Monday, June 22, 2020

macOS Big Unsure

Finally, Mac OS X goes to 11 with macOS Big Sur. In keeping with Apple's name selection from wildly inappropriate California landmarks, in just three versions you can go from a dusty, hostile desert to an expensive, cramped island and now steep cliffs with rugged beauty as your car goes off a substandard bridge into the Pacific Ocean.

But there's no doubt that Apple's upcoming move to ARM across all its platforms, or at least Apple's version of ARM (let's call it AARM), makes supreme business sense. And ARM being the most common RISC-descended architecture on the planet right now, it's a bittersweet moment for us Power Mac luddites (the other white meat) to see the Reality Distortion Field reject, embrace and then reject x86 once again.

Will AARM benefit Apple? You bet it will. Apple still lives in the shadow of Steve Jobs who always wanted the Mac to be an appliance, and now that Apple controls almost all of the hardware down to the silicon, there's no reason they won't do so. There's certainly benefit to the consumer: Big Sur is going to run really well on AARM because Apple can do whatever hardware tweaks, add whatever special instructions, you name it, to make the one OS the new AARM systems will run as fast and energy-efficient as possible (ironically done with talent from P. A. Semi, who was a Power ISA licensee before Apple bought them out). In fact, it may be the only OS they'll be allowed to run, because you can bet the T2 chip will be doing more and more essential tasks as application-specific hardware adds new functionality where Moore's law has failed. But the biggest win is for Apple themselves, who are no longer hobbled by Intel or IBM's respective roadmaps, and because their hardware will be sui generis will confound any of the attempts at direct (dare I say apples to apples) performance comparisons that doomed them in the past. AARM Macs will be the best machines in their class because nothing else will be in their class.

There's the darker side, too. With things like Gatekeeper, notarization and System Integrity Protection Apple has made it clear they don't want you screwing around with their computers. But the emergence of AARM platforms means Apple doesn't have to keep having the OS itself slap your hand: now the development tools and hardware can do it as well. The possibilities for low-level enforcement of system "security" policies are pretty much limitless if you even control the design of the CPU.

I might actually pick up a low-end one to play with, since I'm sort of a man without a portable platform now that my daily driver is a POWER9 (I have a MacBook Air which I tolerate because battery life, but Mojave Forever, and I'll bet runtime on these machines will be stupendous). However, the part that's the hardest to digest is that the AARM Mac, its hardware philosophy being completely unlike its immediate predecessors, is likely to be more Mac-like than any Mac that came before it save the Compact Macs. After all, remember that Jobs always wanted the Mac to be an appliance. Now, Tim Cook's going to sell you one.

1 comment:

  1. CISC to RISC to CISC to RISC.

    Imagine the reduction of wasted customer's money and time if Apple resisted the move to Intel and stayed with the Power architecture for the last 26 years. IBM has done a fine job pushing Power along the high end of the market. It was the laptop market that urged Apple to jump the good-ship Power in search of lower-power processors. Apple could have used some of its AIM equity to develop low-end Power chips itself or with Moto.


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