Nov 16, 2005

Jobs Upgrading to Intel Chip This Spring?

Highly reliable sources are reporting that Mr. Jobs will once again be going under the knife in mid- or late-'06 in order to upgrade the CPU in his brain from a PowerPC 970 to one of the new ultra low power Pentium M-derived chips upcoming from Intel.

Years ago, in Spring '03, Steve Jobs participated in a top-secret program with IBM that installed a PowerPC G5 in his cerebral cortex, enhancing his Reality Distortion Field and giving him bionic mathematical abilities. The program, modeled on a similar idea from Motorola with its G4 that Jobs had declined, was successful.

Now, in the present, Jobs wishes to go with the times and upgrade his aging G5 with the latest and greatest from Intel, with sources reporting 64-bit support, SSE3, and dual cores all likely. Sources wouldn't say which chip it was exactly, however, citing Intel's long list of CPU code-names as too confusing to sort feature sets from.

One curious source asked us a perplexing question: Will Jobs be able to stay awake longer and have more energy since the new Pentium chips are significantly more power-efficient than the G5? Performance-per-watt is outstanding in the new Intel designs, but it really comes down to what chip he the surgeons install.

Nov 15, 2005

"Shere Khan" Due Spring '06

Rumors swirling around 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino have Apple developers abuzz. Mac OS X engineers, currently knee-deep in Mac OS X v10.4.4 development, are gearing up for what comes next. Due Spring '06, the next iteration of Tiger is coming — Mac OS X v10.4.5, code-named Shere Khan.

Shere Khan will be the most significant and wide-reaching Mac OS X update ever. Said to merge all of the post-10.4.3 and 10.4.4 updates into a single package, it will include synchronization with Intel builds, kernel optimizations, re-enablement of Quartz Extreme 2D, and AirPort and security updates.

New features to be introduced with Shere Khan are impressive: SafeSleep for all New World Macs that support Tiger, a new handJobs framework to support a major update to CockBand, and the first iteration of "The 'Burbs," Apple's code-name for its project to move Mac OS X from the CPU to support chips.

More reports suggest other, less-known technologies slated for inclusion in 10.4.5. Among these are support for the mysterious iDong port, a new framework and app to help Mac users get into the Mac scat scene, and Hentai support in the kernel to help migrate 5G iPod users over to penis-tentacled demons raping young girls.

Overall, Shere Khan will have profound effects on the Mac experience and will probably send the halo effect into critical mass, helping to escort the masses to the Mac. The probable release date is late April or early May of next year. Until then, visit back to get the latest on this king of Mac OS X updates!

Nov 14, 2005

Apple Moving Tasks to Network Adapter?

New enhancements in future Mac OS X updates — possibly to Tiger but definitely in Leopard — are finally utilizing the powerful gigabit network adapters found in most Macs with "The 'Burbs," Apple's code-name for the move of many, if not all, general CPU processing tasks over to the networking chip-sets.

Sources from Cupertino are excited about the switch, which they say is a natural progression Apple started with Quartz Extreme in Jaguar. Eventually Apple hopes to move all processing over to other chips in the system, freeing Mac OS X from its dependency on the CPU, one source said.

Apple reportedly wants to divest itself of CPU-dependance due to troubles in the past with maintaining processor supplies. Of note in Apple's rocky past were the switch from 68k to PowerPC in '94, the 500 MHz Fiasco in '99, and the Ninety Nanometer Speed-Bump that we're arguably still in the middle of.

Apple had to begin selling the Power Mac 9600 again at one point because the G3 had a piss-poor FPU and couldn't do multiprocessing. Apple's tired of being embarrassed by its CPU and wants Mac OS X running safely on network adapters, graphics cards, and sound chips than face any more ridicule, the same source said.

Other sources gave more insight to the performance Mac OS X would exhibit running on network adapters. It's comparable to running Tiger on a Power Mac 9500/120, a third-party developer shared with us on condition of anonymity. Slower than a retarded kid on morphine. But Apple will have it optimized by Leopard.

These are only the beginnings of tips and insight into the big move away from central processing units at Apple. With Leopard more than a year off, you can be sure Apple will have something special to pull out of its hat when it releases Mac OS X v10.5. Until then, we'll keep you posted on any news coming our way!

