Jun 11, 2007

Mac OS X Gets Multi-Arch Right

Apple has beaten the world’s most popular desktop operating system and the world’s most popular Unixalike to the punch with multi-platform support. At Monday’s WWDC ’07, Apple CEO Steve Jobs revealed that, when Leopard ships, it will install and run on every one of its supported architectures from one DVD without bothering the user. And the more featured your system is, the more features Leopard will automatically enable.

For example, a user can use the same DVD to install Mac OS X on a dual 533 MHz Power Mac G4, a 32-bit Core Solo Mac mini, a 64-bit Power Mac G5 Quad, and a 64-bit Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro. It even goes so far as to allow 64-bit apps without a 32-bit binary to run in 32-bit mode transparently, which is unprecedented thus far.

Windows, on the other hand, requires a different 32- or 64-bit version for each of its six flavors. So once you decide you want, say, Windows Professional Enterprise, you need to make sure it comes with 64-bit support. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck booting your chip in 32-bit mode. Apps must be written and released for 32- or 64-bit and can’t run otherwise. This limits users of older systems with Pentium III processors, for example, from running a 64-bit version of a popular game.

Linux eats dust in the race for 64-bit desktopedness too. With Ubuntu 7.05, the latest stable release, things have gotten simpler but still don’t stack up to Leopard. So while you can download one version of Ubuntu for both 32- and 64-bit x86, if you want to run 32-bit programs on a 64-bit system you have to download a compatibility layer, check library dependencies, and compile it yourself. 64-bit programs won’t work on a 32-bit arch, simply returning an error code and quitting.

That only counts for Intel and AMD, however. Other architectures supported by Linux, which number in the dozens and include 68k, ARM, Power, and SPARC among others, are one-at-a-time installs only and don’t have any compatibility between 32- and 64-bit versions. So a user installing Linux on a 32-bit SPARC system from Sun will have to purchase another completely different disc when he installs on Linux on his 64-bit UltraSPARC system even though both processors use the same instruction set.

At most, when counting Mac OS X and Mac OS X Server as two different "versions" of the operating system, you still have only to choose one and are then done with it. Each installs on all four architectures seamlessly and silently.

Mac OS X
Mac OS X Server

Windows comes to a total of twelves versions: 32- and 64-bit for each six editions. The number jumps to twenty-four when you consider that you must also choose whether to buy the retail or upgrade versions. This is simply too much work for most people whether they're doing personal use or IT.

Linux does little better, as above with the old download/compile scheme for legacy support. The kicker is that most other distributions of Linux don't even do that well. A user with Fedora Core 7 will still need to hunt down a different ISO for each and every nuance of processor, a real shame since Linux developers sit and scratch their heads over why Linux is still not ready for the desktop.

Come October, Mac OS X will serve everyone with one price, one version, one install: one vision of simple 64-bit desktop goodness.

1 comment:

  1. Uh, nah man I'm posting from 64 bit Vista..I pirated it. It thinks that it was born to loving parents and is full 64 bit with 32 bit emulation. It runs a UNIX subsystem and works on MY hardware.
    Apple has been dogshiit on the desktop since System 7
    Apple is a great company but it's really hit or miss! Windows is like that guy who really wants to be your friend, but nobody wants to be friends with him!
    I don't even know why you give a shit about 64-bit. It's not like anything worthwhile has been developed in the past 10 years...literally the only thing I use 64-bit for is so that my computer doesn't become sentient in the year 20000.