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.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

BBEdit 11.6.4 - Powerful text and HTML e...
BBEdit is the leading professional HTML and text editor for the Mac. Specifically crafted in response to the needs of Web authors and software developers, this award-winning product provides a... Read more
beaTunes 4.6.12 - Organize your music co...
beaTunes is a full-featured music player and organizational tool for music collections. How well organized is your music Library? Are your artists always spelled the same way? Any R.E.M. vs REM?... Read more
Tinderbox 7.0.1 - Store and organize you...
Tinderbox is a personal content management assistant. It stores your notes, ideas, and plans. It can help you organize and understand them. And Tinderbox helps you share ideas through Web journals... Read more
FotoMagico 5.4 - Powerful slideshow crea...
FotoMagico lets you create professional slideshows from your photos and music with just a few, simple mouse clicks. It sports a very clean and intuitive yet powerful user interface. High image... Read more
Direct Mail 4.3.9 - Create and send grea...
Direct Mail is an easy-to-use, fully-featured email marketing app purpose-built for OS X. It lets you create and send great looking email campaigns. Start your newsletter by selecting from a gallery... Read more
Tinderbox 7.0.1 - Store and organize you...
Tinderbox is a personal content management assistant. It stores your notes, ideas, and plans. It can help you organize and understand them. And Tinderbox helps you share ideas through Web journals... Read more
Direct Mail 4.3.9 - Create and send grea...
Direct Mail is an easy-to-use, fully-featured email marketing app purpose-built for OS X. It lets you create and send great looking email campaigns. Start your newsletter by selecting from a gallery... Read more
FotoMagico 5.4 - Powerful slideshow crea...
FotoMagico lets you create professional slideshows from your photos and music with just a few, simple mouse clicks. It sports a very clean and intuitive yet powerful user interface. High image... Read more
beaTunes 4.6.12 - Organize your music co...
beaTunes is a full-featured music player and organizational tool for music collections. How well organized is your music Library? Are your artists always spelled the same way? Any R.E.M. vs REM?... Read more
Spotify 1.0.49.125. - Stream music, crea...
Spotify is a streaming music service that gives you on-demand access to millions of songs. Whether you like driving rock, silky R&B, or grandiose classical music, Spotify's massive catalogue puts... Read more

The best sales on the App Store this wee...
The App Store has quite an exciting lineup of discount games this week that range across a variety of genres. It's a great opportunity to catch up on some of the premium games you may have been holding off on -- and some you can even grab for free... | Read more »
The best new games we played this week
Ah, here we are again at the close of another busy week. Don't rest too easy, though. We had a lot of great new releases in mobile games this week, and now you're going to have to spend all weekend playing them. That shouldn't be too much of a... | Read more »
Rollercoaster Tycoon Touch Guide: How to...
| Read more »
Rabbids Crazy Rush Guide: How to unlock...
The Rabbids are back in a new endless running adventure, Rabbids Crazy Rush. It's more ridiculous cartoon craziness as you help the little furballs gather enough fuel (soda) to get to the moon. Sure, it's a silly idea, but everyone has dreams --... | Read more »
Tavern Guardians (Games)
Tavern Guardians 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Tavern Guardians is a Hack-and-Slash action game played in the style of a match-three. You can experience high pace action... | Read more »
Slay your way to glory in idle RPG Endle...
It’s a golden age for idle games on the mobile market, and those addictive little clickers have a new best friend. South Korean developer Ekkorr released Endless Frontier last year, and players have been idling away the hours in the company of its... | Read more »
Tiny Striker: World Football Guide - How...
| Read more »
Good news everyone! Futurama: Worlds of...
Futurama is finding a new home on mobile in TinyCo and Fox Interactive's new game, Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow. They're really doing it up, bringing on board Futurama creator Matt Groening along with the original cast and writers. TinyCo wants... | Read more »
MUL.MASH.TAB.BA.GAL.GAL (Games)
MUL.MASH.TAB.BA.GAL.GAL 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: ENDLESS UPGRADES. CONSTANT DANGER. ANCIENT WISDOM. BOUNCY BALLS. Launch Sale, 40% OFF for a very limited time!!! MUL.... | Read more »
Dungeon Rushers (Games)
Dungeon Rushers 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Dungeon Rushers is a 2D tactical RPG combining dungeon crawler’s gameplay and turn based fights. Manage your team, loot dusty... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

13-inch 2.0GHz Apple MacBook Pros on sale for...
B&H has the non-Touch Bar 13″ 2.0GHz MacBook Pros in stock today and on sale for $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 13″ 2.0GHz MacBook Pro Space Gray (... Read more
15-inch Touch Bar MacBook Pros on sale for up...
B&H Photo has the new 2016 15″ Apple Touch Bar MacBook Pros in stock today and on sale for up to $150 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.7GHz Touch Bar... Read more
12-inch Retina MacBooks on sale for $1150, $1...
B&H has 12″ 1.1GHz Retina MacBooks on sale for $150 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 12″ 1.1GHz Space Gray Retina MacBook: $1149 $150 off MSRP - 12″ 1.1GHz... Read more
Apple restocks refurbished 11-inch MacBook Ai...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 11″ MacBook Airs (the latest models recently discontinued by Apple), available for up to $170 off original MSRP. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each... Read more
Apple Park Opens to Employees in April With T...
Apple has announced that Apple Park, the company’s new 175-acre campus, will be ready for employees to begin occupying in April. The process of moving more than 12,000 people will take over six... Read more
Manhattan Neighbors for Safer Telecommunicati...
A new education and advocacy group focused on cell phone and wireless risks, Manhattan Neighbors for Safer Telecommunications, launched today at http://www.ManhattanNeighbors.org. Manhattan... Read more
Portable Dual DisplayPort Monitor Dock Enable...
IOGEAR has announced the launch of its USB-C Dual DisplayPort Monitor Portable Dock (GUC3CMST). The dock enables users to easily connect two DisplayPort monitors to a USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 laptop to... Read more
13-inch 2.7GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for...
Amazon.com has restocked the 13″ 2.7GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro (MF839LL/A) for $200 off MSRP including free shipping: - 13″ 2.7GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro: $1099 $200 off MSRP This model tends to... Read more
Apple’s New iPad Ads Don’t Address Pro Users’...
Apple launched a new tranche of iPad Pro TV ads last week addressing actual queries and challenges from the Twitterverse, albeit using actors for the visuals. That’s great. As an iPad fan and heavy... Read more
Free Verbum Catholic Bible Study App For iOS
The Verbum mobile app runs on Logos’ powerful Bible software and is an advanced resource for mobile Catholic study. The Verbum app surrounds the Bible with the Tradition. Verbum comes with 15 free... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions- Chicago...
SalesSpecialist - Retail Customer Service and SalesTransform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
Manager *Apple* Systems Administration - Pu...
Req ID 3315BR Position Title Manager, Apple Systems Administration Job Description The Manager of Apple Systems Administration oversees the administration and Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
Manager *Apple* Systems Administration - Pu...
Req ID 3315BR Position Title Manager, Apple Systems Administration Job Description The Manager of Apple Systems Administration oversees the administration and Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.