Saturday, June 24, 2006



There are some very interesting "screenshots" that have recently been released purporting to be of the next version of Mac OS X, 10.5 "Leopard." The most tantalizing thing about these supposed screenshots is that apparently, Windows applications (in this case, Internet Explorer 7) can run natively on a Mac under OS X in Leopard.

If true, this is revolutionary. Windows and OS X applications running concurrently on a Mac? This is the Holy Grail of computing. Now, I don't know if these screenshots are real or not. If they're fake, they're superbly done. But here, it doesn't matter; I just want to talk about the idea, not whether or not Apple is actually doing it.


Now, there are positives and negatives to this idea. Before we go into them, let's examine exactly what we're talking about here. The new Macintoshes (as of 2006) are now based on Intel processors instead of the old IBM/Motorola/Freescale PowerPC processors. Since Intel (or Intel-compatible) processors power all Windows (and Linux, for that matter) PC's, that introduces a possible level of compatibility between Macs and PCs impossible previously. Already, Apple has released software called Boot Camp that allows the new Intel Macs to boot into Windows XP. Now, this is a separate boot situation: You can turn on your computer and have it be a Windows PC, or turn it on and have it be a Mac. While this is useful (for more details see my previous post on the subject) for occasionally running Windows-only software like games, it's anything but seamless, and there's almost no real benefit besides saving desk space over just buying an actual PC. The recently released Parallels software is another option for running Windows on your Mac: It provides an environment similar to the old Virtual PC, where Windows, and Windows applications, run in a window on your Mac. This is better than a dual-boot situation; you may lose a tiny bit of speed, but not much, because Parallels on an Intel Mac is not an emulator like Virtual PC on a PowerPC Mac; it's a "virtualization machine" and therefore runs at near-native speed. The problem with it is that it's still not seamless. Parallels is one application on your Mac; all your Windows applications run within that application, in a window with the Windows desktop in it. Functional, but ugly, and a bit of a pain to work with.

The ideal solution is something called a "compatibility layer." This will allow Windows applications to exist side-by-side with Mac applications—completely seamlessly. Done right, the only way you'll know which kind of application you're running is by how it (the application itself) looks and behaves. Instead of being like having a Windows machine on your Mac, it would be like simply running Windows applications in the same way you run Mac applications. In a perfect world, Windows apps would exist on your hard drive right next to your Mac apps and documents and files, with the only distinguishable difference being in the icon. Mac OS 9 (Classic) applications work exactly like this on PowerPC-based OS X machines now. There is currently no way to do this, but the Darwine project is working on it, and this is what is promised by the Leopard screenshots mentioned above.


What are the ups and downs of this last method? Well, the ups are obvious. Being able to run any Windows application natively on my Mac without having to deal with the horrid Windows operating system is, as mentioned above, the Holy Grail of computing. There have been many times where some service or game or function that I wanted to access or use was only available for Windows, and I didn't have a Windows machine or emulator, so I and my beloved Mac were left out in the cold.

The downs are a little more interesting. Viruses are obviously the biggest threat. I don't need to describe here how horrible the virus situation is in the Windows world. Running Windows on your Mac obviously exposes you to virus risks that are currently nonexistent for OS X. Dual booting is no more or less risky than simply using a Windows box. Your Mac is a Windows box then. The situation is similar running virtualization software; whatever partition of your hard drive is dedicated to Windows is vulnerable to Windows viruses. The virus risk for compatibility layers is an unknown; we've never seen one in the wild, so it's hard to tell. There's reason to hope, for solutions like Darwine, that the virus risk would be somewhat lessened, as you're running Windows applications, but not Windows itself. With the hypothetical Leopard version, however, it doesn't look like that would apply, as the screenshots imply that Windows is running in the background (just like Mac OS 9 does for Classic now). It could even increase your Mac's exposure to viruses if, as I suggest above, Windows applications reside on the same logical drive that your Mac applications do…which is why it won't be done that way.

But there's a much more important potential "down," that I mentioned in detail in my previous post on the subject: That the ability to run Windows software on your Mac will serve as a serious disincentive for developers to write new software on the Mac. This was my biggest fear before, and is echoed by others, for instance this comment on MacRumors: "[Running Windows apps natively]= the end of native Mac development as we know it"

