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
$94.43
Apple Inc.
+0.49
MSFT
$44.99
Microsoft Corpora
+0.16
GOOG
$597.61
Google Inc.
+8.14

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

MacBook Air EFI Firmware Update 2.9 - Fo...
MacBook Air EFI Firmware Update is recommended for MacBook Air (Mid 2011) models. This update addresses an issue where systems may take longer to wake from sleep than expected and fixes a rare issue... Read more
FileZilla 3.9.0.1 - Fast and reliable FT...
FileZilla (ported from Windows) is a fast and reliable FTP client and server with lots of useful features and an intuitive interface.Version 3.9.0.1: MSW: Fix installation issue with locked DLLs... Read more
OS X Yosemite 10.10 DP4 - Developer Prev...
Note: This is a Developer Preview. You must be a registered Apple Mac Developer to download this update. OS X Yosemite is Apple's newest operating system for Mac. An elegant design that feels... Read more
FinderPop 2.5.6 - Classic Mac utility, n...
FinderPop is a Universal preference pane that extends OS X's contextual menus using a FinderPop Items folder much as the Apple Menu Items folder used to do for the Apple menu. It has other features... Read more
SpiderOak 5.1.7 - Secure cloud backup, s...
SpiderOak is a multi-platform secure online backup, storage, access, and sharing solution engineered for the consumer and small businesses. You must first sign up to use SpiderOak. Running natively... Read more
Espionage 3.6 - Simple, state of the art...
Espionage offers state-of-the-art encryption and plausible deniability for your confidential data. Sometimes, encrypting your data isn't enough to protect it. That's why Espionage 3 goes beyond data... Read more
calibre 1.45.0 - Complete e-library mana...
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
iFFmpeg 4.3.1 - Convert multimedia files...
iFFmpeg is a graphical front-end for FFmpeg, a command-line tool used to convert multimedia files between formats. The command line instructions can be very hard to master/understand, so iFFmpeg does... Read more
Chromium 36.0.1985.125 - Fast and stable...
Chromium is an open-source browser project that aims to build a safer, faster, and more stable way for all Internet users to experience the web. FreeSMUG-Free OpenSource Mac User Group build is... Read more
pwSafe 3.0 - Secure password management...
pwSafe provides simple and secure password management across devices and computers. pwSafe uses iCloud to keep your password databases backed-up and synced between Macs and iOS devices. It is... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Bio Inc. Review
Bio Inc. Review By Nadia Oxford on July 22nd, 2014 Our Rating: :: SICKENING - IN A COMPELLING WAYUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Bio Inc is about orchestrating the medical destruction of a single person. If that doesn’... | Read more »
HELMUT Review
HELMUT Review By Andrew Fisher on July 21st, 2014 Our Rating: :: TRUNDLE SIMULATOR 2014Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad HELMUT is a fun, fleeting time-sink that offers a momentary distraction and nothing else.   | Read more »
Walkr Review
Walkr Review By Jennifer Allen on July 21st, 2014 Our Rating: :: ORIGINAL WALKINGiPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad Walking is a bit more exciting thanks to this planet building/discovering sim reliant... | Read more »
Zombie Commando Review
Zombie Commando Review By Jennifer Allen on July 21st, 2014 Our Rating: :: MINDLESS SLAUGHTERUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Briefly fun but ultimately forgettable, Zombie Commando will scratch an itch then be... | Read more »
Swords & Poker Adventures Review
Swords & Poker Adventures Review By Jennifer Allen on July 21st, 2014 Our Rating: :: SOULLESS POKER PLAYUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Swords & Poker Adventures is a mishmash of Poker and RPGing, but it lacks... | Read more »
Warhammer 40,000: The Horus Heresy: Drop...
