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.