Insanely Great? Try Open.

Who is Apple trying to kid? Open systems and freedom of choice is" Insanely Great".
As I write this, its been about a week since the first Intel-based Macintosh computer was released into the wild.
And there was much rejoicing.
So now Macs run on Intel-based hardware. Damn, thats awfully compelling, isn’t it? Perhaps for some, but not for an open systems, big picture person like me. Sure, it’s great that the industry is consolidating its standards and the “not invented here” culture of Apple has relaxed to both embrace commodity hardware and face the reality that being esoteric for the sake of it has limited growth possibilities. But has Apple really changed its stripes? In a word, no.
Apple still wants to dictate what types of systems its prized Mac OS X runs on, and has essentially key-locked its operating system for Intel’s to only run on EFI-based systems with the Apple logo. While I can appreciate intellectual property and patents as much as the next guy, I also believe in doing it where it makes sense, not out of paranoia about preserving one’s market position based on some bizarre “Oh, my God, we’re gonna go out of business if we let them run our software elsewhere” complex that has no basis in reality.
After all, why do people buy Macs? Is it the cool operating system? Is it the “Insanely Great” industrial design of the hardware? Is it the almost religious relationship and Zen-like affinity consumers have for the company’s business philosophy? Surely, it’s a mixture of all those things. If Apple’s core audience and customer base was faced with the choice of buying a x86 PC that could run Mac OS X for about the same price of a totally-tweaked Intel Mac, they’d probably choose to stick with the Mac. Look at the whole iPod thing: there’s a ton of other MP3 players out there, but the iPod has a dedicated following and 80 percent market share. Even when HP licensed the iPod and slapped their own label on it, people opted to go for the one emblazoned with fruit.
So what is Apple worried about exactly?
It doesn’t make sense to me to limit Mac OS X to Apple-manufactured hardware for a whole lot of reasons. And it also seems awfully stupid to criminalize the effort of open source hackers who have managed to get the development versions of Intel Mac OS X running on their PC, and will, without a doubt, eventually find a way to crack the EFI protection on the new Mac hardware and make it run on BIOS-based PC hardware again. These guys are where Apple’s core developer base comes from. And as more and more focus on Mac software comes from the Open Source community, and the more the “alpha geeks” want to push the envelope with their development boxes, “stock” Mac hardware isn’t going to cut it. Some developers will want multi-multicore machines, with huge amounts of memory, SAN connections to superfast enterprise storage, and super-high-end graphics, for all sorts of demanding applications that people haven’t even thought of yet and for which the “Great Minds at Apple” have no idea of and likely will have no interest in pursuing as part of their regular product offerings.
Wouldn’t it be” Truly Insanely Great” to have a Xen- powered, para-virtualized Mac OS X kernel capable of running on, say, eight-processor, Sun Galaxy AMD Opteron hardware? Or on an Egenera bladeframe? Or on a Unisys ES7000 or IBM zSeries on POWER? With virtualized instances of Mac OS X running side-by-side with Linux and Solaris? With thin-client connectivity using something like Nidyo or NX or Sun Ray for kiosk-based and centralized-based Mac computing infrstructure? Make Mac OS X a real, enterprise-worthy operating system instead of a niche thing only media content creaors and Joe and Jane “I’m a computer ignoramus and I wanted a user-friendly computer” really care about.
But if Apple has its way, you’re never going to see any of these things. Because they want to stifle innovation by locking down Mac OS X.
According to Apple, it’s F*#& the developers and the people who create new markets and do the heavy lifting for us. It’s do as we say: Bow down before the Fruit, and like it because we say so.
And people think the folks at Microsoft and Sun are a bunch of control freaks.

Jason Perlow is a longtime contributor to Linux Magazine. You can email Jason at class="emailaddress">jpwerlow@linux-mag.com.

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