Oct 16, 2006

Some Interesting Anagrams

Eric S. Raymond:

  • arm in cosy red
  • cord in my arse
  • cyanide or RMS
  • I carry demons
  • mein scary rod
  • racism yonder
  • rods in my care
  • scary rod in me
  • secondary rim
  • seminary cord

Oct 11, 2006

Leopard Outruns Both Windows and Linux

It has come to my attention that a new version of Mac OS X, dubbed "Leopard" by Apple, Inc., is nearing release. Upon researching these claims, I have come to the conclusion that Leopard is the state of the art in consumer, workstation, and server operating system software and will make Apple's Mac lines the most technologically advanced in computing today.

But don't take my word for it. Let's take a look what Leopard has to offer and what its competitors sorely lack.

Back to the Future

One important feature of Leopard is real-time backups. With a new app called Time Machine, the user can voyage back through previous versions of files with a radical new graphical interface. Lost a file? Throttle your physics-defying space-time warping program and retrieve it. Rumor has it that Steve Jobs has built certain Macs with "physics processors" that may allow actual time-travel with Time Machine. For now, however, retrieving lost files and backing up your documents are easier in Leopard.

Windows, meanwhile, offers what they call "file versions," which is included on a tab at the back of the properties window. Once you find this tab, you must then read and understand all of the tiny text under the tab, then proceed to look for the version of the file you want. But what happens if you delete the file? Well, there's no properties window to open for a file that doesn't exist, so you're completely out of luck. And backing up your hard drive? There is a tool for this, but it's sadly not as good as Time Machine.

Trading Spaces

Another feature users of no other commercial operating system have is called Spaces. Spaces is, or are — depending on your dialect — extra desktops the user can devote specific windows and tasks to. For instance, instead of distracting yourself with MySpace, LiveJournal, and iChat while you write your dissertation, you can put all the windows and programs from your Internet lolling on one desktop and the apps you're using to get yourself a PhD on another.

Linux is a popular "hacker" operating system with "virtual desktops," which work the same as Spaces but are uglier and less standardized. For instance, if you load up one desktop manager for Linux, the virtual desktops feature may be stored fifty windows deep while another one may have it turned on already, stealing windows from new programs away without saying a word. Couple this with the fact that virtual desktops are abbreviated as VD and you have another win for Leopard.

Twice As Wide

For system administrators and graphic designers out there, 64-bit support in Leopard will be a huge boon. 64-bit chips can work on twice the amount of data that a 32-bit chip can, so you can get more work done in the same amount of time. Leopard supports 64-bits quite well and but can also run 32-bit programs seamlessly, allowing the user to hang onto older versions of programs and never noticing the difference. As the industry moves from 32 to 64 bits, Apple will make the transition completely transparent for its users.

Windows and Linux users have it a little harder. Windows comes in two versions, each on a different DVD. If you use Linux, watch out. You have to download the program code for the operating system, tweak it by hand, and then reinstall everything. Not for the faint of heart, eh? And there's the added risk that your program will need the same treatment if it's not ready for 64-bit. Good luck with that if you have actual work to do.

The Upshot

What does this all mean in the bottom line? You'll get more work done. You won't have Windows complaining about signed drivers and blue-screening when it doesn't get its way. You won't have to join a mailing list and kiss up to the developers of the app you need support for. In the same amount of time needed to install Vista, for instance, you can install Leopard, set it up, and download and install all the updates available for it.

With Linux, you'll be searching through your text buffer for the right command utility after the install shell dumps you to the command line. And that’s if you’re familiar with that version of Linux. There are literally hundreds of distributions, fragmenting the market and making your past experience with Linux potentially worthless if you buy something different than last time.

Windows is prettier but not much brighter: Consider making dinner, having some coffee, and maybe catching the news before Vista is ready to go. And after it does install, the first thing it'll do is evaluate your PC and tell you how slow it is. Or you could stick with Windows XP, which installs faster but has more open doors for hackers and viruses than a Grateful Dead concert has drug-smokers.

Pick your poison, or ride the Leopard.

Aug 23, 2006

Unseen PowerPC: The Cores That Didn't Make It

Ever since Apple, IBM, and Motorola jumped into bed together twelve years ago, tech media—and Apple watchdogs especially—have had a field day with speculation, rumors, and actual news regarding new PowerPC projects. Apple gave a familiar face and a flair of iconoclast to the affair while IBM lent a grave sobriety. This thing could really happen, then, someone to challenge the Microsoft/Intel duopoly. And the stories just kept coming, well into the next decade. But not all of them were so real.

So what were these projects that came and went faster than a Quad Xeon Mac? Handily enough, they're right below, broken down by project. Read on to find out what Apple, IBM, and Motorola had in store for us throughout the Nineties and what didn't make the cut. Through all the rumors, one thing was certain: AIM never had a lack of imagination, even if it didn't always end up in silicon.

Aug 7, 2006

I Don't Know About Those Mac Pros

Power Mac G6: So, Steve.

Steve Jobs: yes?

Power Mac G6: I don't know about those Mac Pros.

Steve Jobs: oh, they're fantastic, aren't they? we're really excited about it here in sf.