Oct 5, 2005

The Power Mac G6

"Mr. Jobs?" the small, tinny voice said through the intercom speaker. "It's Fed-Ex, we got a package for ya."

"Sure, sure, come on through," Steve said into the little box, his finger depressing a small, shiny brown button. "Let it off next to the gazebo half-way up the drive."

Steve Jobs smiled so wide his face hurt. The Fed-Ex truck was passing through his gate and would be at the gazebo in his front yard any second now. He stepped through his front door, hopped down his porch steps, and strode down a brick path shaded by willows. Even now he heard a roaring diesel engine and chirping brakes as the dusty delivery truck wandered along his drive. He jumped all three brick steps up to his gazebo and seated himself on a small park bench.

Steve sighed as he crossed his legs, put his hands behind his head, and waited. The sounds of the Fed-Ex truck were getting closer now among his veritable forest of spruces, pines, and firs that dotted his impossibly large lawn. He'd been waiting for almost a month for this delivery, the culmination of painstaking secret meetings with IBM over the course of 2005. And now Steve was just moments from enjoying the unique fruits of his labors and deal-making.

Steve's smile grew even larger.

Aug 29, 2005

Say Hello to CockBand

Steve sipped his magic water, brow furrowed, listening with his head cocked to the side to the blather the record execs across the table were vomiting at him. The barfing had been ongoing for the better part of three hours, and Steve was bored. As he set his water bottle down, his mind meandered from the meeting to more interesting things.

Dammit, Steve thought, this is my boardroom. It's about time they heard my speech!

Aug 16, 2005

QNX to Support Intel Macs

I work for a company that uses QNX, a real-time Unix-like operating system for embedded devices such as car computers, phones, medical equipment, and air traffic monitoring systems. I personally use QNX to develop QNX apps, as there's a self-hosted version of QNX for Intel that developers can download for free. It's essentially a free desktop operating system, as only the development kit is pay-for.

We work with several QNX engineers from time to time and on their last trip in they showed us a preview of the next major upgrade to the system, QNX 6.4. Like its predecessors it ran on Intel, and they said this update will take advantage of Intel's new processor architecture as well as a few new platforms. When I pressed them about it, they said they were 99% certain that QNX 6.4 would run on Apple's new Intel Macintosh.

I asked him the how and when, and he said that Apple's new Macs are going to be very PC-like, and if they can run a stock install of Windows, QNX won't have any problem supporting them either. He said Apple promised the first Intel Macs in the second half of '06, which is when QNX 6.4 would be released. He also said that QNX has at least one Developer Transition Kit that QNX 6.3 runs just fine on.

Things are looking exciting as Apple will instantly have a handful of good operating systems to run on its new Intel hardware. QNX is a good addition, and I wanted to make sure the word got out. We weren't under NDA and the QNX guys said to go ahead and tell anyone we wanted, and that an announcement was forthcoming soon anyway. So there's at least one embedded real-time Unix-like system for new Intel Macs.

Aug 10, 2005

My First Month With QNX

Last month, I downloaded and installed QNX Momentics Development Suite 6.3, which is a full QNX Neutrino install for Intel with a temporary license for the commercial Momentics Development Suite that lasts for a month. After working with it for the last several weeks, I have some impressions of the system, both good and bad, that I'd like to share. But let's begin at the beginning, as they say, and go from there.

I was ready to boot and install QNX within an hour of first navigating to the product evaluation program page. Downloading the 500+ MB ISO file is a cinch, including the sign-up that gets your 30-day Momentics license sent to you. After that it's all just burning the image to disc. My license email came before the ISO was finished transferring and the burning went without incident.

Installing QNX was even simpler than downloading it. One thing fans of non-Windows operating systems will note, though, is the lack of a partition utility. The QNX installer is pretty obtuse, allowing you a choice of the whole disk or some fraction of it. This means you should have the disk pre-partitioned before you install QNX. In my case, I was taking the whole disk so the above was moot.

