TweetFollow Us on Twitter

The Difference
Volume Number:10
Issue Number:6
Column Tag:Inside Information

The Difference That Makes A Difference

What’s valuable depends on your perspective. Will that be changing soon?

By Chris Espinosa, Apple Computer, Inc., MacTech Magazine Regular Contributing Author

Nick Negroponte of the MIT Media Lab defines information as “a difference that makes a difference.” On Usenet, you hear about this as the “signal-to-noise ratio,” that is, the kernels of useful wheat in the general chaff of questions, misinformations, rumors, and flames. In most other circumstances, though, information in digital form makes a real difference - and this is most true in developing software.

Every bit of your application makes a difference. At the basic level, each bit has to be a non-buggy bit (as opposed to a buggy bit) or your software will crash, and that could make a big difference to its users and purchasers. A little above that, the bits of your program are carefully compiled to run on a specific family of microprocessor; the system calls in your program are linked to a specific operating system API; and the logical assumptions are based on the performance and capabilities of a certain range of hardware platforms. All of these choices are encoded into your finished product, and they make a substantial difference in who will buy and use it.

Above that, of course, are the features and functions of your product itself. This is supposedly what yo’'re good at, and ostensibly what your customers are paying money for. Of all the investments you make in research and development, the information you learn about how to make your program solve the customers’ problem should be most worthwhile to you and to them, shouldn’t it?

But as you’re probably aware, your choice of platform often makes more of a difference to your customers than your choice of features or technologies. Everybody in the Mac business has been told more than once that ‘your product is great, but if it doesn’t run on IBMs I can’t use it.’ And you spend much of your time and money simply porting your application from one system version to the next, or from one hardware platform to another - and recently, from one microprocessor to another. The differences are significant, because compiler technology, hardware evolution, and new system APIs are not simple things; but at least they make a difference to your customers.

What will happen if these differences stop making a difference? What if, for example, you didn’t have to worry about what instruction set to compile for? In a small way it’s true now - if your application is not speed-sensitive, you can just compile it for the 68K, and the emulator on the Power Macintosh products will automatically run your software on the Power PC-based models. And while emulation is admittedly slower than running native, you could be seeing more processor independence in the future. Apple’s Advanced Technology Group and others in the industry have been researching processor-independent object file formats. With these, you compile and link your application into intermediate code which you ship to customers; then either the Installer or the segment loader transliterates the code into the correct instruction set for each machine. The hardware vendor can use different CPUs, the users get native performance, and you can ship one program that runs on many brands.

And with processors continuing to get faster and cheaper, and multiprocessor designs starting to become available, emulators might be the big win after all. If you can add more processors to run your emulators faster, you might be able to achieve near-native performance through emulation. Just think: if you want to run Windows applications faster, just keep adding more Power PC chips to your Macintosh until it’s fast enough!

Independence from hardware architecture is getting easier as well. In modern OS architectures, a “hardware abstraction layer” separates the OS kernel from the particular hardware implementation, making it easier to port the OS to different hardware platforms. And developers of new platforms are trying an alternative to the defacto standards of Macintosh (controlled by Apple) and the Intel-based PC architecture (controlled by nobody in particular). The result is a set of “reference platforms,” hardware designs that assure certain capabilities in different vendors’ designs. The last major reference platform, ACE, was built around Windows NT and the MIPS chip; the current hot platform, PReP, is based on the Power PC chip and AIX. If reference platforms dominate the landscape in the future, it should be easier to write code that runs indifferently on multiple platforms.

Finally, APIs are crossing the hardware boundaries. Both OpenDoc and OLE 2.0 are cross-platform, though they don’t isolate you from other toolbox calls. Hosting layers like XVT and Novell Appware Foundation add surprisingly little overhead to run the same API on different underlying toolboxes. And future operating systems like Taligent’s Pink system and IBM’s Workplace Shell are meant to host multiple “personalities” on one OS kernel, so your choice of hardware vendor doesn’t dictate your choice of API, and therefore applications software.

So five years from now, our old landmarks - the instruction set, the hardware architecture, and the API - may be rotting and fallen. Will it be a total mix-and-match world? Will people be running Mac code in an emulator box on Windows NT on a Compaq Power PC platform, or x86 OLE objects wrappered by OpenDoc running on OS/2 on a Macintosh with a Cyrix chip emulating the Pentium in microcode?

