Window vs. Mac War Over?

Using computers and information technology (IT) in general comes at a great price. It may consume electricity, human power, or intellectual curiosity. To become good at using something, usually takes many repeat failures and certainly many hours of study and operation.

In the IT space, just two major companies control the worldwide computer desktop: Microsoft with it’s Windows operating system, and second runner up Apple Computer with Mac OS X. Sure, niche players like Sun Microsystems Solaris, Red Hat Linux, or SUSE Linux are available, but are not being distributed on millions of desktops every fiscal quarter. So far there have been at least six releases of Windows counting all the way back from Windows NT, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows ME, Windows 2000, and Windows XP. Microsoft recently announced Windows Vista, to be released sometime in early 2007. All of these operating systems has evolved from the earlier release, and as the adoption rate increased worldwide, so did the various problems.

Apple Computer has released five Mac OS X products: Mac OS X Cheetah, Mac OS X Puma, Mac OS X Jaguar, Mac OS X Panther, and Mac OS X Tiger. Apple recently announced Mac OS X Leopard, to be releases sometime in future, probably in mid 2007. In the early days of desktop computing, there was a rapid one-upping, as each company bundled features, services, and support to hold parity. Prior to Mac OS X, under the Mac OS Classic environment (i.e., Mac OS 8 or Mac OS 9) there was competition, but with the release of Mac OS X, and especially after Mac OS X Jaguar, Apple pulled ahead and had never looked back.

The investment in Mac OS X is paying off now, as very high level support is now included in the operating system for OpenGL, content creation, and visualization unheard of in previous releases.
Apple Computer Mac OS X Development Milestones
Date Event
12/20/1996 | Apple Announced NeXT Deal
09/13/2000 | Mac OS X Beta Available
03/24/2001 | Mac OS X Cheetah 10.0 Available
09/29/2001 | Mac OS X Puma 10.1 Available
08/24/2002 | Mac OS X Jaguar 10.2 Available
10/23/2003 | Mac OS X Panther 10.3 Available
04/28/2005 | Mac OS X Tiger 10.4 Available
Q2/Q3 2007 | Mac OS X Leopard 10.5 Available

With added services also came added security. There is not a single instance of a Mac OS X virus released in the wild to take down Mac machines. On the Windows platform, it’s a regular spectator sport to see how many machine go down on a weekly basis due to spyware, malware, and computer viruses.

Operating system viruses and spyware cripple machines on the Windows side consistently. Antivirus and antispyware tools are not just available, but essential subscription based software to get the machines up and running on a daily basis. In a hypothetical scenario (actual hardware prices are today very competitively priced when performance is compared, i.e., oranges to oranges), if a company saves 10% to 20% on the initial purchase of commodity x86 hardware (or AMD), capable of running Microsoft Windows software, and in the course of the machines life gets hit not by one virus, but by multiple viruses, how much money was actually saved? It may be that the liabilities associated with the commodity hardware and a ubiquitous operating system like Windows actually cost 50% more than a Apple Power Mac G5 or iMac G5 networked system, when the cost of virus software, added security programs, salaries of MCSE technicians and engineers, and the regular system corruptions due to hackers and virus authors are taken into account.

Hive Mind Grid Computing Mac

There’s been a dream of mine to have multiple cheap machines networked in a way to form a hive mind, so commands on one distribute to all and work together. This is loosely called grid computing. Imagine 3 iMac G5’s, Power Mac G5’s, or PowerBook G4’s networked together to work as one. The future is now!

At NAB 2005, Apple announced Final Cut Studio, which allows distributed Compressor rendering/encoding, so through a dedicated gigabit ethernet or firewire infrastructure, you combine a few machines into a working super computer. Mac OS X Tiger has as it’s base a technology called Xgrid, which is a protocol for clustering machines together out of the box.

The secret to success is the gigabit ethernet connection running at 1 Gbps or 128 MB/s. so now in the new computing model, the CPU comes second to the network connection. In a few years 10 gigabit will be standard, passing 2 Gbps or 4 Gbps fibre channel.