The actual install took about 10 minutes from boot to reboot and the only pause was when I had to enter my Momentics license. As an interesting note, if you choose not to enter your license the rest of the system still starts and runs, and only the Momentics suite is disabled. From what I saw in the installer, it's not even installed without the license. Effectively, QNX distributes a free real-time Unix-like operating system!

Booting was fast, less than 20 seconds. One can use QNX in text-only mode as well as in Proton, QNX's windowing system. Proton's integration with the rest of the system is almost as tight as the Windows or Mac OS X GUI, though it's not as polished. The GUI starts by default, where one enters root with no password to log on. From there you can make your own user account, which I recommend.

After logging into my own account I explored the system. The Proton system uses a panel at the right side of the screen as well as a dock at the bottom. The dock at the bottom is pretty standard, with a Start-like menu and minimized windows; the panel at right is where one can find links to programs, workspaces, and system performance monitors that give real-time feedback on processor, memory, and network usage.

QNX's applications all run very well and work seamlessly with the rest of the system. I really have no complaints. They even have a port of FireFox running as fast as ever for standards-compliant browsing. QNX's file manager is quick and gives an accurate view of the file system, and their software manager easily beats anything Linux has to offer. And everything launched in under five seconds.

My first real disappointment began when I opened the terminal and began playing with the command line. A lot of standard utilities are there, like uname, but a lot are also missing like the ever-important top and du. There's also no sudo and their version of ps is woefully out of date. If QNX wants to make a serious desktop platform, they ought sync their userland with a popular Linux or with FreeBSD as Apple does.

Another area that underwhelmed me was performance. The test system used for this article was a 3.6 GHz Pentium4 with HyperThreading turned on, 1GB RAM, and large 200GB hard drive. Performance felt identical on the second system I installed it on, a 450 MHz Pentium II with 128MB RAM. Windows XP was several times faster on this same hardware, as were several Linux distros, FreeBSD 5.4, and Zeta 1.0.

When I investigated why QNX would perform so slowly, I found — thanks to several users in various QNX forums — that QNX scheduling is much different from a typical desktop system due to its real-time nature. While real-time means that there's a guaranteed response time, this doesn't necessarily ensure lightning-quick desktop responsiveness. I'd recommend QNX allow switching between a few different scheduling schemes.

Support is another front that's confusing. A service pack was released a year after 6.3 was launched, but there's no word on whether there's another service pack in the coming. Launching the software manager is the best a user will get, and with only one service pack, the user feels left in limbo. Understandably, paying users get great support, but more updates for the software itself would be appropriate.

Overall, I give QNX 6.3 three-and-a-half stars out of five. It's stable and does not crash, installs quickly, and is easy to sit down and start using daily. Its unpredictable desktop performance, lack of a rich Unix userland, and simplistic installer are all places the developers at QNX Software Systems would be wise to focus on for the next version, however. Until then it's not quite ready for prime-time.

Jul 25, 2005

Zeta: A Refreshing State of Being

Ever since Be, Inc. was dissolved and its BeOS technology was turned over to the Palm OS charnel house in '01, Be fans have been eagerly awaiting a successor to their favorite operating system, with very few rays of hope since. Earlier this month, however, yellowTAB released their BeOS descendent Zeta.

Based on Dano—an unreleased BeOS 5 update that managed to sidestep Palm's meatgrinder—Zeta has been in development since early '02 and progressed rapidly due to its direct lineage from Be and so has a huge lead over other projects like Haiku, PhOS, and BlueEyedOS. Have Be fans finally found their savior, or is this just another failed attempt at reviving the dead?

Read on: this review will help you decide exactly that.

Getting Started With Zeta

Zeta Quick Facts

Release Date: June 09, 2005 Company: yellowTAB GmbH Price: $129 ($99 sale price)

Zeta comes in a professional-looking DVD case and its packaging and manuals are surprisingly easy to read having come from a German company. And happily, installing it is painless and relatively fast, improving upon BeOS 5's installation procedure. After booting from the CD, I was at the install screen in under fifty-five seconds.

The installer first requires you to choose a language. I chose American English, though they offer localizations for British English, Japanese, German, and about twenty other languages. After the language switch, which takes about a minute, there's a standard EULA and then the hard drive partitioner. Oddly, you can't delete partitions, but resizing is supported.

