[rescue] From Macintouch

Skeezics Boondoggle skeezics at q7.com
Mon Jun 6 16:45:39 CDT 2005

On Mon, 6 Jun 2005, William Enestvedt wrote:

>    El Steve has maintained that Apple is a hardware company so I'm
> betting they're only changing the CPU itself and not embracing the
> Lowest Common Denominator Ethic of BIOSes and such stuff.

well, this whole thing just sickens me.  i'll just say a few things that 
seem to have been completely overlooked, and then shut up and go have some 
beers.  a lot of beers.

it doesn't _matter_ if apple builds a completely closed-up, "proprietary" 
machine, or if they somehow (amazingly) allow macosx to run on relatively 
generic hardware.  they'll suffer exactly the same inability to break the 
"it's just a PC underneath" _mindset_.

look at netapp:  they put tremendous engineering effort into building an
x86-based box that doesn't suck.  they do their own motherboard designs,
they use openfirmware, they carefully qualify a select set of peripherals
to maintain very strict quality controls, and they provide their own
sophisticated software stack that's highly tuned to do multi-protocol file
serving with an insane attention to reliability and robustness.  and what
do people INCESSANTLY whine about?  "it's just a PC underneath, how come
they charge so much!?"  and "how come i can't just run their 'ontap' on a
machine i build myself for a tiny fraction of the price?"

apple will face that exact same mentality.  the small select group of mac
lovers might _still_ buy macs regardless of the chip underneath, but apple
won't sway anyone who currently owns a PC to toss out "the same hardware"  
for something closed-up and proprietary.  (joe consumer doesn't _care_
what's under the hood, and he won't see the difference if that "apple" box
"has the same chip in it" as the "dell" box that's $1000 cheaper.)

so then, do they start selling macosx as a standalone package, with as
many drivers as they can support, in direct competition with windows and 
linux?  uh, not if that cannibalizes hardware sales... 

and that leads to the ultimate flaw in this idiotic decision:  apple has
now eliminated the _possibility_ that they can *ever* build a "faster"  
box.  as a small niche player, they can only hope _at best_ to play
catch-up with dell, hp, or "ahmed's house of PCs and felafel" down the
block.  _at best_ they can ship a machine that's "equivalent" to the
generic pc world.  but don't expect for a minute that apple will get their
allocation of chips before dell or hp will.  and who'll have far more say
in the direction that the cpu and chipsets take over time?  apple?  hell
no.  they could double or even triple their market share and still intel
is going to have to give their bigger oems preferential treatment.

so what happens if/when ibm starts shipping powerpc processors that
outperform the p4/xeon/whatever, or even overtake the opteron?  i haven't
looked at the latest benchmarks, but at _equivalent_ clock rates the
intel/amd stuff isn't all that special.  so if/when ibm closes the gap,
through process and architecture improvements, it's conceivable that apple
could one day actually build machines that dramatically outperform the
intel/amd world.  but by jumping ship, apple now precludes that
possibility entirely, and dooms their hardware division to building
machines no faster than the competition.  gee, that's _compelling_.  sign
me right up.

(think about it; if they use the same commodity memory controllers and
bridge chips and peripheral interfaces as everyone else, to release boxes
quickly, they won't gain a performance edge;  if they design their own
chipsets and asics to squeeze out better performance, they'll constantly
lag in the market - they really can't win...)

and the "i buy a mac for macosx, i don't care about the chip underneath"  
argument, well, that won't hold much water for long.  over time, windows
and/or linux will provide a "good enough" emulation of features that the
premium price of apple's hardware - and the tight integration of the os
with it - just won't be compelling enough.  (some argue that's already the
case.)  right now, the mac with macosx is a complete package - it's the
integration of hardware and software, the overall experience that sells
machines.  sure, changing out the cpu chip shouldn't change that, but i
guarantee it will - possibly in subtle, almost intangible ways at first...
(actually, doesn't apple buy powerpc chips _cheaper_ than intel's top of
the line?  that'd be ironic...)

i just don't see any real upside at all to this decision.  i think it's
largely ego-driven, and it's ultimately completely self-destructive.  
they want to still build (and charge for) porsches, but with ford engines, 
hoping folks won't really notice.  and hey, who's to say it won't work?  
maybe there just aren't enough people that care to look under the hood 
anymore.  but i doubt it.

so, as "rescuers", i guess we'll start making space for some apple 
hardware in out collections, as they charge headlong into "also-ran" 
status... and, my greater concern, is that now there will be even MORE 
pressure on mr. mcnealy to drop that silly sparc chip, and follow suit.

ah, well.

it was fun while it lasted.  one political party.  one chip.  one os.  
life is so much simpler that way.

-- chris

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