I say: yes and no. I expect that the majority of successful commercial software will be (more or less) compiled and built for a specific class of microprocessor, hardware platform, and API. It’ll just be easier that way, both technically and in the marketplace. Though the technology might be able to jump through hoops, the channels and customers don’t get over such fundamental taboos as “incompatibility” overnight.

But while compatibility may remain a litmus test, it’ll no longer be a barrier. In-house developers will be able to compile something once and deploy it on their Mac, Windows, and UNIX machines, letting adapters and emulators take care of details. Or you could take a product that’s successful on one platform, test-market it in the emulator community on other platforms and, if it sells, then invest in the native port to increase your market share and competitiveness. Or (for extra credit) you could find clever ways to bridge the various environments, perhaps hooking up TAPI in SoftWindows to the Geoport or AV capabilities on a Power Macintosh.

Old differences die hard. Even after technology has made them irrelevant, the distinctions of architecture will color peoples’ thinking. Most conventional development will probably remain the way it’s always been, but there may be some interesting new opportunities when the gaps between platforms are bridged over.

 
AAPL
$116.47
Apple Inc.
+0.16
MSFT
$47.98
Microsoft Corpora
-0.72
GOOG
$537.50
Google Inc.
+2.67

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Cobook 3.0.7 - Intelligent address book....
Cobook Contacts is an intuitive, engaging address book. Solve the problem of contact management with Cobook Contacts and its simple interface and powerful syncing and integration possibilities.... Read more
StatsBar 1.9 - Monitor system processes...
StatsBar gives you a comprehensive and detailed analysis of the following areas of your Mac: CPU usage Memory usage Disk usage Network and bandwidth usage Battery power and health (MacBooks only)... Read more
Cyberduck 4.6 - FTP and SFTP browser. (F...
Cyberduck is a robust FTP/FTP-TLS/SFTP browser for the Mac whose lack of visual clutter and cleverly intuitive features make it easy to use. Support for external editors and system technologies such... Read more
Maya 2015 - Professional 3D modeling and...
Maya is an award-winning software and powerful, integrated 3D modeling, animation, visual effects, and rendering solution. Because Maya is based on an open architecture, all your work can be scripted... Read more
Evernote 6.0.1 - Create searchable notes...
Evernote allows you to easily capture information in any environment using whatever device or platform you find most convenient, and makes this information accessible and searchable at anytime, from... Read more
calibre 2.11 - Complete e-library manage...
Calibre is a complete e-book library manager. Organize your collection, convert your books to multiple formats, and sync with all of your devices. Let Calibre be your multi-tasking digital... Read more
Herald 5.0.1 - Notification plugin for M...
Note: Versions 2.1.3 (for OS X 10.7), 3.0.6 (for OS X 10.8), and 4.0.8 (for OS X 10.9) are no longer supported by the developer. Herald is a notification plugin for Mail.app, Apple's Mac OS X email... Read more
Firetask 3.7 - Innovative task managemen...
Firetask uniquely combines the advantages of classical priority-and-due-date-based task management with GTD. Stay focused and on top of your commitments - Firetask's "Today" view shows all relevant... Read more
TechTool Pro 7.0.6 - Hard drive and syst...
TechTool Pro is now 7, and this is the most advanced version of the acclaimed Macintosh troubleshooting utility created in its 20-year history. Micromat has redeveloped TechTool Pro 7 to be fully 64... Read more
PhotoDesk 3.0.1 - Instagram client for p...
PhotoDesk lets you view, like, comment, and download Instagram pictures/videos! (NO Uploads! / Image Posting! Instagram forbids that! AND you *need* an *existing* Instagram account). But you can do... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Ubisoft Gives Everyone Two New Ways to E...
Ubisoft Gives Everyone Two New Ways to Earn In-Game Stuff for Far Cry 4 Posted by Jessica Fisher on November 21st, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Golfinity – Tips, Tricks, Strategies, an...
Dig this: Would you like to know what we thought of being an infinite golfer? Check out our Golfinity review! Golfinity offers unlimited ways to test your skills at golf. Here are a few ways to make sure your score doesn’t get too high and your... | Read more »
Dark Hearts, The Sequel to Haunting Meli...
Dark Hearts, The Sequel to Haunting Melissa, is Available Now Posted by Jessica Fisher on November 21st, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Meowza! Toyze Brings Talking Tom to Life...