A full installation takes about a gigabyte of space and around seventy minutes to finish, though times will vary with hardware. You can choose to install the BeOS bootloader. If Zeta is to be your primary operating system, I recommend this option. It can handle Windows too, but not Linux. Some might find this troublesome though I think it's just fine — after using Zeta, Linux will seem downright neanderthal.

Love At First Boot

Zeta boots fast, in about ninety seconds, and delivers you straight to the preferences program. Hardware support is excellent and everything came up roses with my system, so I had very little to configure save for personal preferences. In contrast to BeOS 5, the preferences are altogether in one program rather than seperate panels, analogous to System Preferences in Mac OS X.

The icons in Zeta still look the same as they did five years ago but the rest of the GUI looks like a refugee from an early Nineties techno album cover — the windows and buttons are now shiny, polished, and plastic and the yellow color used for the window and tabs is entirely too bold. Because of this the GUI is much more obtrusive than it used to be. Fortunately, you can switch back to the matte finish of BeOS 5.

Well, you should be able to. I also tried using the Windows, Amiga, and Mac OS styles as well but had no luck. Perhaps trying to use five different GUI skins was too much for the operating system? On top of that, some windows that dimmed in the background wouldn't return to their normal coloration after being selected and the Deskbar would grey out randomly. The GUI certainly didn't earn yellowTAB any points here.

Applications and Utilities

Zeta certainly comes with a lot of multimedia applications, both updated versions of Be apps, the original Be apps, and third-party apps in various states of antiquity. Since I'm not a very multimedia-oriented person, most of these were lost on me, but I can comment on some more general programs a typical home user is likely to be interested in.

Instant messaging is a mess. First, the only supported protocol is AIM, which is fine most of the time, but there is absolutely no Yahoo!, or MSN support for when you might need it. Furthermore, the AIM clients in Zeta — one old one from Be, one new one from yellowTAB — support none of the newer AIM features and are buggy and crash a lot. Don't trust Zeta if you like to chat.

Browsing is handled by Mozilla 1.0.3. It launched in fifteen seconds and took only five seconds to render the home page. Everything in the browsing experience works fine, except for one show-stopping bug: Opening local HTML files causes Mozilla to crash. This embarrassing bug shouldn't have been allowed to leave the labs unsquashed, but somehow did. For shame, yellowTAB.

Hardware Support — The Hard Way

Review System Specifications

Processor: 233 MHz Pentium Pro (2x) Memory: 512MB 60ns EDO RAM Hard Drive: 40GB EIDE

My scanner, an Acer 320U "Prisa," was unsupported. Upon looking at the hardware page on yellowTAB's site, however, my initial curiosity was met with disappointment and surprise. Zeta supports only five scanners, and even the second Pentium Pro in my system doesn't work as yellowTAB has yet to support my motherboard. In five years, Zeta's hardware support is sadly nowhere near what it should be.

The lack of support for my other hardware quickly became infuriating: The scroll wheel in my mouse was useless, my digital video camera wasn't one of the three that Zeta had drivers for, and my monitor gave me a headache with its 50KHz refresh. Zeta has had years to write drivers for new hardware but instead has barely tip-toed beyond BeOS 5. In a word, Zeta's hardware support is unacceptable.

Other Points Of Interest

Zeta ships with bash, a popular Open Source shell, and a host of standard Unix utilities. While having Unix at your fingertips is nice, it seems more like a kludge than part of the system, and has since the early days of BeOS. yellowTAB pretty much kept Unix support at status quo, so don't expect the integration you get with Mac OS X. Perhaps they should start using FreeBSD as a reference platform.

Of course we're all familiar with Be's filesystem querying capabilities, which was revolutionary in the late Nineties but at this point is ubiquitous on the desktop since Mac OS X Tiger and Windows Vista. Only Linux has yet to catch up with this functionality. This used to be a killer app for BeOS, but now isn't worth writing home about. It's barely even worth writing a full paragraph.

Zeta recognizes MMX, SSE, 3DNow!, HyperThreading, and x86-64/EMT64. Zeta is just now starting to optimize for the above processor features, though it's still really a 586-and-better system. It's rumored to execute as much of the kernel as possible from L2 cache. Zeta is still only 32-bit, however, and 64-bit processor support is likely not to happen for years, if ever.