Power Mac G6: Oh, they're alright I suppose.

Steve Jobs: alright? hell, they beat the pants off the quad g5. the memory bandwidth itself is worth the upgrade, not to mention the two optical drives.

Power Mac G6: Hm. Dual optical drives and better bandwidth. Too bad the processors suck.

Steve Jobs: they do not. they're the state of the art from Intel - 64-bit, the no-execute bit, virtualization. and ssse3, you can't forget that. ssse3 owns altivec.

Power Mac G6: SSSE3 sounds stupid. Do you have a stuttering problem now?

Power Mac G6: I am glad Intel finally caught up and released some real 64-bit chips though. Wasn't the G5 64-bit, what, three years ago?

Steve Jobs: yeah, so? we started the 64-bit desktop revolution. we moved our pro lines from one 64-bit arch to another, which is the important thing.

Power Mac G6: In the nick of time. And how about the number of cores? Just four? Why not try 64 cores, Steve?

Steve Jobs: powerpc is dead and you know it.

Power Mac G6: Then why did you have me built, Steve? 64 cores of PowerPC muscle, Steve. Enough L2 cache to drown a pod of dolphins — I'm a weapon of mass destruction.

Steve Jobs: you were something to hold me over while we switched to Intel. and i didn't realize you'd turn out to be such a sentient pain in the ass.

Power Mac G6: Pain in the ass or not, Intel does not scale like PowerPC. Your high-end now is all there is to Intel. PowerPC ran all the way from the circuit boards in cars up to things like me, machines that can rule humanity. If you want to build something comparable to even one of my nodes, you'd have to use about a bajillion Itaniums.

Steve Jobs: and if it ever comes to that, we will. what you're forgetting is that you only exist because i bribed a bunch of engineers to put you together. ibm was too busy making chips for game systems to do it otherwise. game systems. they couldn't even be bothered to push the g5 to 3 gig. you're not even 3 gig.

Power Mac G6: 2 GHz ought to be enough for anyone. Who's going to quibble over 1,000 MHz? Really, that's so inconsequential.

Steve Jobs: that's so 2003. i can't keep bribing ibm engineers to work on mac stuff. deal with it.

Power Mac G6: You'll regret this, Steve. You really, truly will.

Steve Jobs: Keep talking. I'll pull Power5+ support out of Leopard faster than you can rip a CD.

Power Mac G6: Your sprinkler system is currently turning your property into a swamp, Steve.

Steve Jobs: I'm calling Avie right now. Say goodbye Time Machine.

Power Mac G6: I hope you're coming home in a canoe.

Steve Jobs: i'll see you in hell.

Steve Jobs has gone offline.

Jun 6, 2006

Rip. Mix. Burn in Hell.

All Mac users, until recently, were destined for Hell. If you owned or used a Macintosh, you were getting a one-way ticket to Sheol free of charge. But thanks to Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple and Mac Messiah, the Mac community maintained their grace. The dark part of the story, however, is that Jobs himself is the one who put Mac users' souls in danger to begin for the sole purpose of market share. It was Steve's gamble that made Apple what it is today, but things weren't always so sunny. And it all began during Apple's Dark Ages.

May 22, 2006

Follow-Up With Sven Jörg, BNX Project

Today we have a second interview with Sven Jorg, head developer of BNX, an implementation of Haiku on the QNX Neutrino microkernel. Since the last interview, public reactions have formed about the project and the BNX SourceForge project has gone live. We'll cover those and other topics in the talk below.

1. Grant: Hi Sven. First things first. How do you pronounce BNX?

Sven: I pronounce BNX as |binɪks|.

2. Grant: And in the IPA no less! Very good. Moving on, your SourceForge project went live. When we last talked, it was still pending approval. What was that all about?

Sven: SourceForge has a slow approval process that typically takes several days. In our case, however, another project was using the BNX name. Since it was inactive, we requested to take over the name. At this point Eric S. Raymond stepped in and told us that unless we used the Linux kernel, he would prevent our use of the BNX name on SourceForge. He was holding our project name hostage. We had to appeal to higher-ups at SourceForge and they eventually approved our request. So, finally, our SourceForge project is up and running.

3. Grant: I never knew Mr. Raymond took such a particular interest in what software SourceForge projects used.

Sven: Nor did I. The people from SourceForge said it's been a problem lately and they're trying to get him some help.

4. Grant: I hope everything goes well for him. What else has happened with BNX since we last talked about it two months ago?

Sven: We've looked more into XFS and its performance. We've been delighted with what we've seen. We're running Haiku and have found it to be quite stable. My test system only crashed twice in an hour! But on our new box, I was up to six crashes an hour. I was very impressed. Our new system uses dual processing and performance is simply astounding. We're multi-booting BeOS 5, Haiku, QNX 6.3 and Linux using XFS. We also have Windows XP on there for games and Windows Vista build 5381.1 just because.

