A River of Crap Runs Through It

February 2nd, 2007  |  Published in etc

Wired’s whole “let’s everybody BLOG!” thing is starting to get under my skin.

Take this one:

Apple’s Virtual Future:

So why do I think Apple will buy Parallels? For one thing Parallels keeps cranking out free updates which mean either they’re really cool, or they have some funding from somewhere. Development is expensive and companies rarely give it away.

Parallels is doing a lot of interface enhancements to a core technology that isn’t changing much. Parallels is running ahead of VMWare, which is the 800 pound gorilla of virtualization. Parallels will need something demonstrably better when VMWare starts shipping product, because among people who pay attention to this stuff and base their purchasing decisions on history/track record as much or more than features, Parallels will need a huge lead. It’s in their interest to be responsive to demand and land as much market share as possible. And if their goal is “create the killer app, get bought,” then they’re doing exactly what they need to do and they’re right to burn it at both ends. “Slow and underadopted” will see them pushed aside or crushed.

The reason Windows’ dominance in the OS market doesn’t threaten Apple is because Apple is in the hardware business. OS X is a great system and obviously Apple has put a lot of money into it, but they don’t recoup it by selling the OS, they make money by selling the machine that runs the OS.

If nobody wants the operating system that Apple hardware runs, or if more people start wanting Vista than did want OS X, Apple might as well be in the operating system business at that point, because whatever business it’s in, the operating system is a key part of the package.

When John Gruber says “Apple is in the hardware business,” it’s usually a concept attached to something sensible (that he’ll take 3,000 words to say, but still). It makes sense when you’re explaining why Apple doesn’t bother to lock OS X down very hard in terms of copy protection. It makes sense when you’re explaining why a lot of software that ships with a Mac is more functional than the Windows freebie equivalents. It makes sense when you’re explaining why Apple can’t just make OS X run on any old beige box that meets a loose set of specs. It doesn’t make sense when you’re trying to claim that if Vista actually did wump OS X eight ways to Sunday, it still wouldn’t matter.

Given that 95 percent of the market clearly wants to run Windows, Apple stands to make giant strides in hardware sales if they can bundle both OSes with their hardware. Combine this with a generation of kids growing up with iPods and a love of Halo and you can see where the market potential is huge.

And I bet 95 percent of those people want to run two operating systems, with two sets of interfaces, two sets of data, two sets of applications, two sets of periodic security updates like I want a second nutsack.

Apple claims they aren’t interested in virtualization because of the performance hit (and apparently Wired readers agree).

Fair enough, how about I change my prediction slightly? Forget Parallels, what about Wine? Wine is open source, which means Apple could take the code and improve/customize it — just like they took FreeBSD for OS X and Konqueror for Safari — so long as they donate that code back to the project. Wine doesn’t have the overhead of running the whole OS, so it could theoretically be much faster.

FreeBSD and and Konqueror are not quixotic attempts to chase a moving target. They are usable products with their own development timetables that have the distinct advantage of being unquestionably legal and as completely stable as anything out there. WINE is doomed to being reactive forever. It will catch up for periods of time, but unless Apple licenses access to Windows libraries, it’ll be in the same boat that has caused the WINE team to produce software that always feels not quite baked: It can’t move forward until Microsoft releases and the developers have time to assess the release and react. Linux People will point to the good WINE has done for making a lot of Windows games playable, to which all I can do is point out the number of Windows games that are not playable unless third parties do the work of massaging WINE into working with them. Watch growing interest in DRM to make this process even harder. It’s not a workable model for Apple.

Also, the “performance hit” in virtualization is surprisingly lower than most people think. I occasionally have opportunities to talk to developers working on virtualization software, and they have pointed out to me that the big change since Intel and AMD started baking virtualization technology into their processors involves how processes run. The entire OS no longer runs in a virtual machine. That’s generally left to the kernel, which has to broker the hardware. The userland processes, though, are happening on bare metal. That’s why Parallels blows everyone away with its speed: for all intents and purposes, the software is running natively on the hardware.

Apple takes Wine and creates something called Bootstrap which allows you to open and use your Windows Apps and documents within your OS X partition.

How you like dem apples?

I think they’re stupid and smelly.

Sorry. I feel better now.

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