Putting It All Together

Looking at things from a Mac OS X or Windows XP standpoint, Zeta lacks polish, hardware support, and a lot of thoughtful features. Part of this is due to reviving the BeOS from its moribund state, while another factor is the small development team who simply can't compete with the 200+ engineers Apple and Microsoft have behind their offerings.

If you're a long-time Be warrior, however, Zeta is the only game in town at the moment. Haiku, an Open Source project to recreate BeOS 5, is still in developmental stages. BlueEyedOS is stalled indefinitely and PhOS has no future, legal or otherwise, in sight. Even though Zeta feels like the first faltering step of a bedridden patient after five years, it's the only one taking any steps at all.

Jul 13, 2005

Bloggix: A Unix for Web Logs

For my senior project, I chose to design my own Unix distribution tailor-built for running web logs like Slash and Scoop. I had my choices of operating systems to build on, and after several false starts and unforeseen roadblocks, I'm well into this project. I felt it may benefit future computer science majors to document my progress so far, so here's my story.

Jul 5, 2005

BeOS: Has-Been or Will-Be?

For an upstart operating system, BeOS hit a lot of marks: It outran Mac OS and Windows on their own hardware, supported modern operating system features before anyone else did, piqued Apple's interest as the replacement for Mac OS, ideologically succeeded the Amiga platform, started a rivalry with embedded operating system QNX, and did all of the above while booting in under thirty seconds.

Such innovation does not always equal success, however, and Be, Inc. was liquidated by late '02, its intellectual property being swallowed up by Palm (and now held by PalmSource, Inc.). The last release of the BeOS was in 2000, and in five years the computer industry has leapt ahead, while Be fans remain in limbo on an increasingly outdated system with no hope for reprisal.

Or is there?

Jun 29, 2005

How QNX Failed Amiga

The Amiga platform has exhibited amazing longevity for something so plagued by problems. And for a platform with such problems, it's been an excruciatingly slow march to resolve matters. Amiga is still running a twenty-year old operating system on chips that haven't been updated in over eleven years, and is only able to use anything modern through emulation or as an add-on card. What other platform offers accelerator cards faster than the main CPU by a factor of ten?

Accordingly, the sorry state of Amiga lays mostly to blame in its many sponsors over the years, from Commodore to Escom to Gateway and finally to Amiga, Inc. Each and every one of these companies have fumbled the ball in directing Amiga, burying it further and further every year. Third parties have stepped in to alleviate this, but can not push the platform ahead, only offer it short-term boosts that allow applications — and not the operating system — speed-ups and modern features.

Enter QNX Software Systems, contracted by Gateway in 1997 to create a desktop operating system based on its embedded QNX Neutrino micro-kernel environment. QNX was a significant player in the embedded industry and had a reputation for efficient, real-time systems that oversaw everything from medicine drips to auto-assembly robots. It looked like such finely-honed technology would be the proper bridge to the second coming of the Amiga. Appearances, however, can be deceiving.

Jun 26, 2005

Interview With QNX's Vince Davis

1. Since the acquisition of QNX Software Systems by Harman International, has the direction of QNX's software or strategy changed?

Vince Davis: Harman has taken the attitude that QNX Software Systems knows what's good for itself, and that what's good for QSS is good for Harman's telematics needs. So basically QSS retains its autonomy. Having said that, some things have changed, and for the better.

Harman's financial backing has helped us go ahead with research and implementation that would have otherwise waited, so we can be more aggressive in delivering new technology to the marketplace. This means we can compete more effectively in the embedded arena against some of our larger competitors, such as WindRiver and Microsoft, and support new hardware faster, closer to its release date.

2. How is the competition going with Linux/Montavista? What are QNX's advantages over Linux?

Vince Davis: Real-time Linux is simply real-time kernel extensions running on top of a non-real-time kernel. I guess one could say Linux's advantages over QNX would be that it's more familiar to some customers since their developers know Linux already. In other words, our competition with Linux in the embedded space is with customers' comfort and prior investment with Linux.

