The Future of x86 computing

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As many may already know, Apple recently announced their first transition to x86 processor-based computers, a high-end laptop replacement for the now retired PowerBook. They have named it “MacBook Pro,” which is not a very enlightened name (not that any of their names are), but this one is particularly McDonald’s sounding (kind of like the Mac-Mini).

Once you get over the whole name thing, we have to acknowledge that this is an important step in the right direction. Having Apple software on x86 means that there will be more software standards and more compatibility across the board. Apple, which has been more forthcoming as far as releasing source code (Darwin and Safari for example), than Microsoft, has the opportunity to bridge the gap that currently exists between proprietary and free software. Apple has also been more willing to work with standards (such as the more standards-compliant browser, Safari contrasted with the coding disaster that is Internet Explorer). Porting applications to and from OS X should be much easier with a standard processing platform, if they are willing to cooperate.

Whether or not that will actually happen remains to be seen. What we should hope for is that open standards will prevail over patents and proprietary licenses. We already know that GNU/Linux and BSD-variants run on nearly all platforms, including PPC. Now, that will be expanded to a new area of Dual core Intel-based systems. It is also significant to note how much the free software movement has already taken advantage of the AMD64 processors. All of this leaves “Wintel” in the lurch trying to catch up with current standards.

Right now it would seem that Vista will be another mess of licenses, activation, and pirating. Nevertheless, the hope is that increased pressure from a growing free software movement will leave no room for anyone to choose proprietary software. It has always been a pain for someone who prefers the Apple hardware, to have to deal with the PPC binary incompatibility with x86 binaries. With that problem most likely eliminated, the only question to ask is why would anyone prefer proprietary software?

Contrary to what some people have written, x86 Macs will not increase competition for Linux, instead they will increase the likelihood that someone will explore an alternative to Windows and ultimately learn about the undeniable benefits of moving from partially free software (OS X) to completely free software.

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