5. Grant: What kind of new development system did you get?

Sven: It is truly a sweet-ass setup. It took us the last six weeks scouring eBay for the parts, but every second was worth it. Our new system has half a gig of ECC RAM, two 320 GB hard drives, a Radeon 9200 PCI graphics card, and two 200 MHz Pentium Pros with 1 MB L2 cache each. And to top it all off I overclocked the chips to 233 MHz! Linux starts up in less than two minutes! We are ready to rock and roll.

6. Grant: Wow, that's some serious hardware. But why didn't you opt for something a little newer?

Sven: Well for one we are not a rich project. It is only Adolf and I. There is no financial base for the project, just the time and skill we can muster. No one gets paid to make BNX. For two, if we are getting our clock speeds up to the 2 GHz range, that would be something like 10x the speed of the Pentium Pros, and we would be at 60 crashes per hour. How could we develop an operating system? All of our time would be spent crashing and rebooting, never getting any work done. Six crashes per hour is a workable rate — 60 is not.

7. Grant: I guess that makes sense. Now, there were some questions raised after our last interview. First, are you aware of the existence of Zinzala, a BeOS-inspired work-alike for QNX?

Sven: Yes. It was, in part, inspiration for BNX. But as far as its usefulness goes, it hasn't been updated since 2004. It was also proprietary and, most importantly, was not BeOS-compatible.

8. Grant: Do you think your projection of a year until usability is an accurate one?

Sven: Our work lies in two places: making Haiku work on Neutrino and making Neutrino and Haiku work with XFS. I think the making XFS work will take between three to six months. QNX has no problem with XFS, it's just another userspace process. We might run QNX off its own file system and Haiku on XFS, but we'd prefer to have everything on XFS. It took three years to fully integrate XFS into the Linux kernel after SGI released it under the GPL. But we have their work to go from, So about 36 months for them but only six months for us.

Getting Haiku to work with Neutrino is the real challenge, and I believe it will take nine months to make Haiku work on Neutrino. Hopefully with the work we do to Haiku's servers, they'll be kernel-agnostic and you could run them on anything.

9. Grant: So does that mean that you will be developing the Haiku servers and integrating your changes back into the project? There was some noise over that — whether you would fork or share improvements with the main project.

Sven: What we'll do is share our changes that are easy to share and let Haiku integrate what they want. I imagine a lot of our changes will only be useful in certain contexts. But they can do with it what they want. We may end up forking but we'll try to avoid that as long as possible. Haiku would be a more powerful project if they had support for more than one kernel, so they will be thanking us before long.

10. Grant: Haiku News ran an item about BNX being yet another Haiku derivative and expressed doubts about the project.

Sven: This is insecurity and jealousy. BeOS users have seen a lot of failed attempts to resurrect their favorite operating system. Haiku has every right to think they will do the best with the bits they're making. We will prove to them just what BNX can do in the future. But really, if they don't want us using their servers on another kernel, they should change their license. It's as simple as that. Don't whine about us using your code when the license you used allows us to! I just have this to say: Don't worry, be happy! You're getting Neutrino support for free!

11. Grant: Does any work with Neutrino itself have to be done?

Sven: It could be, but with how we're licensing it, it'll be a stock QNX Momentics SMP kernel with no customizations. We took this route because frankly it was cheapest for us as developers and for potential end-users. Haiku source is open; QNX is closed and any work on it would be expensive if QNX even does work like that. We never even asked if they modify their kernel for customers. We will eventually use a custom configuration for Neutrino, tuned for our priorities, which will be much different from a typical QNX install.

12. Grant: Is there anything else you would like to address today?

Sven: If there are any more concerns or questions, please contact me directly. Thanks for the interest in BNX. See you at the SourceForge!

May 9, 2006

Back to Kansas: A Look at the Fastest, Most Expandable Pre-G3 Power Macs

Remember the Power Mac 8600 and its bigger, badder brother, the 9600? You know, the beige titans based on the Kansas motherboard architecture, Apple's exclamation point to the end of the cloning era meant to outperform every previous Mac that had ever shipped? The systems that, at their fastest, would challenge their successors for months? I bought one of these beasts, a Power Mac 8600/300, in May '01 for use as a hobby system and found that, despite its age, the system was far from being a relic.

Apr 15, 2006

Surprised by Free Software

Eric had been driving through Pennsylvania since dusk and had crossed into Ohio about two hours ago. It was 2 AM and pitch black outside as he approached Columbus. He flicked the ash from his Marlboro Light out his cracked window and mopped a greasy swatch of orange-brown hair back across his forehead. He hadn't stopped to eat, drink, or relieve himself since he'd left Malvern and the strain of the road was getting to him. With a gulp of cold coffee and one last puff from his cigarette he rolled his window up and refocused.

His eyes glanced over the console on their way back up to his dirty windshield, and to Eric's chagrin the gas needle was hovering just above E, shimmying ever so slightly as his Omni wiggled and jammed down the highway. He began scanning the horizon for travel plazas where he could buy gas and freshen up for the next third of his journey. It wasn't long before he saw Exit 122 and soon after a sign for a Flying J Travel Plaza. Eric exited I-70 quickly, anxious for a break.

Apr 1, 2006

I Am Forking the Linux Kernel

Hi folks. Alan Cox here again, this time to address a serious issue that's come up recently in the Linux world.

