Hell Has Frozen Over

Dell and Sun hop aboard the clue train. Unfortunately, Apple’s jumped off.
Oy gevalt! In the last several days, the computer industry has gone all topsy turvy.
First, hell froze over at Dell. Mikey and crew announced, much to my surprise, that the company was going to offer AMD Opteron- based systems. Now, Dell says it will only sell Opterons in quad-processor systems, but that’s just a ruse to appease Intel. When customers start banging down the doors for these things, you’re gonna see Opteron 1U’s and Opteron desktop systems — that I can guarantee. With built-in hardware virtualization on the new low-power AM2 chips and on the next series of multi-core Opterons due soon after you read this, you can bet that Dell is going to think twice before passing those chips up in volume systems. Yes, soon, I too will be taking the Austin PC mega-giant off my “reticent to recommend” list, and this dude may very well be getting a Dell in the near future.
As if the Dell announcement wasn’t bizarre enough, Sun, with its new pony-tailed CEO image, finally committed to release Java under an Open Source license. Jeez! Did it really take the ouster of former CEO Scott McNealy to get Sun to hop aboard the Open Source clue train? Do you think we can get them to ditch the CDDL and perhaps re-license Solaris under GPL3, and put OpenOffice under an independent not-for-profit foundation? Is that too much to ask? I know, I know: baby steps. We should all be saying mazel tov to the bar mitzvah boy. Today, Jonathan Schwartz, you are a man! Cue the klesmer music and the Matisyahu!
I was hoping that with a Dell that was finally “with it” and Sun’s new bright and shiny image, that perhaps we could expect some Insane Greatness from Apple — perhaps some Open Source developer efforts or some loosening of restrictions on the Intel version of Mac OS X for use on developer PCs. Nope. Instead, Apple has retreated, closing down the Intel version of the Darwin kernel to developers due to fears of Open Source hackers making OS X run on commodity hardware. What a shondeh. Developers need this like a hole loch in kop.
Apple’s decision is the most meshugeneh thing I have ever heard of in my entire career covering Open Source. The move is likely to not only utterly stop a lot of Open Source development on Intel OS X in its tracks due to religious principles, it’s also going to dampen improvements and refinements in the kernel itself. Apple will be forced to back port all sorts of junk found only in the PowerPC kernel, and lord knows how active development on that tree is going to be now that the Intel systems are in the wild.
There has to be a way to satisfy Apple’s paranoia about every Tom, Kim, and Chang going out to buy a Dell or a Taiwanese motherboard and loading up Mac OS X, while at the same time keeping developers happy and able to continue to participate in the development of the base operating system.
And I think I’ve come up with it. Okay, here goes the megillah.
Currently, most of Apple’s Mac market is dedicated to desktop computers. In fact. I’d say 90 percent or more of Mac sales are desktops, not Xserves. So, why not make Mac OS X Server freely available to any registered Apple developer, and offer a version that boots on plain, vanilla PC hardware, but with a catch: each copy would be registered and protected with an authentication key that Apple could revoke at any time. The software would periodically phone home using a sophisticated encryption routine as part of the regular Apple software update service. (The authentication/registration routine would use hooks in the Darwin kernel itself to talk to a closed-source copy protection mechanism, so no key could be used twice.)
So protected, Apple can put the Intel Darwin kernel, device drivers, and compilers up as Open Source, and allow developers to make the software compatible with Dells, IBM servers, HPs, Lenovos, or what have you. Apple will then have a system that could compete with Linux in the enterprise. A commodity-powered Mac OS X Server would also drive Microsoft berserk, because it will almost definitely put a dent in their developer community due to all the new interest that’s likely to be generated.
Freeing Mac OS X Server will make developers happy and protect Apple’s keen interest in desktop hardware and Mac OS X on the desktop. Otherwise, Apple doesn’t have a chance in hell of making major inroads in server hardware when competing with the likes of Dell, IBM, HP, or even Sun. Even Apple realizes this — its core markets are media content creation and home users.
But, by limiting OS X Intel on commodity hardware to the Server version alone, for use on developer PCs and server-class systems, Apple is giving access to the people who can really do good with the Open Source stuff in the first place and keeping the operating system out of harm’s way from our less-than-ethical friends in China.
Hey, Novell took my advice on OpenSUSE, and look how well they’re doing. You gantseh machers at Apple, are you listening? Farshtaist?

Any resemblance between Jason Perlow and your bubbeh is strictly coincidental. Bubeleh, you can reach Jason at class="emailaddress">jperlow@linux-mag.com.

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