The View From Here: PowerPC Horsepower and You
the PowerPC chip
The View From Here: PowerPC Horsepower and You
Last month I waxed poetic about cryptography (“On Cryptography”), and how you can use it in your everyday lives to protect the information you store on your hard disk and send to others. (I hope you use the information before you lose control of something important to you.) I mentioned ‘s new
for Macintosh. The field of computer-to-computer telephony is interesting; there are a lot of pretenders to the throne crowding the castle, but it’s too early to tell what will prevail. (The NetPhone, software created right here in San Francisco, is another interesting product to evaluate.) What isn’t in doubt is the ever-increasing need for computing cycles.
This ever-increasing need for speed has driven the industry to create faster memory (RAM), faster computing chips (CPUs), faster connections between components (the ‘bus’), faster hard drives, faster network connections (both modem and hard-wired).I eschew discussing just-released technology because it’s both untried and expensive, and I believe it does purchasers a disservice to be beta-testers of a company’s wildest marketing dreams. But I will discuss second-generation technology that has been tried and found to be worthwhile. I’m even more enthusiastic if the technology will affect you.
Several years ago three giants in the computing arena – Apple, IBM, and Motorola – got together to conquer the new world. The ‘AIM’ troika members all had good reasons to consort: Apple wanted to get its operating system on more than ten percent of the market, IBM wanted to be a player in personal computing, and Motorola wanted to continue being a major force in the CPU market. Apple was willing to put its closely held, proprietary operating system on the table in order to get IBM’s RS/6000 chip technology. After several fits and starts, the troika agreed upon, manufactured, and delivered a new generation of very fast scalable RISC processors to you: the PowerPC. Scalable means that the design has room to grow, to become faster and more powerful. RISC (pronounced ‘risk’) means the CPU’s native language is simpler, optimized for fast operation doing the kind of things we usually ask of the heart of our personal computers.
PowerPC is fast. At the “Macworld Expo” in
in January 1995, I was amazed to see a PowerPC Macintosh side-by-side with an “Intel” Pentium running Windows. The PowerMac was emulating in one window the Windows operating system; both machines were running the same stand-alone demo (from some compute-intensive graphics program, if memory serves). The PowerMac, emulating another operating system and then running a Windows program on top of that, was keeping up with the Pentium. The PowerMac had speed to burn. This was great news for purchasers of new Power Macintosh systems (and purchasers of deeply discounted, recently obsoleted, non-PowerMac systems), but it’s hardly earth-shattering.
Apple’s prediction that it would sell one million PowerPC systems in the first year sounded boastful, but came true. PowerPC is now available on desk-bound systems and in laptops, such as the PowerPC Macintosh “5300c” PowerBook I’m using to write this. But getting a new type of computer into the market isn’t really big news, although it’s kind of cool if you’re a Macintosh enthusiast.
Apple licensed MacOS to outsiders, and we’re seeing the fruits of that decision. Both “Radius” and “Power Computing” are making excellent Macintosh clones. The latter is pushing the price/performance envelope for the entire industry. The prices of PowerMacs and clones have dived, and Macintosh and Windows hardware can compete in the pocketbook. This is good news for Macintosh users. Apple has licensed the manufacture of its custom chips, called ASICs, to outsiders as well. This will cut down on that extremely annoying bottleneck associated with Apple releasing new models to the public. This is really good news for us. But none of this affects all of us.
The big news is that the troika was working on a common hardware platform that would support all the operating systems that you want to run. In fits and starts, this standard has evolved. Formerly known as the “PowerPC Microprocessor Common Hardware Reference Platform”, or CHRP (pronounced ‘chirp’), the now-renamed PowerPC Platform will allow you to run MacOS, Windows NT, OS/2, ‘s Solaris (UNIX), “IBM”‘s AIX (UNIX), and “Novell”‘s NetWare. (Windows 95 is not on the current list. We’ll see what happens.) A common hardware platform is big news.
The familiar ‘buy a Windows box or a Macintosh’ buying decision will go away. You’ll concentrate on the features and power you require from your computer. Buy ‘cold metal’ and toss a shrink-wrapped operating system into your shopping cart. You want to use MacOS while your office is Windows-centric? Doesn’t matter. Install ’em both, one on each partition, and switch between them. Your boss will be happy (happier).
Or have MacOS emulate Windows. (Actually, I believe that after a short while you’ll be able to run them both simultaneously over a common microkernel.)
The trip from year-old proven PowerPC technology to as-yet-unreleased PowerPC platforms is a short one, and it promises to make our computing lives easier in the long run. Of course, the battle for market share between Intel and Motorola will continue, but without the underlying Macintosh versus Windows flame-fest, as everyone will be making PowerPC Platform-compliant hardware. We live in interesting times.
Computing life isn’t just hardware. Apple has made many changes and decisions in the last several months. System 8, code-named Copland, will not run on older 680×0 Macintoshes (which isn’t considered a real problem because of the rapid migration of Mac users to PowerMacs, a migration spurred by the incredibly low prices of new PowerMacs).
Apple isn’t going to release a monolithic System 8 as it did with System 7. Instead, it’s going to roll out new portions of Copland as they’re done (and ready in both PowerPC and 680×0 combined – or “fat” – versions). Some of this has already been done; check out the “System 7.5 Upgrade 1.0”, the new “Serial DMA”, the new “Sound Manager”, and the “System 7.5 Printing Fix”. A new system upgrade (to bring you to MacOS 7.5.3) is currently in beta.
I’ll leave you with some pointers to Web resources of interest:
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