QNX is better for real-time applications because it is built from the ground up with our microkernel which requires fewer system resources to run and less development time to customize. Linux's regular monolithic structure with extensions is a real kludge, so system deployment is nowhere near as efficient during development or runtime. Projects that have very specific requirements benefit greatly from our software.

We're working on a porting guide and some slick porting tools for release with QNX Momentics 6.4 to help ease developers from Linux to QNX. Changes are already minimal since we use POSIX, but we're doing everything we can to make moving to QNX effortless. Eventually we'll be including more GNU tools as well, making the QNX experience more similar to Linux than ever (see below for more details).

3. How does QNX compare to WindowsCE?

Vince Davis: WinCE is a lot of things to a lot of people, and to discount Microsoft in the embedded market is foolish. We're always keeping abreast of competitor's progress, and having said that, QNX Neutrino compares to Windows CE favorably both in mindshare and technology.

The embedded market is a lot different than the desktop market, and Microsoft's desktop offerings are far from being reliable and stable. Microsoft has had to work very hard to make inroads to the embedded world beyond its existing partners. A lot of people see using software from Microsoft as a bad bet and tend to stay with proven technologies from established embedded market players.

As far as the technology goes, WinCE was once based on a sub-set of the Win32 API but has evolved on its own since then. So if you're familiar with Win32, writing for WinCE shouldn't be much of a problem. The problem lies in that Win32 was made for the desktop and was never that elegant; it was more of a forced march with a lot of hacks and fixes along the way.

QNX offers the standard POSIX API, which makes porting Unix software a breeze. Alongside that we offer Photon which was specifically built for running on small system with limited resources, so developer won't have to sacrifice a lot of the system to include a graphical interface. There are also many third-party libraries for use in writing software for QNX platforms.

The kernel of WinCE is specially written for WinCE and its specs aren't publicly available, but it is used in some soft real-time applications. It's probably a monolithic kernel, which compares poorly with QNX's microkernel model. In QNX the kernel just passes messages and talks to hardware, and all other processes — from TCP/IP stacks to Photon applications — run as processes outside the kernel.

4. A few years ago there was an interesting project, eQip. Are there any plans for smartphones or PDAs?

Vince Davis: eQip stand for "Embedded QNX on Intelligent Platforms" and began as an effort to port QNX Neutrino to the iPaq, but quickly broadened to other PDA platforms. It was basically the QNX platform for PDA systems. The project stalled out in early '04 for a number of reasons, one of which was that QNX integrated the efforts this project was focused on, making it redundant.

As for what QNX's plans for smart phones and PDAs are, I can't talk about a lot but I can say it's the one market where QNX is underrepresented and that's changing. QNX makes an excellent phone/PDA operating system platform, especially with QNX Neutrino 6.3's new energy management. I'd keep an ear open in the next year or so for more news regarding QNX on phones and PDAs.

5. Are there plans for a new desktop release of the QNX RTOS for x86? If yes, what features should we expect?

By the second half of '06 we'll release QNX Momentics 6.4, which will include the QNX Neutrino RTOS 6.4. This upgrade will be a large step forward for the platform just as QNX 6.3 was from QNX 6.2. Among the advancements:

  1. Integration of SMP support into one kernel. The SMP code is mature enough to sit in with the main kernel without a performance hit, so out of the box QNX will support up to four processors.
  2. More of the GNU software library is being ported to QNX. With QNX 6.4, QNX will host all of the typical command-line tools a regular distribution of Linux would include.
  3. Photon will support more modularization for ultra-embedded devices. There's some tweaks to how windows are rendered and buffers are retained, so there'll be less of a footprint than before.
  4. Compiles using remote resources, more command-line tool support in the GUI, more board support packages, GCC 4.0 integration, and better support for older target versions.
  5. Support for the latest Intel processors and chipsets, including the Pentium M and dual-core processors. QNX 6.4 should also be running on Apple's first wave of Intel Macintosh systems as well.

