfortable in the PC. It's hard to quantify, feeling more comfortable on the Mac. Mac OS X is so different from the early Mac days that at the point where we had to switch, it would have been a viable choice to consider moving to the PC, and XP was new. I tried that, it didn't work for me. Aesthetics ARE important. The things that help you get your job done faster and easier without having to think about how the computer works are completely different.

Rik: Our company Future Network USA, our IT director put in the proposal to change the whole company over. We don't want to deal with the spyware.

Question 6. We now have Tiger and Intel OS update. What's the next paradigm shift for the next cat?

Dori: The next cat is Leopard. We're not talking about it, but it's Leopard. It's better than housecat, or civit, or what have you. This is totally crystal ball, we're moving toward assuming you're always connected, wherever you are. You're not a standalone user.

Tom: We're seeing that transition already. The google services I use daily, many times a day, google search, google maps. If you're using Mapquest, Google Maps is Just That Much Better. Gmail. Google Mail. Personally, I use Entourage as my main mail reader, but it's nice to have all my incoming mail in one place. Entourage automatically reforwards my mail to a gmail account, so I can see it all when I'm not at my machine. It's there forever, and it's easily searchable. We're seeing more and more great stuff every day. I wouldn't be surprised if Apple and Google cozy up a little bit for Leopard.

Rik: I'm not the world's greatest prognosticator. If I were forced to answer... 1, the computer will disappear more and more. It'll be more and more transparent. Always on the web. Viiv is a keyboardless Intel box that handles all your home entertainment machine. that's not a computer, but it is. this is the direction we're headed toward. it's like cars. We're moving toward that future. But, I'm a geek, so I go into /Library and modify .plist files. Computers are going to get both more transparent and more opaque, on two different paths. You may not know it's a Mac anymore in the small market. Quad cores in 2007, Xscale is in testing now. OS, not for a while. The Viiv platform will run any qualifying OS. Could be a Viiv box in our future

Tom: So you have a handheld computer. They're not very powerful. If you have a handheld computer that's on WiMax, you don't care how powerful that is. The thing you're holding can talk to something far more powerful on the network and distribute it somewhere else. It's all becoming thin client again.

Question 7. Do you see a shift toward more laptops as they're more mobile.

Dori: I went laptop a while ago, I won't go back. I can go anywhere, and I do, and all my stuff is with me. It's always there. I can't imagine going back to a desktop machine. What's tempting? More powerful desktops. Hopefully that's changing with Intel. First Intel laptops? Q2 or Q3 next year.

Rik: Yonah chips, middle of 2006.

Dori: Power books before iBooks. That's just my guess.

Rik: Yonah will be a dual core, but it's not the new architecture one that will go into the other machines. Yonah performance won't match Merome or Conroe. We're going laptop. The world is going laptop. That said, lots of people can't use them. the faster drives need to hit the laptop market. If you're rendering a lot, you need a desktop. Syncing may solve the problem eventually.

Question 8. There's a lot of talk about convergence. Where are we heading?

Dori: That's an odd term, it means different terms to different people. Minis as home entertainment units. When a mini replaces a tivo, that's an interesting day.

Tom: We can't buy dominant stuff, so we have Replay TVs. A dedicated box is better for whatever you want to do, Replay TVs are great because they work with each others. Converging the computers and entertainment devices, some of it will happen, yes, but I'm not sure I want to see that. Some cool stuff is happening, with Squeezebox for example. It's a networked music player. It draws all the music from iTunes into my stereo. No more changing CDs. A competitor did the same with the Roku Soundbridge, plus a giant alarm clock that does something similar.

Rik: Multimedia players, when they get transparent, will get good. But we're stuck with the spork. The ROKR is a spork. We can put a water bottle together with a dress! But...why?!

Tom: Just because you can doesn't mean you should.

Question 9: What happens with printing? Will we see more laserjets? inkjets?

Tom: and go look at their PostScript color laser printer. You can get one from $300 to $400,

Rik: The image quality does fine photo quality prints on color laser is great but Epson's not going away with their 2200s and 2400s and 4000s. B&Ws laser printers are cheap as hell now, $150 or so.

Question 10. Why did apple give up on PDA?

Dori: They didn't make money.

Rik: Phones are where it's at. PDAs are of little value unless they're blackberries

Dori: Blackberry is great because it's network enabled. That's where they make the money: the network. Apple won't get into that business.

Tom Bridge is a writer and technologist in Northern Virginia.