Meowza! | Read more »
Square Enix Announces New Tactical RPG f...
Square Enix Announces New Tactical RPG for Mobile, Heavenstrike Rivals. Posted by Jessica Fisher on November 21st, 2014 [ permalink ] With their epic stories and gorgeous graphics, | Read more »
Quest for Revenge (Games)
Quest for Revenge 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: The great Kingdom of the west has fallen. The gods ignore the prayers of the desperate. A dark warlord has extinguished... | Read more »
Threadz is a New Writing Adventure for Y...
Threadz is a New Writing Adventure for You and Your Friends Posted by Jessica Fisher on November 21st, 2014 [ permalink ] In the tradition of round-robin storytelling, | Read more »
SteelSeries Stratus XL Hardware Review
Made by: SteelSeries Price: $59.99 Hardware/iOS Integration Rating: 4 out of 5 stars Usability Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars Reuse Value Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars Build Quality Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars Overall Rating: 4.31 out of 5 stars | Read more »
ACDSee (Photography)
ACDSee 1.0.0 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Photography Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: Capture, perfect, and share your photos with ACDSee. The ACDSee iPhone app combines an innovative camera, a powerful photo... | Read more »
ProTube for YouTube (Entertainment)
ProTube for YouTube 2.0.2 Device: iOS Universal Category: Entertainment Price: $1.99, Version: 2.0.2 (iTunes) Description: ProTube is the ultimate, fully featured YouTube app. With it's highly polished design, ProTube offers ad-free... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for $17...
 B&H Photo has the 2014 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale today for $1749. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only. B&H will also include free copies of Parallels Desktop... Read more
27-inch 3.5GHz 5K iMac in stock today and on...
 B&H Photo has the new 27″ 3.5GHz 5K iMac in stock today and on sale for $2299 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $200 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available... Read more
21-inch 1.4GHz iMac on sale for $979, save $1...
B&H Photo has the new 21″ 1.4GHz iMac on sale for $979.99 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $120 off MSRP. B&H will also include free copies of Parallels Desktop... Read more
13-inch 1.4GHz/256GB MacBook Air on sale for...
B&H Photo has lowered their price on the 13″ 1.4GHz/256GB MacBook Air to $1059.99 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $140 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price for this... Read more
Save up to $400 with Apple refurbished 2014 1...
The Apple Store has restocked Apple Certified Refurbished 2014 15″ Retina MacBook Pros for up to $400 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping... Read more
New 13-inch 1.4GHz MacBook Air on sale for $8...
 Adorama has the 2014 13″ 1.4GHz/128GB MacBook Air on sale for $899.99 including free shipping plus NY & NJ tax only. Their price is $100 off MSRP. B&H Photo has the 13″ 1.4GHz/128GB MacBook... Read more
Apple Expected to Reverse Nine-Month Tablet S...
Apple and Samsung combined accounted for 62 percent of the nearly 36 million branded tablets shipped in 3Q 2014, according to early vendor shipment share estimates from market intelligence firm ABI... Read more
Stratos: 30 Percent of US Smartphone Owners t...
Stratos, Inc., creator of the Bluetooth Connected Card Platform, has announced results from its 2014 Holiday Mobile Payments Survey. The consumer survey found that nearly one out of three (30 percent... Read more
2014 1.4GHz Mac mini on sale for $449, save $...
 B&H Photo has lowered their price on the new 1.4GHz Mac mini to $449.99 including free shipping plus NY tax only. Their price is $50 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this new... Read more
Check Apple prices on any device with the iTr...
MacPrices is proud to offer readers a free iOS app (iPhones, iPads, & iPod touch) and Android app (Google Play and Amazon App Store) called iTracx, which allows you to glance at today’s lowest... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC)- Retail S...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
Project Manager, *Apple* Financial Services...
**Job Summary** Apple Financial Services (AFS) offers consumers, businesses and educational institutions ways to finance Apple purchases. We work with national and Read more
*Apple* Store Leader Program - College Gradu...
Job Description: Job Summary As an Apple Store Leader Program agent, you can continue your education as you major in the art of leadership at the Apple Store. You'll Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.