I certainly understand why people might think so, but I no longer do. See, my Economics classes have finally started to have some effect in my brain, and I think the process will work itself out quite differently from the "Those Macies can just fire up Windows if they need to use our software. Ha ha ha (evil laugh)." scenario. In fact, given the insights from my Economics classes, I suspect it might be just the opposite: The ability to seamlessly run Windows apps on the Mac will attract millions (yes, millions) of new Mac users. This will increase the Mac's market-, user-, and mind-share dramatically. These new converts from Windows will run their old Windows software, sure, but as time goes on, they will gradually migrate to Mac OS X applications (exactly as happened during the transition from OS 9 to OS X via Classic), because of the greater esthetic value, interoperability, compatibility and functionality of Mac software on the Mac platform vs. Windows software on the Mac platform. Besides (and this is really the killer point), it doesn't matter if they migrate or not. Maybe they will all keep using the old software they've got until it's so old that it's useless. Still, when they go to buy new software, they will look for Mac software first. If they can't find any at wherever they're looking, sure, they'll buy Windows software and use that. No big loss. The point is, though, that a developer that offers a Mac version of their software has an opportunity to make a sale that the developer of Windows-only software will miss out on. This will provide a powerful incentive for software developers to program for the Mac. No, this won't cause every single Windows publisher to put out a Mac version. Not by a long shot. But, if Leopard does include native Windows support, and if that in fact causes a boom of Mac switcher sales, expect the amount of Mac software (and, possibly, even Mac-only software) to increase, not decrease.

Gavin Shearer of Microsoft has an interesting article with a similar perspective on this issue.

Posted By Calion to Genius/Idiot—Current Thoughts at 6/24/2006 06:18:00 PM

Friday, June 09, 2006


Alright, I haven't posted here in a looong time, and frankly hadn't intended to, but an item I ran across has incensed me so much that I just couldn't stop myself.

The essence of the story is this: A passenger asks too many questions during the airline screening process, and is subsequently held, interrogated, bullied and threatened with arrest by government officials. The story is actually a bit scarier than that, but I'm wanting to focus on something else: the fact that simply asking questions makes you a suspect in our War on Terror.

Let's think about this for a minute. What sort of person is likely to be asking awkward questions during a security screening? A terrorist? Good God, no. Asking questions is the last thing a criminal or terrorist is likely to do. "What if the terrorists are investigating the security system?" one might ask. What if they are? Again, the last thing a competent terrorist (and al Qaeda has shown that, if nothing else, it is competent) would do is to actually ask about the security; it might draw attention, and therefore suspicion, to themselves. No, what actual terrorists will do is send someone through the targeted checkpoint several times. Heck, make him a regular flyer; a familiar face. In fact, if he is going to ask any questions, it will be of the names of the screeners, so he can say, "Hi, Bob, how's it going today?" He will become familiar; ingratiated; a no-threat. Someone that gets the most cursory pat-down, or gets to bypass the more intrusive measures, because he's "safe."

That's the high-investment scenario. It's risky, because you still might get caught when you actually have the weapon or explosive on you. Another is the shotgun approach: send a bunch of people through a bunch of checkpoints a bunch of times, so that you get a notion of what behaviors are safe, of what always gets checked, what usually gets checked, and what only rarely or exceptionally gets checked. Then, on der Tag, send twenty different people (carrying weapons, or explosives, or whatever) though twenty different checkpoints at twenty different airlines at as close to the same time as possible. Sure, some of them will get caught, and your terrorist ring is busted; but there is a strong likelihood, if you've done your homework, that several will get through to do the mission.

There are other possibilities, which I'm not going to go into here; this isn't a terrorist training manual. Heck, for all I know, the two ideas above are horrible ones that would never work for some reason. The point is that no intelligent terrorist is ever going to ask awkward questions. They're not interested in civil liberties. They're not afraid of humiliation. Their only interest is to get through the process without calling attention and suspicion to themselves.

So if detaining and interrogating question-askers and rights-asserters doesn't do anything to harm or deter terrorists, who does it harm?

Why, you and me, of course.

Even if we never fly on an airplane, it harms us. Intimidating, bullying and threatening someone who simply asks what his rights are has only one effect: to condition us never to question authority. It doesn't stop terrorists. It doesn't hurt terrorists. In fact, if, as President Bush claims, what the terrorists hate is our freedom, it helps the terrorists. By treating anyone outside of the norm as a suspect (note that I'm not talking about strange-but-quiet behaviors like what the SPOT program is targeting; SPOT is a good idea (UPDATE: er...or, well, maybe not)), we inculcate the idea that being in any way out-of-the-ordinary is criminal. By detaining those who question the system, we ensure that the system is never questioned. By refusing to publish the rules, we condition the people to accept whatever they are told.

How is this anti-terror?

It's not.

It's anti-freedom.

It's anti-American.

Don't for a moment think that this is going to end at the airline check-in counter. This is a precedent that will spread, and spread, until it ultimately dominates the American landscape, unless something is done.

Make no mistake: the American police state is here.

Posted By Calion to Genius/Idiot—Current Thoughts at 6/09/2006 07:30:00 AM