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Shadows of NEXTSTEP

Originally written on: June 16, 2005 at 8:07 pm

Last Updated: June 16, 2005 at 8:07 pm


So it’s official. Apple is making the transition to Intel hardware, and abandoning the PPC.

Little else is known, but for $999 and a Select (or higher) ADC membership, you can have an Intel 3.6GHz development box with OSX 10.4.1.


This reminds me of a time, not too long ago, when Steve decided to stop selling black hardware. NeXT hardware was beautiful, fast, and alas, expensive. It was a fantastic OS, but no one was buying it, because the hardware was too much of an investment. So, out went the black magnesium hardware, and NeXT transitioned to a software-only model that would run on many platforms, called NEXTSTEP. One of the nice things about NEXTSTEP software was the “fat binary” concept. Developers would write an application, and compile it for multiple hardware architectures. The different binaries would be tied together in a “bundle”, and delivered to the user as a single icon. The OS would know which binary to run, and the entire process would be seamless to the end user. This is what Apple plans to do during the transition phase from PPC to Intel.

Of course, there are other things to worry about. If you notice, NeXT didn’t really exist in the enterprise anymore by the time Apple purchased them. Their lunch had already been eaten by PCs running an inferior OS. The inferiority didn’t matter to purchasers, because what they wanted was what they were used to, a PC running Windows. NeXT (the company), and NEXTSTEP (The OS) became marginalised. They no longer had a “complete widget” to sell to anyone.

Think Different

Luckily, Apple is in a slightly different position. In the last few years, the iPod has become a raging success. The universe surrounding the iPod (iTunes Music Store, peripherals, podcasting, etc.) is truly massive. Apple may be able to pull off what NeXT couldn’t: be a profitable company without selling computer hardware.

“But Apple will still make computer hardware, but with Intel chips instead.” That may be true, for the moment. I don’t see it lasting that long. Yes, everyone thinks Apple hardware is sexy. But if you can get a 4GHz machine from Dell for $999, and run MacOS X 10.5 (codename: Leopard), you are going to go for it, rather than the same machine, in a better looking case and an Apple logo for $2,000. As of this writing, it is not known if Apple will find some way to shut out generic PCs from running OS X. Personally, I think it would be in Apple’s interest to allow them to run the OS, unencumbered.

Update: It seems that Apple Senior VP Phil Schiller has stated: “We will not allow running MacOS X on anything other than an Apple Mac.” How they will do this, is unknown. I expect there to be a hack to allow generic PCs to run MacOS X roughly the same time the first binaries are introduced to the general public, if not sooner.

To be continued…




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