[nSLUG] Linux on X86 Powerbooks

George White aa056 at chebucto.ns.ca
Tue Jun 14 13:47:38 ADT 2005

On Mon, 13 Jun 2005, Jason Kenney wrote:

> > The press reports I've seen haven't mentioned support for f.p. math.  At
> > one time, f.p. library issues were given as the reason Matlab was not
> > ported to OS X.  Many numerical analysts liked m68k macs for the Apple
> > SANE library and flat memory model.  When Apple moved to PPC they switched
> > to IBM OS/2 and then linux or Windows NT.
> >
> > Many educational institutions had good experiences with Apple (and
> > currently stuggle with AV and spam on Win XP).  If Matlab becomes
> > available on OS X for Intel, and given the open source Darwin kernel,
> > Apple could make big gains in education.
> It's not clear to me what the current situation is, but Matlab does 
> currently run on OS X in some form. But it is really, really slow.

Probably the m68k version under emulation.
> Matlab also runs on FreeBSD in linux compatibility mode, and actually runs 
> faster in that, than it does on linux with similar hardware (from 
> several isolated cases, there may have been other factors involved as 
> well, I no longer have access to those machines). Except for anything to 
> do with graphics.
> Given the two pieces of information above, I can't see Matlab not 
> appearing on an OS X for Intel hardware.

Given that Matlab runs on unix and linux, it woudl be pretty simple for
Mathworks to release a version that uses X-windows.  That is what some
other vendors have done.

Sadly, I doubt Matlab sales will ever be large enough to influence Apple's
design decisions, but Matlab could be a big factor in the success of 
Apple on Intel since Matlab is a key consideration for many universities.

It would be interesting to know how Adobe's support costs compare between
Photoshop on the Mac and on Intel hardware.  I suspect the Mac is
significantly easier to support since you don't have as many issues with
buggy graphics and network drivers, malware, etc.  Companies like Adobe
and Mathworks view university sales as "marketing".  It doesn't cost much
to provide media to universities, so support is the main direct cost of
university sales.  Lower support costs would be a reason for vendors to
encourage universities to switch from linux/windows to Apple hardware. 

Apple needed a better laptop chipset, and the economics probably
don't favor designing a laptop chipset just for Apple. For the high-end
desktop, Apple needs Photoshop to run faster than it does on the other
desktop platform.  IBM's high-end CPU's can't live in a desktop
environment, but they certainly outperform anything AMD/Intel can do in
Windows XP, so the question is whether Apple's willingness to switch will
induce IBM to come up with a new high-end desktop CPU.

I suspect it would only be economic if IBM can use the same chips in
servers (e.g., blades).  Maybe the constraints on cooling in desktops are
such that it doesn't make sense to use the same CPU for both low-end
servers and high-end desktops anymore.  In any case, the time for IBM to
deliver may be past -- PPC's initial appearance in the top supercomputers
list needed be followed by multiple systems with new PPC CPU's, but
instead we see AMD/Intel dominating. 

George White <aa056 at chebucto.ns.ca> <gnw3 at acm.org>
189 Parklea Dr., Head of St. Margarets Bay, Nova Scotia  B3Z 2G6


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