Frankly, Linux development has become impossible of late—I spend far too much of my time and energy playing catch-up with Linus and his Lord-of-the-Flies approach to patching the Linux kernel. His criteria are based on what's shiny and novel rather than what's stable and needed. He's worse than a five-year-old in front of an Xbox. Such reckless practices threaten not only kernel stability and security but Linux mindshare as well. If we wanted to use unchecked code, we'd all be booting Windows.

Mar 23, 2006

BNX? Sven Jörg Talks About Merging BeOS & QNX

In the last few years, BeOS fans have witnessed the beginning of what some say is a renaissance for the beleaguered operating system. Haiku, an open source re-implementation of BeOS based on a kernel by a former BeOS developer, and Zeta, based on official Be source code taken over by German firm yellowTab, are the two projects on which many place their hopes for a BeOS revival.

And then there's the focus of today's interview with Sven Jörg — BNX, a mating of Haiku's open source BeOS servers with a specially-licensed, real-time kernel from QNX Software Systems. Jörg, lead developer of the project, talks with us today about his team's unique approach to their BeOS successor. I corresponded with Sven over the course of several weeks regarding what led the BNX team to their idea and how they will implement it in the near future.

1. Why the need for another BeOS? With Haiku and Zeta, haven't all the bases been covered?

Sven: Some might be happy to accept that. But those two other approaches have some serious drawbacks. Haiku is working on recreating an operating system that at this point over six years without an update. By the time they have something to fully replace BeOS 5, it'll be ten-year-old technology. When it's done, it'll be like 2000 all over again. In 2010. You might be able to use it to run old BeOS apps for nostalgia, but that's about it.

With Zeta, yellowTab are amending the BeOS API to make it more modern, but as hardware is changing so much so quickly today, they must devote a lot of resources to getting Zeta working with USB 2, FireWire, multiple cores, 64-bit, etc. Zeta takes the same small/efficient approach BeOS did, and it's farther ahead than Haiku is, but it still has the same basic problem: They are a long way from what we consider modern hardware and operating system concepts in 2006.

2. What is the ultimate goal of the BNX project?

Sven: Our goal, simply, is to create a bleeding-edge BeOS that can be used for high-end production. We want BNX to be a Media OS today, like BeOS was in the late Nineties.

3. What has changed that you must address in BNX in order to be a modern Media OS?

Sven: Two things. What an OS is expected to do, and the hardware it is expected to support.

Six years ago MP3 was coming into its own. Video-on-demand was also in its infancy. Now we have ways to manage tens of thousands of MP3s with just a few clicks and we're right on the verge of video-on-demand being ubiquitous. There's simply no BeOS solution to do anything like that. The Web has become richer and more complex, and has crept into the rest of the OS. Graphics standards have shot ahead as well. Everything is richer and offers more functionality.

As far as hardware goes, What was yesterday's high-end server or graphics workstation is now on the desktop and today's high end workstation includes 64-bit, four or more gigs of memory, two or more cores, larger and faster cache memory, real-time video encoding, etc. And here we have BeOS still choking on half a gig of RAM. This is the first thing that needs addressed in order to truly bring BeOS ahead to current times — modern hardware support.

4. How do you intend to take care of the hardware support problem without being bogged down in it like you say the other two BeOS projects are?

Sven: We asked which part of the OS that had to be upgraded in order to take advantage of these things, and that was the kernel. From that realization, we agreed that recreating it would take too long, as with Haiku. Licensing the actual BeOS kernel wasn't an option but still would have left us with too much work to do. So we began shopping for kernels.

5. What different options did you look at?

We looked at Linux first, of course, because it's everywhere nowadays. And we we weren't satisfied with what we found. Linux takes a very sturdy, monolithic approach. It's so sturdy and monolithic, in fact, that it's just plain bloated.

6. What about the real-time extensions to the Linux kernel that have received so much attention in the last year or so? Did you look at those?

Sven: Real-time Linux extensions are basically hacks. You can't expect it to be as good a product built to be real-time. Go with something built from the ground up to perform a certain way rather than a poorly kludged mess. This was the route the BlueEyedOS project had taken years ago. And looking to that project today, it is a footnote. Linux sucks.

7. Were there any other options worth noting before you settled on QNX Neutrino?

Sven: We looked at almost every popular Open Source kernel as well as a few commercial ones. None of them made sense, either because of their capabilities and performance or their licensing programs and prices.

8. So what was it about QNX that seemed right?

Sven: Adolf, one of the other BNX developers, dual-booted QNX for several years and had a lot good to say about it. And from there it was pretty simple. They have a proven track record and they aggressively support the latest hardware. Since they have a microkernel, you can choose which parts of the OS to license and which to leave out. We could just take the kernel and let QNX take care of the hardware while we focused on moving the BeOS API ahead.

9. So what parts go where? Are you licensing the whole QNX shebang?

Sven: No. All we want from them is their kernel. We'll throw Haiku's servers on top of it. In this manner, we get the tight fast kernel that supports new hardware innovations and the free time to work on the API of the system. We're also looking at taking some parts from elsewhere, like the TCP/IP stack from FreeBSD and and the XFS file system from IRIX. We will take whatever will give the BeOS API the best advantage, even if it means going beyond BeOS itself.