6. Do QNX Neutrino releases have code-names during development?

Vince Davis: Yes, though these generally aren't used beyond the development cycle. QNX 6.0 was Amiga, since it was supposed to be Amiga's new operating system. QNX 6.1 went by Homo Erectus because it was the first entirely QNX-driven release — our first to stand on its own — and Patches A and B were called Neandertal Man and Cro-Magnon Man respectively. We dubbed QNX 6.2 A Night at the Opera and its follow-up, QNX 6.2.1, A Day at the Races. QNX 6.3 was Godzilla and Service Pack 1 was Son of Godzilla. QNX 6.4 goes by Overfiend.

7. What are the minimum chip speed and memory requirements for the QNX Neutrino operating system and QNX Momentics development suite?

Vince Davis: Keep in mind the requirements and recommendations we list are for the QNX Momentics development suite and not the operating system itself. Minimum requirements for QNX Momentics 6.3 are a 700 MHz Pentium III with 256M RAM. We recommend a 2 GHz Pentium 4 and 512M RAM.

Minimum requirements for the QNX 6.4 development suite are likely to be around a 2 GHz Pentium 4 and 256M RAM. (Minimum requirements aren't ironed out until very late in the development cycle, and usually end up being the low-end of PCs at the time of release.)

Happily for many developers and enthusiasts, the QNX operating system will run on much less powerful hardware than what the development suite requires. The bare minimum for RAM is 32M (though 128M is more realistic for actually doing anything) and we've gotten QNX to run on some pretty old processors.

I have QNX 6.3 SP1 running on a dual-233 MHz Pentium Pro system with 512M RAM while another engineer has QNX 6.2.1 running on a 100 MHz Pentium box with 128M RAM. If you want to get QNX running on something older, adjust the boot iso's startup script and go to town. Serious developers will definitely want to stick to something above 500 MHz, however.

Jun 19, 2005

Legend of the QNX Upgrade

When I first got involved with QNX, I was looking for a better platform than Mac, Linux, or Windows. Each had had severe disadvantages that I'm sure we're all familiar with by now: Mac runs only on proprietary Apple hardware, Linux is a mess of spaghetti code not ready for a production environment, and Windows is a security and stability nightmare. After having spent years working with these shortcomings of the Big Three operating systems, I discovered and installed QNX.

My initial impression of the OS was that while small, fast, and efficient it lacked applications, drivers, and a polished interface. Booting it alongside Linux and Windows for novelty, I watched for improvements to the platform. When QNX 6.1 was released it became the only operating system on my hard drive. I finally had a truly efficient system that took full advantage of my hardware without the bloated overhead that Linux and Windows had.

This trend continued by leaps and bounds about a year later with QNX 6.2 and again the next year with 6.2.1. Another year and QNX 6.3 introduced an updated GUI and polished multi-processor support. A year after that and QNX 6.3 Service Pack 1 pushed the platform ahead even more. It was around this time, however, that I heard whisperings of a major upgrade to the platform, but all lips seemed sealed tight about the project save for its codename, Overfiend.

Jun 13, 2005

QNX Lags Behind the Big Three

I just bought a dual 3.6 GHz Pentium 4 system to install QNX on since last time I was running it was two years ago with version 6.2.1 and it was dog slow. I figured that QNX 6.3, having been upgraded quite significantly, would run a lot better and so bought the best hardware I could for it. I'm pretty depressed by my latest experience with QNX, however, and I'll break down why.

Unlike QNX 6, 6.1, and 6.2, QNX 6.3 (released June '04) has pretty good multi-processor support. For once it's not a big deal to enable the SMP kernel and both chips are properly recognized. I only wish that Neutrino was optimized for HyperThreading and SSE3, because I'm basically running on two 3,600 MHz Pentium Pro chips here. Oh well, two is better than one, multimedia extensions or not.

Speaking of processor annoyances, why is there no check box to enable 64-bit support? Is it on by default, or does this operating system just not support this feature at all? With how slow it runs it would be my guess that it only runs in 32-bit mode. All the major operating systems — Windows, Mac, and Linux — support 64-bit. I find this neglect of 64-bit to be unnerving and amateur. Let's hope QNX 6.4 acts like it was made in the 21st century when it's released.