Warhammer 40,000: The Horus Heresy: Drop Assault Coming Soon to iOS Posted by Jennifer Allen on July 21st, 2014 [ permalink ] Coming soon to iOS will be an all-new Warhammer 40,000 tactical strategy game by the name of The Horus Heresy: Drop As | Read more »
A Life Worth Dying For Review
A Life Worth Dying For Review By Jordan Minor on July 21st, 2014 Our Rating: :: A BEAUTIFUL MINDUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad A Life Worth Dying For is a fascinating portrait of a serious subject.   | Read more »
Zombie Puzzle Panic Review
Zombie Puzzle Panic Review By Jordan Minor on July 21st, 2014 Our Rating: :: THE MATCHING DEADUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Zombie Puzzle Panic puts some pretty neat undead twists on Match-3 puzzling.   | Read more »
This Week at 148Apps: July 14-18, 2014
Expert App Reviewers   So little time and so very many apps. What’s a poor iPhone/iPad lover to do? Fortunately, 148Apps is here to give you the rundown on the latest and greatest releases. And we even have a tremendous back catalog of reviews; just... | Read more »
Fallen Lords Review
Fallen Lords Review By Andrew Fisher on July 18th, 2014 Our Rating: :: FALLS SHORTiPad Only App - Designed for the iPad Fallen Lords is a decent game, but its similarity and inferiority compared to Ghost Stories makes it ultimately... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Twelve South HiRise For MacBook – Height-Adju...
If you use your MacBook as a workhorse desktop substitute, as many of us do, a laptop stand combined with an external keyboard and pointing device are pretty much obligatory if you want to avoid... Read more
Why The Mac Was Not Included In The Apple/IBM...
TUAW’s Yoni Heisler cites Fredrick Paul of Network World whoi blogged last week that the Mac’s conspicuous absence from Apple and IBM’s landmark partnership agreement represents a huge squandered... Read more
Save $100 on 13-inch Retina MacBook Pros, plu...
Adorama has 13″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and Adorama charges sales tax in NY & NJ only: - 13″ 2.4GHz/128GB MacBook Pro with Retina Display: $1199 - 13″ 2.... Read more
Blurr it 2.3 for iOS – Quickly Blurs Selected...
Hyderabad, India based TouchLabs has announced a new update of Blurr it 2.3, their photography app for iOS users. Blurr it allows you to blur part of the image to hide potentially sensitive or... Read more
MacBook Airs on sale for $100 off MSRP, start...
Best Buy has the new 2014 MacBook Airs on sale for up to $100 off MSRP on their online store. Choose free home shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Prices valid for online orders only... Read more
Amazon Announces Kindle Unlimited: Unlimited...
Amazon.com has introduced Kindle Unlimited — a new subscription service which allows customers to freely read as much as they want from over 600,000 Kindle books, and listen as much as they want to... Read more
New Linksys Wireless Range Extenders Boost Wi...
Linksys has announced its new lineup of Linksys Wi-Fi Range Extenders. Consumers often experience a weak wireless signal in some parts of their house or apartment caused by blocking elements such as... Read more
MacBook Airs available starting at $719
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 2013 & 2012 MacBook Airs in stock today starting at $719. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each MacBook, and shipping is free: 2013... Read more
Get the best deals on iPad minis with Apple r...
The Apple Store has Certified Refurbished 2nd generation iPad minis with Retina Displays available for up to $130 off the cost of new models, starting at $339. Apple’s one-year warranty is included... Read more
Best Buy’s College Student Deals: $100 off Ma...
Take an additional $100 off all MacBooks and iMacs, $50 off iPad Airs and iPad minis, at Best Buy Online with their College Students Deals Savings, valid through July 25th. Anyone with a valid .EDU... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Computer Technician - Fairfield Coun...
Company DescriptionWe are an Apple Authorized Sales and Service Provider. We have been selling and servicing Apple computers in the Fairfield County area for over 20 Read more
*Apple* Computer Technician - Fairfield Coun...
Company DescriptionWe are an Apple Authorized Sales and Service Provider. We have been selling and servicing Apple computers in the Fairfield County area for over 20 Read more
Mac Expert - *Apple* Online Store Mexico -...
…MUST be fluent in English and Spanish to be considered for this position At Apple , we believe that hard work, a fun environment, creativity and innovation fuel the Read more
*Apple* Computer Technician - Fairfield Coun...
Company DescriptionWe are an Apple Authorized Sales and Service Provider. We have been selling and servicing Apple computers in the Fairfield County area for over 20 Read more
Mac Expert - *Apple* Online Store - Apple (...
**Job Summary** At Apple , we believe that hard work, a fun environment, creativity and innovation fuel the ultimate customer experience. We believe each customer Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.