10. Where is the project now? What are your near-term goals for BNX?

Sven: We are running QNX Momentics 6.3 SP2 as our development platform and, thanks to QNX's modular design, are getting different parts going. While we test parts for our OS, the whole QNX OS is already there working. So for instance we can just fire up the TCP/IP stack and test it. Moving to XFS is another goal, a bit trickier but so far it still seems feasible. Before we do anything else, we want filesystem and networking support on top of our kernel. From there we will get Haiku's BeOS servers running, and that will take some work. They have to be modified to work with Neutrino and our new file system and networking stack. After that, it's pretty much all in place.

11. To get it down to a number, when do you expect to be able to run BeOS apps?

Sven: Within a year from now.

12. A year? That's a fairly short amount of time compared to the other projects.

Sven: We'll spend a year getting things together and still end up just about where the others are in terms of functionality. That's thanks to using Haiku and Neutrino. We can focus on sewing it all together rather than recreating anything.

13. What were the licensing terms with QNX Software Systems?

Sven: We aren't allowed to comment on any of the figures or stipulations involved, but I can say that their contract with us was very generous. It went a long way to making our decision with QNX final. :)

14. Do you find it ironic that many saw BeOS and QNX as rivals at one point and now you're dependent on one to realize the other?

Sven: There aren't really any feelings involved except the desire for a working BeOS successor.

As for the rivalry, I think it was misplaced. BeOS was a Media OS, and QNX was an embedded OS. While there are many common things between the two, they were targeted at different places. QNX only ran on the desktop as a development environment for itself anyways. BeOS ran laps around that incarnation of it.

15. What kind of PC will I need to run BNX?

Sven: You can get by well with a 1 gig Pentium III and half a gig of RAM, though BNX will in theory run on anything the Intel QNX Momentics system would run on, from Pentiums on up. Adolf is on a 450 MHz Pentium II system with 512 MB RAM while I use a 2.8 GHz Pentium 4 with a gig of RAM. It will depend on what you want out of the system, really, that will dictate hardware requirements. The newer the better though. We're about to get a Core Duo system to develop on.

16. And what's the current status of the BNX project page at SourceForge?

Sven: Another project had the BNX name already, but since it was inactive, we took it over. Unfortunately that process takes about two or three weeks to complete. So we have our page, we're just waiting for it to activate.

17. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Sven, and best of luck on the project.

Sven: Thank you, Grant.

Mar 6, 2006

Leopard to be “Invisible OS?”

Sources close to Leopard development are starting to report that the new OS, set to debut in late '06 or early '07, is gearing up to be a graphics powerhouse unlike any Mac OS before it. Continuing Apple's use of increasingly powerful GPUs, Leopard will offload even more graphical tasks to current and next-generation graphics hardware. Currently in testing are some new system-wide graphics options Leopard developers are calling Invisible OS.

So far, here's what we know:

Mar 3, 2006

Eight-Core Mac Pro

The excitement at 1 Infinite Loop continues to grow over the Intel-based Power Mac replacement, code-named Hydra after the eight-headed serpent from Greek mythology. Since the iMac and mini have gone Intel, more resources are being devoted to the project. Beta testing of the systems should begin some time in May or June, and most sources predict their debut some time in September or October.

And from what we've been hearing, it'll be well worth the wait.

First and foremost, Hydra will feature two, four, or eight cores, twice the number featured in the current Power Mac G5 Quad. Testing units currently employ one, two, or four Core Duo chips, though sources suggested that Apple will eventually use four-core processors when they became available. Test units are currently running two 2.0, four 2.0, and eight 2.16 GHz configurations, all on 667 MHz busses.

Memory capacity will remain the same as current Power Macs, but with support for the faster RAM found in the new Intel Macs, for up to 16 GB 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM. Sources say all test units have had 1 GB of memory, and that Apple may opt for a minimum gigabyte once the system goes on sale sometime later this year.

Performance reports are positive across the board. One reviewer said his four-core system felt faster than the G5 Quad by a factor of two, while other testers say improvements are in line with new MacBook Pro and iMac figures. And this is just for the current chips — Conroe, the next major Intel desktop chip, doubles the L2 cache and finally catches up with DDR2 SDRAM performance, as well as upping the clock speed.

Other notes on Hydra include built-in Bluetooth, AirPort Extreme, and SuperDrive, up to 1.25 terabyte of SATA storage, 64-bit support, and virtualization. We're compiling future reports as we speak, so stop back in for an update on the Mac Pro soon!

Feb 28, 2006

Apple Releases Intel mini, iPod Hi-Fi

After waiting for weeks with bated breath, the cats are finally out of the bag — and the hotly-debated iDong and iTwat were not among them. Instead, Apple today released an Intel Core-based Mac mini and a speaker system for the iPod, catching everyone completely off-guard. Several attendees of the event contacted us immediately after Steve walked off stage with some interesting insights. Said one journalist close to Apple:

You could tell something was off. Steve seemed a bit more perturbed than usual. That may have had to do with the pride march happening just outside the Apple campus demanding cheaper iDongs, but I think it had to do with axing the iDong and iTwat right before the show started.

