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Potential Mac OS X future roadmap and evolution


 

OS X architecture roadmap

You may or may not remember a time when Mac OS X was for Macintoshes (later renamed Macs) only. This is no longer the case, since recently several non Mac devices now sport versions of OS X.

Note the distinction between Mac OS X and “just” OS X without the Mac prefix.

The current state of affairs shows OS X running on three main architectures.

  • Mac OS X 10.5 on Intel in the new range of Mac Pro, iMac, Mac Mini and MacBook computers along with a 10.4 based variant running on the Apple TV
  • Mac OS X 10.5 on PowerPC (PPC) in the old range of PowerMac, iMac and PowerBook computers.
  • Mac OS X 10.4 based (?) ARM variant in the iPod and iPhone series of handheld devices.
This means that Apple are currently supporting four distinct versions of OS X on three architectures. This is certainly possible, although recent production delays and quality issues here and there would suggest that supporting all of them is putting a strain on Apple.
Apple, I believe, are going to rectify this situation significantly in the near future and reduce the number of architectures and variants.
 
Power is dead, long live Power
  • First, they will most probably be dropping PPC G5 and earlier from Mac OS X as of 10.6.
This means that the main branch of their OS will be Intel only.
Speculating, then Apple TV type devices (if not the Apple TV itself) might run this new OS.
But wouldn’t this be a waste of their Power architecture knowledge?
  • Yes it would, that’s why, with their recent purchase of P.A. Semi they are going to continue OS X development for their PWRficient range of Power chips!

So how does this help them?

  • Apple have alluded to the fact that PA Semi will create system on a chip solutions for future devices. Thus, most probably iPod, iPhone and any future handheld devices will use the Power architecture. Apple TV type devices might even move to this platform, rather than staying with Intel.

The big question here is what happens to the ARM Branch?

  • Their investment in that branch is nowhere near that of their Intel and PPC incestments, so they may justify writing it off.
Thus, the future picture may look like this:
 
Mac OS X on Intel only
  • Desktop / Laptop and potential future mini PCs. (perhaps Apple TV like appliances).
OS X on Power (note the lack of Mac in the title)
  • iPhone, iPod, future handheld devices, future Apple TV and other appliances.

The only fuzzy area in the above picture is where do the “middle” devices (i.e. neither handheld nor portable) fit? Will they fall on the Intel side or the PWRficient SOC side? 

Either way, this is a much more streamlined future and should help focus the Mac brand and the OS X brands while helping future development and maintainability.

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