On Monday, June 6, 2005, Steve Jobs basically dropped the bomb. The rumors that ran rampant throughout the various news and fan sites, it all suggested it. And it turned out to be true. Apple's going to Intel for the CPUs. All I could say is... 'wow...'
All that news really took time for it to sink in. The news of it, shocking everyone, surprising everyone, and placing everything to rest, it was so bewildering to me that I had trouble believing it to be true. But all it take was a little bit of time and some thinking. And that's when it hit me -- the hardware.
People who have been tinkering with PC hardwares for a long time know that the PC has some really great stuff yet, at the same time, has the most ancient and outdated code. I'd know this for myself personally having to deal with the workings of the BIOS, the very software that enables the PC to start up and initialize the hardware. It's old, legacy, and very outdated. Yet nobody notices them nor even realize that we're pulling an ancient code that emulates ancient hardware for no reason at all. Change is needed and it's hard to make that change unless hardware manufacturers do something about it. It's very sad to see this, as there is so much potential in making such a drastic change as overhauling the entire BIOS methodology.
The BIOS architecture basically emulates an old Intel CPU model, an 8088 or 8086 (which one, I forget). I do not know when the BIOS was introduced or extended to but it's probably during the introduction of the 286 or 386 line of CPUs. At that time, it was fine since it made PCs more modular and configurable. Sure, it introduced problems and limitations but it was good for its time... for... its... time.
The Apple iMacs, PowerMacs, iBooks, and PowerBooks, they all have some specific hardware that makes it all customized and more 'natural' to OS X. And what happened was that the BIOS those hardware uses is vastly different from the BIOS PC systems use today. There was no limitation in how big a HD can be. There was no problem when you plug in hardware designed to work on Macs. The aim and goal was to make it 'just work.' Well, the idea is great and sound but it also limits the peripheral market. Designing stuff around a specification to a niche computer market is very limiting and won't net you a lot of profit. Quite a problem that creates...
So Mac OS X will eventually run on Intel hardware. Steve Jobs was also using OS X on that very hardware at the WWDC. Yet, he is willing to take that risk, that chance, to jump ship and hop aboard on the Intel bandwagon, the x86 bandwagon. It's the greatest news for all PC fanatics everywhere who has ever yearned and wanted to use OS X. Well, the general idea is grand. That's the good news. But with every advantage comes a disadvantage. There's a downside to going with the x86 architecture. Above I have mentioned of an ancient code that runs upon boot time. The BIOS has limitations that may make it difficult for Mac OS X to live on. So the questions were raised as to whether or not Apple will make it usable on common commodity PC hardware. The question lingers and I've yet to see an official statement on the matter. But... there's always this particular speculation.
Intel has a project going on with a few other companies to develop a replacement to the ancient BIOS that every PC has today. Such project could very well become a reality. What does this has to do with OS X? It's the hardware. Apple may very well end up continuing their Apple designed/customized computers instead of using common commodity x86 hardwares. Using everyday common x86 hardware will save Apple a lot of money in building their own machines but the cost would be legacy hardwares being plugged into the system. That would be a bad thing. On the other hand, Apple can design and manufacture their own motherboard but have them loaded with a customize BIOS designed to take advantage of today's speedy CPUs. And Intel can help Apple achieve this by using that project to turn Apple x86 Macs into a very interesting series of computers. A BIOS replacement would mean faster boot time and you may end up seeing a computer show its OS logo in a matter of moments, not seconds.
I have seen projects that want to replace the current BIOS generation with something that takes advantage of today's CPUs. To completely elimiate the BIOS would mean systems would boot so much faster, it may actually shave a good 5-10 seconds off the average startup time for Windows. Why? Because hardware detection that has to go to the BIOS for access would be so much faster, initializing anything would be instantaneous and without limit. It's disheartening that the market doesn't see that though. And so we are continously tortured by the legacy software that sits on the very hardware that make our computers work.
An Apple x86 computer will be a very interesting piece of hardware. And I'd look forward to seeing what kind of changes there will be when we finally see a PowerMac come 2006. Then again, that's still a year off. And many things can change 'till then. However, because of this move, I'll happily say that I may very well end up getting an Apple computer very very soon.