So now that you can grid the machine together, how about storage? Apple has an Xsan solution. Xsan costs just below $1500 a workstation to get the computers to share storage ($999 Xsan seat license, $499 fibre channel PCI-X card). A much more elegant and economical solution, that works on panther 10.3.5 and above is iSCSI.

you remember SCSI? all macs had it before ATA. Storage engineers never gave up on SCSI, and are reintroducing the SCSI protocols, but over gigabit ethernet! On a more modern mac, you already have the port, or can easily get a $20 network PCI card (recommended approach to separate the storage network from the IP network). The beauty of iSCSI it can be entirely software based, so yes you get a performance hit, but imagine sharing all your hard drive on a small gigabit network using software SAN. This is revolutionary. Current vendors that support the Mac are ATTO technology and Studio Network Solutions. These companies are just the beginning to a wonderful marriage of storage, grid computing, and the Mac.

apple Xserve G5 cluster nodes
apple Xserve G5 cluster nodes

Do you do Wintel?

Cloak Media offers many services, and simple Windows XP integration (setting up a printer, networking, shared storage, etc.) into the Mac OS X environment is one of them. I know there are certain vertical applications that only run on Windows XP or Windows 98. On the Mac, Microsoft has VirtualPC, but it does not operate as fast as a true PC, since every service needs to be emulated. There is nothing like using an actual PC, but also expect the standard PC headaches, like viruses, spyware, malware, and regular instability.

I choose to concentrate on Apple Mac technologies. You can focus on what’s important, the applications and the workflow, not trying to get a square peg into a round whole, as is often the case on commodity hardware from the traditional Windows/Intel (Wintel) world (looking for drivers, registry fixes, scan disk, etc.). It’s worth a little more money upfront to get a system that works out of the box, without a lot of futzing, and that’s why Cloak Media works primarily with Mac OS X and Mac OS X Server.

Likewise, support costs are dramatically reduced on the Mac, since it does not break as often. In the history of Mac OS X, there has not been a single virus in the wild, but only theoretical attacks.

Linux on Power Mac G5

On Intel white boxes, the structure of the chipset is well understood and documented, however on the Apple Power Mac G5, Linux cannot be fully implemented and has many gaps in service. As of today, neither audio nor Mac-on-Linux work. I do not believe the latest crop of dual 2.3 GHz is supported at all through the GNU GPL, and only through Terra Soft Solutions paid subscriptions to Linux, currently priced at $30 with no manual, or $60 with a manual but without support, and finally $90 with 60 days support, can it install at all.

This makes Linux very price prohibitive to even attempt to run on my test bench. Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger costs at retail around $115 on an individual license, and just $180 for a five seat license (just $36 a seat) for a family. If compared to a full blown Mac OS X Server 10.4 Tiger model, then Linux would make a financial difference ($430 each license for 10 client Mac OS X Server). In my analysis, even though the operating system originates as open source, your ability to install and support that OS may make the initial “free” license very expensive. This does not include the niceties of having a multi-billion dollar company further developing the OS and bundling excellent applications for free like iTunes, iDVD, iCal, and GarageBand.

I will stay with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger and Mac OS X Server 10.4 Tiger until Linux is fully support on my test bench platform. It was a very short test, that ultimately ended without any experience in the Linux operating system.

apple dual power mac G5
apple dual power mac G5

Linux on PowerPC

It may seem odd, but in a high performance computing environments, it sometimes makes sense to run another UNIX variant on your stock PowerPC based Apple Mac. Over the course of several iterations, I will try to install Linux kernel 2.6.10 on a Power Mac G5, along with ancillary tools. I will report back on the results and performance testing as compared to the tried and true Mac OS X Tiger 10.4.2 release.

Welcome to Cloak Media

With the recent announcement that Mac OS X and Mac OS X Server will slowly transition from the PowerPC to the Intel chipset platform, I foresee worldwide customer interest in Apple products and solutions. For the first time in a long while, Apple revealed its upgrade trajectory, without the need of broad speculation and unabashed query. I am interested in the very high end of Apple product lines like:

Xserve RAID
Mac OS X Server

These solutions in the wireless communications (WiMax, Zigbee, GSM, etc.), direct advertising to mobile devices and flat panel displays (AVC enabled equipment like Sony playstation portable and 4G handsets), and the growth of high definition image acquisition (Panasonic AG-HVX200 camcorder and MPEG-4 H.264) will change the planet, if customers know about them and how they can benefit. The Macintosh is aptly positioned to make great industry and market advances, if the Apple Consultants Network, which Cloak Media is a member of, can bring in talented technologists that understand the Apple product line and how it can save customers money, time, and effort through a total cost of ownership model.

I know how Apple solutions can penetrate these new marketplaces. I can help you make the leap and be successful.