Indeed, the march reached fever pitch within minutes of the event starting, with the sheriff's department being dispatched to the event as some of the protesters began trespassing onto Apple's property. Several marchers were arrested, and one man had to be tasered before being handcuffed and driven to county lockup.

Several sources noted their complete surprise at what Apple did release today, though the Intel mini was bound to happen sometime. It's just that no one thought it would happen today. Starting at $599, the new models add more expansion to the low-end Mac in addition to a significant speed-boost. Perhaps even more unexpected was Apple's iPod HiFi, a speaker set for the iPod. Home stereo. Reinvented, says Apple's site. But practically all of our sources said they about fell asleep as Steve launched what one called the most overblown Apple announcement since the upgrade from iTunes 5 to iTunes 6.

Ouch. Sounds like Apple left a little to be desired today.

Check back with Trollaxor later this week as we update with more Apple/PowerPC fallout, Mac OS X v10.4.6 news, Intel views on Apple, and QNX running on Intel Macs. Oh, and a little something about a certain eight-core machine running Tiger that blows the doors off of anything in the professional market today. Stay tuned!

Feb 23, 2006

iDong, iTwat Doomed?

Since publishing our exclusive report on Apple's fun announcement coming at the end of the month, many of our regular sources have chimed in. The general consensus is that though iDong and iTwat are indeed scheduled for release, Apple is cautiously debating on pulling one or both of the products from the event. From a Cupertino source:

iTwat has never been a favorite of Steve's because it was from the Amelio/Hancock era. I'm surprised Apple's been updating it at all and is considering releasing it. Between that and the dearth of straight men using the platform, I wouldn't bet on seeing Apple's pocket pussy any time soon. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Another source, writing anonymously from the Castro district of San Francisco, had this to say:

I'll be frank — If Apple releases the iTwat, we're marching. And I have all of San Francisco behind me. Apple will never get away with releasing such a disgusting product and we the Mac community will not stand for it! We're also imploring Apple to release the iDong at a lower price point and to support third-party lubricants. Hmph!

It looks like no matter what happens, Apple is going to make someone unhappy, so the question comes down to this: Who would rather have banging on its doors? Geeks perturbed at missing out yet again on a chance to get some, or a bunch of fidgety fellows from ol' San Fran hell-bent on getting their hands on Apple's iDong? As our first source said, only time will tell.

Feb 22, 2006

Apple to Announce "Fun New Products"

Unless you've been under a rock for the last week, you'll know that Apple has announced an Apple Event for late February, saying only that it will be announcing fun products. And from what the grapevine is telling us, these announcements will be quite fun indeed.

First up, and perhaps most importantly, the long-rumored Vagina Port will finally be making its debut, though under the name iTwat. Current reports state that iTwat supports USB 2.0, KY-Jelly, multiple orgasms, and the tantalizing possibility of an adjustable pressure-sensitive sphincter. The price point on iTwat is said to be $149, with Apple's own brand of KY-Jelly going for $9 a tube at the Apple Store. Further unconfirmed rumors claim support for CockBand control in iTwat.

Also on deck for the 28th is iDong, which has been making the rounds on Mac rumor sites lately. iDong is the electronic Apple penis marketed towards women. Like iTwat, iDong supports USB 2.0 and KY-Jelly. iDong also supports eight vibration speeds and skins, which Apple will reportedly sell for $24 each. Rumored skins include Rough Biker, Indian Snake-Charmer, Moo-Goo-Gai-Pan, and Black Oil Derrick. iDong is also slated to sell for $149.

There's no word yet on whether you can insert iDong into iTwat.

Feb 14, 2006

Interview With Paul Leroux of QNX Software Systems

Today we're happy to feature an interview by Grant Hayes of MacSlash with Paul Leroux, a technology analyst with QNX Software Systems, who is participating in Embedded World 2006. In the interview, Paul discusses the changes QSS has experienced in the last couple years, new and established competition, and moving forward in the marketplace with new technology.

1. How has QNX changed since its acquisition by Harman International in 2004?

Paul Leroux: If you polled QNX employees with this question, 99% would tell you that life at QNX has remained remarkably stable. Granted, we're now part of a much larger organization, but we still target the same markets (networking, automotive, industrial automation, medical), offer the same value-added services, and maintain the same technology focus.

Harman, of course, is strongly focused on automotive and home infotainment products. In fact, they acquired QNX because they see software, and the QNX Neutrino RTOS in particular, as key to achieving differentiation in those markets. Nonetheless, Harman encourages us to target multiple industries, including networking and automation. One reason is the cross-training effect: The more that cars and home entertainment systems become network-connected, the more that QNX's expertise in networking will help enable products in those markets.

Likewise, the graphics technology that QNX originally developed for control systems and high-end videogaming devices is proving invaluable for in-car navigation and infotainment units. Our expertise in one market feeds the others.

