Critical Section

Archive: June 4, 2005

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Saturday,  06/04/05  09:28 AM

Will Chief Justice William Renquist retire soon?  We'll see, it certainly seems likely.  And Judge Michael McConnell appears to be the front-runner.  I can't wait for these confirmation hearing; he would make some of those extreme Democrats look pretty bad.

household savings ratesThe Economist posted a great survey article on the state of pensions: getting grayer, and poorer too?  "Populations are ageing, in rich and poor countries alike.  This means big trouble for governments, who need to find some way to keep their retirees out of poverty without breaking the budget."  This is really the most important economic problem we face at the moment, more important than the price of oil.  Letting people invest their own social security money doesn't solve it, either.  The problem is exacerbated by the ongoing decrease in household savings rates (graph at left), which means that old people have less money saved, even as they live longer and governments have less money to support them.

Okay, you knew I had to link this: the NYTimes reports Researchers Say Intelligence and Diseases May Be Linked in Ashkenazic Genes.  The Economist survey of the paper is good, too.  GNXP has more in a post entitled Overclocking.  Ann Althouse quotes Steven Pinker: "It would be hard to overstate how politically incorrect this paper is."  Ah, but is it true?  If you are interested in these things, I encourage you to read the paper itself.  Amazing how we are just now starting to talk about these things in public.  (What's next, Unnatural Selection? :)

Howard Dean is really an embarrassment for our country, let alone for the Democratic party.  And I say this as a Democrat - albeit one who continuously finds himself on the same side as Republicans, please can we move the party back toward the middle!  Politicians spin a lot, and they often exaggerate the truth, but Dean's specialty is flat-out lying.  Horrible.

FuturePundit compares next generation coal and nuclear plants.  "For large scale expansion of base generation capacity the two realistic choices today are nuclear and coal.  If you oppose one you have to be willing to support the other."  Some good analysis, which leads one to support the nuclear option...

Wired reports Koreans forge ahead on cloning.  "Cloning pioneer Hwang Woo-suk and his research team shocked the world a year ago by cloning a human embryo. Last month, the team at Seoul National University created the first embryonic stem cells that genetically match injured or sick patients."  This genie is out of the bottle, no way to keep it in.  [ via Ottmar Liebert, who notes "Nothing is going to stop stem-cell research, not the politicians, and not the religious leaders... because when people suffer and there is a potential cure it is impossible to stop the wheel from turning." ]

Apparently there will be a .XXX top-level domain.  (Joi Ito has some notes.)  This means porn sites will be able to use for their domain names.  It doesn't mean they must use .xxx, so there will continue to be thousands of sites your kids can "accidentally" reach by mistyping names.  Not sure whether this matters.

The rumors are swirling that Apple is going to support Intel processors.  Probably "support" not "switch to".  I don't get it, but I don't have to...  Maybe after I read enough blog posts, I'll get it.  Right now it seems like a good way for Apple to commoditize (cheapen) the Mac "user experience".  Stay tuned as I cogitate...


apple on intel

Saturday,  06/04/05  12:18 PM

Earlier today I posted about the rumors that Apple is planning to support Intel CPUs.  I'd wrote "probably 'support' not 'switch to' but after one bike ride's worth of cogitation I think this is exactly wrong.  "Switch to" means there would be Apple Mac computers which have Intel CPUs, while "support" means that Apple's OS X would run on Intel-based PCs.  I seems much more likely that Apple would release Intel-based Macs than that they would support OS X on PCs.

First there is the practical aspect.  Since Apple owns the code, moving their OS from one CPU architecture to another is no big deal; first order they just recompile and port a few low-level subroutines.  However supporting all the PCs out there in the world is a very big deal, essentially an impossible boil-the-ocean deal.

The other day in my rant about Longhorn Shorthorn I gave Window's device support short shrift, which was unjustified.  (Except possibly as a rhetorical device in support of my argument :)  The truth is that supporting thousands of different computers and chipsets and storage devices and printers is really hard.  Microsoft deserves credit for the Windows' device architecture, but this magic really happened because of the market; nobody is going to release a new computer or chipset or storage device or printer without first developing a device driver for it and testing it under Windows.  However if Apple wanted to do this, they would have to support everything themselves, unless they emulated Windows' device driver architecture (!), which seems unlikely.  Even then it would be impossible to test everything.

Second there is the strategic aspect.  Apple has built their brand on a superior "user experience".  (They have even their own stores to ensure a superior "shopping experience"!)  With Mac computers running the Mac OS, they control the user experience.  If the computers happen to have a different processor inside, so be it; Apple still controls the user experience.  The average computer user won't be affected one whit; any more than they are affected by the brand and type of memory or disk drive or power cord for that matter.  However if OS X ran on PCs, the user experience would be partially determined by the PC vendor.  Crummy low-end PCs might result in a crummy low-end user experience.  It is hard to imagine Steve Jobs allowing that kind of brand dilution.

Okay, so we have Intel-based Mac computers, so what?  As noted Apple can easily create a [separate] version of OS X which runs on them.  (Actually we've been reading that they did this a long time ago.)  However for software developers this will pose an interesting problem.  Unlike the brand and type of memory or disk drive or power cord, software is dependent upon the brand and type of CPU.  Essentially every Mac developer would have to ship two versions of their software, one for PowerPC and one for Intel.  Not good.  This would cut down on the number of software titles available for Macs, and create consumer confusion.  Neither of which Apple wants.  So I wonder what their strategy for this is going to be?  Some kind of emulation?  Maybe...  It is interesting to note that as rumors have it, Apple will announce Intel support at their upcoming Worldwide Developer's Conference.  Hmmm...

Of course porting could be a two-way street.  Maybe Apple is doing this to simplify porting PC applications to OS X?  Or to make Windows emulators like VirtualPC run faster?  Maybe it will be possible to run Windows programs "as is" without any changes on top of some kind of runtime emulation inside OS X?  Now that would be a good reason to do this!

[ A bit later:  Wow.  Big threat to Windows.  Big.  Especially with Longhorn so late.  Wow. ]

One final note:  Assume Apple really does this and there are Intel-based Macs.  Assume they do not support Intel-based PCs, and assume they go to great lengths to stress that they do not support Intel-based PCs, maybe even with some kind of hardware-based lockout.  Do you really think hackers won't figure out how to port it anyway?  Of course not!  We should start a pool to see how soon someone announces on Slashdot that they have OS X running on their PC.  And this would be delightful for Apple.  They could test the waters in the early adopter community for free, to see how well people with PCs like running OS X instead of Windows.  If there are horrible device incompatibilities or performance problems, they can say "of course, we don't support that".  But if it works great and everyone is downloading bittorrenting a hacked OS X to run on their PCs, they get great publicity.  Maybe someday they would even decide to release OS X for PCs.

So that's my current thinking.  I'm going for a sail now, which will foster more cogitation, so stay tuned :)

[ Later: More Apple on Intel... ]


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