I don't know what the QNX engineers are doing, but each new version of QNX uses a lot more memory than its predecessor. For instance, QNX 6.2 on a 1 GHz Pentium III system was taking about 96 MB out of my 1 GB of RAM; QNX 6.3 on my dual Pentium 4 system is grabbing about 412 MB of my 4 gigs of memory. What gives? This is at startup, before I've even loaded any programs. This is a huge use of resources for no discernible benefit — in other words, a waste.

Networking is a nightmare. Aside from the horrible graphical interface for network configuration, speed is an issue. It seems to crawl at only a fraction of what it should be, and I have no doubts Windows would be faster on the same hardware. Perhaps it's limited driver support, and QNX only has generic drivers for all but a few choice chipsets. Maybe I'd be better off running a BSD TCP/IP stack. All I know is that I'm using a 10/100BaseT ethernet card and seeing little better than 56k speeds.

All I want to say is that QNX had better get its ass in gear if it wants a piece of the real commercial market. Why bother releasing an operating system that's only going to piss people off? I honestly don't know why I bother retrying it every release and I'm already boxing up this new PC to return it and save my money and I imagine a lot of other folks feel the same on this topic. Here's to hoping folks are still interested when QNX 6.4 is released in another couple years and that it played a serious game of catch-up in the meantime.

Jun 8, 2005

Intel Mac Frequently Asked Questions

Why didn't Apple just go with Motorola/Freescale's new dual-core 8600 chips? Why did they have to make the huge jump to Intel?

Because of Motorola/Freescale's sterling reputation at delivering fast chips so early and often, Apple decided it would rather not play keep-up and go with a more predicable partner that wouldn't constantly be one step ahead of them. IBM's Power5 and gaming console plans proved to be too rich for Apple to work with as well.

Will my Mac run faster than it did on PowerPC chips?

No, not at all. Apple designed this move to push its processor speed back a few notches since first Motorola and now IBM have been introducing speedy new processors so often. The move to Intel architecture chips will keep Apple at a stand-still like the rest of the PC industry, something akin to the 500 MHz Fiasco of 1999 — the last time Jobs and co. were truly happy with their processor partners.

Will I be able to run System 6 software on Intel Macs? Apple will include Classic with 68k emulation, right?

Absolutely. And what a great idea too! Apple realizes the importance of running decades-old software that its users can't upgrade from due to stubbornness or misplaced sentimentality and so has invested millions in making sure you can bring your antique computer programs with you to the next Mac platform.

Will this be like the 68k-to-PowerPC switch?

It most assuredly will. If Apple learned anything from previous platform migrations it's that developers don't want it easy. Thanks to Xcode 2.1 and the general structure of Mac OS X, the port to Intel will take at least 10 years and run software slower than ever before — until Apple can crank out a "native" version of OS X since it's never run on these processors before.

So with Rosetta I can emulate a Power Mac, right? Can I just emulate the whole OS on it? I hate Intel! PowerPC forever!!!

Sure you can, but don't forget to enable the "Full-Speed Emulation" checkbox that lets you emulate your dual 2.7 GHz Power Mac G5 at full speed with AltiVec. This means that all of your software will run in PowerPC mode so you don't feel like a cheap dirty technology sellout running on Intel processors.

Will this mean Macs will be cheaper because they're using commodity hardware?

Yes. You can expect your Mac purchases after 2006 to be hundreds of dollars cheaper than ever before, since the processor makes that much of a difference in the bottom line and Apple hasn't been using any other common PC components before now.

Intel Mac minis should sell for $99 and new quad-processor Power Mac systems with Intel inside will start at a modest $999. iMacs and eMacs will hover somewhere in the $399-599 range, while iBooks will start at $299 and PowerBooks at $499. High-end servers based on eight-way Pentium Extreme chips and 32 gig of RAM might crack the $1999 boundary, however.

Can I install Mac OS X on my sweet dual Pentium Pro box? I overclocked the processors to 233 MHz so it really cooks.

You sure can. Apple made it so that you can install Mac OS X on any Intel PC dating back to the original Pentiums in all 60 MHz of their glory. Never-mind that they're equivalent to PowerPC 603 chips at the same clock speed and that Mac OS X would run like molasses in Winter on them — Apple has made it easy to bypass their hardware and sincerely want you to run their software on something that will make you curse its speed to the lowest pit of Hell.