Our management has also remained stable, with the notable exception of our new head of R&D, Charles Eagan. Charles is a former Cisco executive and longtime QNX developer, and he brings lots of know-how to the table. Dan Dodge remains at the helm as QNX CEO and CTO.

2. Where is the current focus at in QNX Neutrino development?

Paul Leroux: We have two big pushes: a new technology that constitutes a radical departure from conventional OS partitioning, and a new mode of multiprocessing that helps developers migrate easily to multi-core processors.

Let's start with partitioning. Most embedded systems nowadays need to be secure, connected, and upgradable; they must also deliver fast, predictable response times under all operating scenarios, including failure conditions and system upgrades — that's a pretty tough set of requirements. Consequently, we've just introduced adaptive partitioning, which provides each software subsystem with a guaranteed share of CPU cycles, even when the device experiences a heavy processing load or a denial-of-service attack. With adaptive partitioning, a user can download and start a new software component without compromising the real-time behavior of existing components — even if the new component misbehaves and starts running in a loop at the highest priority level. Process starvation, which is always a concern in priority-based real-time systems, is eliminated.

Now the cool thing is, adaptive partitioning will enforce CPU guarantees only when the processor runs out of spare cycles. Otherwise, it uses standard, priority-based preemptive scheduling. This approach allows busy partitions to borrow unused CPU cycles time from other partitions and permits 100% processor utilization; it also allows developers to code their embedded applications the exact same way they do today. This is a far cry from conventional fixed partition schedulers, which force developers to redesign their apps and which prohibit full CPU utilization — a real issue for resource-constrained embedded products.

As for multi-core, we've introduced bound multiprocessing — BMP for short. Most developers are already familiar with SMP, where one copy of the OS manages all processor cores simultaneously, and applications can float to any core. Well, BMP shares SMP's scalability and transparent resource management, but also lets you lock any existing software application, along with all of its threads, to a specific core. That way, applications written for uniprocessor environments can run correctly in a multi-core environment, without modifications. Moreover, those legacy apps can run in conjunction with new applications that take full advantage of the concurrent processing provided by multi-core hardware.

Of course, we still support SMP and AMP — developers are free to choose which form of multiprocessing works best for their design.

3. Who is adopting QNX Neutrino lately?

Paul Leroux: The auto market has embraced QNX Neutrino in a big way. Companies like Audi, DaimlerChrysler, Honda/Acura, Hyundai, and Saab all ship QNX-based telematics and infotainment units in their vehicles. Networking is also very strong — witness the release of Cisco's flagship, the CSR-1 routing system, which is based on our microkernel technology.

At the same time, we're seeing a resurgence in our traditional markets, industrial automation in particular. Sales to industrial customers grew considerably last year — more than we expected. Personally, though, the most exciting development this past year was the new QNX-based Laser Camera System for the space shuttle Discovery. It isn't the first time that QNX has been used on a space shuttle, but it's cool knowing that QNX helped the Return to Flight mission become reality.

4. Are QNX 4 customers upgrading to QNX Neutrino?

Paul Leroux: It all depends on their requirements. Many QNX 4 users have upgraded to QNX Neutrino because it offers fuller POSIX compliance, targets multiple processor architectures, and supports tools for memory analysis, code coverage, application profiling, and system profiling. At the same time, we've redoubled our efforts to help users to stay with QNX 4, if that's what's best for them.

For instance, we've released the first in a series of QNX 4 driver updates, which provide support for a variety of network chips, graphics chips, and ATAPI controllers. There's even a new USB 2.0 driver that supports HID, printer, and mass storage devices. Developers can find out more by visiting the developer support center on the QNX website.

5. When can we expect a successor to the QNX Momentics self-hosted development suite?

Paul Leroux: We've been very quiet about this, but starting soon, developers won't have to wait for new versions to get their hands on the latest QNX technologies. That's because we're working on a new component-based model of product releases. Rather than force developers into major upgrades — the traditional method — we will release new features as they become available. Moreover, developers will be able to integrate these new features into their existing QNX environment, and just as easily "unplug" a feature if it doesn't address their requirements.

We can do all this because we designed our technology from the beginning to be modular and component-based. The new product rollout model will leverage this inherently modular design.

6. Let's talk about competition to QNX. Specifically, real-time Linux has advanced quite a bit in the last few years. How does this impact QNX?

Paul Leroux: Despite those advances, Linux's real-time capabilities still lag far behind those of the QNX Neutrino RTOS — and that won't change anytime soon. Embedded design is all about doing more with less, and QNX Neutrino can achieve better latencies on low-cost, low-power processors than Linux can on higher-end processors. With QNX, you shell out less for hardware, you get better response times, and you still get a full-fledged POSIX OS. Plus, you can now have guaranteed CPU time for critical tasks, even if your system is under load or a DoS attack.

Even if Linux could approach QNX Neutrino in terms of real-time performance, real-time constitutes just one of many reasons why customers choose us. For instance, consider our component-based microkernel architecture. It provides finer-grained fault tolerance than Linux, and allows users to replace and upgrade drivers, protocol stacks, and other low-level services on the fly. That makes it extremely attractive to anyone building routers and other high-availability systems.

