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Perverse Intel iMac Idea January 11, 2006

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Science & Technology, Technology, Workplace.
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There are times that things pop into my head that are technically feasible, but are such Rube Goldberg notions that I’m almost embarrassed to admit that they crept into my consciousness. Tonight, my perverse technical side was trying to find justification for buying one of the new Intel-based iMacs.

Enumeration, Emulation, and Emasculation
In computer circles, the word “emulation” frequently conjurs up memories of Win-OS/2, the functional but highly inefficient mechanism for running Windows applications in a “compatibility box” within the OS/2 operating system. These memories are rarely pleasant, because much of this development happened after IBM and Microsoft were an “item” in the same vein that Nick and Jessica are at the time of this writing.

Even then, in the late 80’s, when Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates conceived the notion of quietly pushing ahead development of Win 3.x while publicly cooperating fully on Win-OS/2, running Windows applications was a big deal. History has proven this to be a shrewd business move (regardless of how you view the ethics). Adding to the bad memory is that the performance, while not horrible, stayed stagnant as the performance of Win 3.x moved ahead.

Em-Power-ed, or Power-less?
Fast-forward several years to the PowerPC heydays of the iMac, beginning with the G3 series, and moving on up through the PowerMac models. When we get to the G5 processor systems, things come to a sudden halt (and we now know why). Along the way, in a nod to the need for running Windows applications, Connectix developed Virtual PC for Macintosh. In February of 2003, Microsoft acquired Virtual PC, and has continued to support the product.

Surprisingly, the performance of Virtual PC has been reasonable, presuming that you’re running adequate hardware. For this application, “adequate” seems to be a 1GHz G5. There’s simply not enough horsepower available to pretend that you’re really running a modern Windows box.

Rosetta Mo-bettah?
Along comes the Intel iMac and Steve Jobs’ stunning revelation that they’re 6 months ahead of schedule in delivering actual machines. Could it be? What about existing PowerPC applications, which were built for a different processor architecture? Apple’s answer is Rosetta, a technology that, at first blush sounds like Win-OS/2, but is actually more sophisticated from a design standpoint. It remains to be seen if the real-world performance will bear this out, but the early reports are promising.

What about my current PC? Mac/Win geeks immediately jumped on the question of a dual-boot machine that could launch OS X and Windows XP. Unfortunately, the new Intel iMac and MacBook systems rely on a technology called the Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) instead of the much-loved/much-despised BIOS booting mechanism, which is not compatible with any version of Windows except the upcoming Longhorn/Vista (and possibly the MCE edition).

Is all lost? It appears so. Microsoft has yet to announce any clear path for Virtual PC on the MacIntel platform, in spite of their announcement at MacWorld to support Office for the next 5 years.

Wait.

No… it’s too strange. Nobody would really try this.

A Gold, or Goldberg (as in Rube) Idea?
In theory, it would appear that you could run Virtual PC (a native PowerPC application) in the Rosetta environment, and run Windows XP inside the Virtual PC session. An Intel x86 processor emulator, running in a PowerPC host environment, which is in turn emulated by an Intel CoreDuo processor.

I need to get more sleep.

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Comments»

1. Bob Magnant - January 16, 2006

Wonderful! And I know some old guys out there who would say, “Yes! Then I could run my PC version of Photoshop…” I knew that I’d like you and that I’d enjoy your URL when I picked up on your recent comments on ‘The major lesson of all this’ on slashdot.org. I enjoyed your blog immensely. Maybe you’ve inspired me to step up to that challenge. I’ve played with web pages since iTools. Maybe you’d appreciate my ‘true’ story, The Last Transition… It’s downloadable from my website now but I hope to get it into print soon.

Best Regards – Bob

2. timthefoolman - January 17, 2006

Bob,

The biggest problem with blogging is making yourself stop and get some “real work” done. Your site looks great, and I’ll download “The Last Transition” soon. Just finished about a week of long nights and longer days. Thanks for stopping by.

Tim


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