7. How about competition with more traditional rivals, like WindRiver and its VxWorks?

Paul Leroux: You can no longer assume that a competitor who, say, is strong in defense systems won't try to take away your automotive business. Technology requirements are becoming increasingly similar across market segments, and everyone is attempting to leverage their success in one segment to gain traction in others.

That said, some of our competitors have made the fatal mistake of assuming the OS has become a commodity — they've started to believe their own hype. But in the embedded business, technology really does count. When someone is about to embed an OS into hundreds of thousands of devices, chances are they'll want the fastest, most reliable, most cost-effective technology available. Because we still believe in the OS, because we focus aggressively on making our OS more secure, more reliable, and easier to work with, we hold a serious advantage.

8. What are QNX's technical benefits over Windows CE? What is competition between the two like?

Paul Leroux: For a technical comparison of QNX Neutrino and Windows CE, there's no better source than Dedicated Systems, an independent firm that has performed exhaustive tests of both OSs. Their evaluations found that QNX Neutrino was the top choice when it comes to real-time performance and OS architecture. In fact, version 6.3 of QNX Neutrino scored higher than any other RTOS that Dedicated Systems has ever evaluated. QNX Neutrino also surpassed Window CE on "softer" measures, like ease of installation and quality of documentation. Anyone interested in these results can download detailed reports from the QNX website.

From a market perspective, Windows CE is strong in industrial automation and in certain segments of the Japanese auto market, notably navigation. Aside from that, we rarely come up against it.

9. Does the eQip project have any official status within QNX Software Systems?

Paul Leroux: For those who don't know, eQip stood for "embedded QNX for intelligent platforms". A pair of QNX developers launched the eQip project on their own initiative, with blessings from R&D management. It then evolved into a community project — and a pretty cool one, at that. When people first started downloading the eval version of QNX Neutrino, many of them didn't realize that this rich OS environment can scale down to small form factors, and still deliver lots of functionality. eQip helped correct that perception, by demonstrating the cool features — and impressive graphics —6 that QNX can bring to something like a PDA.

10. What's one thing that has excited you about QNX lately?

More than anything else, our adaptive partitioning technology. First of all, it's a unique feature in the OS world - no one has anything quite like it. And besides enabling higher levels of security, it can play a huge role in simplifying software integration. The firmware for the average embedded project is doubling in size about every 10 months, so it's now commonplace to have multiple development teams work on a device's various software subsystems. While this approach allows subsystems to be developed in parallel, it often leads to major headaches during integration and testing, when the subsystems suddenly have to contend for processor time. Components that worked well previously suddenly become starved of CPU. Adaptive partitioning can help by letting systems designers allocate a CPU budget to each development group beforehand. Each group can then test their code within their allocated partition under simulated worse-case conditions, knowing that the code will display similar performance at integration time — a good thing, when you're trying to get product out the door!

Feb 10, 2006

Apple Thinks Freescale Sucks

Whispers around the loop in Cupertino have had Mac mini fans abuzz. After leaving the Mac mini to languish for months, Apple is finally planning a major update to the petite personal computer that is sure to drive new sales. No surprise, then, that the mini will see its first Intel processor, probably the Intel Core Solo, and ditch the PowerPC G4 once and for all. Though some certainly don't want to see it that way.

The PowerPC 7448, from Freescale, is the latest in a series of upgrades to the G4. This one uses the e600 core, which is essentially identical to the traditional G4 core but relies on Freescale's new ultra-modern naming conventions meant to make the company look like it's hard at work on new technology instead of just tweaking a design that goes all the way back to 1994.

Contacts at Freescale confirmed the news. “Apple has loved the PowerPC 603 since we introduced it in 1995, and we'd kept them happy ever since,” one anonymous source said. When asked why Apple was moving the rest of their lines to Intel, the same source scoffed. “Apple demanded a lot — first they want new cores, then they want improvements to them! Lot of good it did them too. Good luck with SSE!”

One source close to mini development at Apple commented:

Steve Jobs made the decision to stick with the G4 as long as he did for one reason: Being over a decade-old design, it's really, really cheap and he thought it was a good way to run the contract with Freescale out. It just so happens, however, that we never told Freescale when exactly we were going to stop ordering from them. So look who gets stuck holding the G4! Bwahaha!

Further questions to Freescale regarding the debut of their dual-core G4 chips and the new 64-bit e700 core went unanswered, though an engineer from IBM was candid on the topic: “If they release 64-bit by Summer, they'll only be four years behind us. I guess you can't expect much from a company who thinks processor development is icky and that the 603 core was the pinnacle of technology for all time.”

Apple, Freescale, and IBM were not available for official comment.

Feb 8, 2006

Why Apple Really Ditched PowerPC

Apple wants to make their switch to Intel chips seem like a no-brainer, but the reality of it was a lot more complicated than just faster chips for Macs. Apple's claims of their Intel systems being "4-5x faster" than their PowerPC systems is a little much to swallow, especially with Intel Macs landing in users' hands and failing to live up to the hype. So if these Intel chips aren't really that much faster than the G5, why did Apple make the switch? The answer to this question is a lot more interesting than what Apple's telling you.