More pieces in Apple’s jigsaw puzzle…

By Alan Ralph on June 29, 2020 — 3 mins read

Howard Oakley summed up his thoughts on the announcements from last week’s WWDC (Worldwide Developer Conference) as they pertain to the Macs, and the move from Intel processors to ‘Apple Silicon’ (which I really hope is a placeholder until they come up with something snappier). This passage in particular leapt out at me:

Among the most interesting pieces which have been in place for many years are Apple’s role as a co-founder of what soon was to become ARM. At the time, its processor designs were primarily intended for Apple’s Newton PDA, because of their exceptionally low energy consumption. But three years earlier, its antecedent Acorn Computers had launched its own desktop PC, the Archimedes, based on its own RISC processor. Apple’s immediate need may have been for palmtop devices, but I’m sure there was considerable interest in what ARM processors could do in a full-sized computer.

When Apple’s chosen Motorola processors were starting to hold back Mac hardware development, a RISC-based future was looking more promising. The year after ARM came into being, Apple joined with IBM and Motorola to develop a different series of RISC processors, the PowerPC. Although these served well in desktop Macs, they couldn’t compete with the likes of Intel in the flourishing laptop market. In 2005, Apple officially announced that Macs would switch to Intel processors, and its PowerPC venture was dead.

Engineering development using ARM-designed processors hadn’t died, though. In 2007 came the iPhone, the most successful platform for low-powered RISC processors yet. Apple began buying stakes in companies like Imagination Technologies, who design PowerVR mobile GPUs, and bringing in the technology to design its own Systems on a Chip (SoC), most notably when it acquired P A Semi in 2008 amd Intrinsity two years later.

I wasn’t aware that Apple had involvement in ARM going that far back. I get a bit misty-eyed at the mention of Acorn Computers — I owned a couple of their 8-bit home computers back in the 1980s, and was sorely tempted by the Archimedes, but eventually made the hard-headed decision to get a PC instead. (This was the early 1990s, and I’d left university and gone straight into an IT jobs slump — knowledge of the computers businesses were using trumped geek cred, and that eventually turned out to be the case for me.)

My current Intel-based iMac should be good for another 3-4 years, so a lot of these hardware changes won’t affect me any time soon. However, I’m somewhat concerned for the prospects of being able to dual-boot Windows or Linux alongside macOS, and how well virtual machine environments like Parallels Desktop will work on Apple Silicon.

For the moment, though, there’s at least one piece missing: where does Windows fit in? Microsoft’s name came up often enough, in connection with its porting of Office 365 to the new Apple Silicon Macs, and Linux was identified running sweetly on the screen. But the W word was studiously avoided. Early during WWDC, Parallels almost gave the game away, like the small child who can’t contain a secret any longer. “Our award-winning Parallels Desktop for Mac software makes it simple for businesses and individuals to use the applications and files from any operating system they need on their Macs.”

Any operating system then? The answer we’re left with is alluring but uninforming: “We look forward to sharing more information about Parallels Desktop’s support for Mac with Apple Silicon in the future.”

I must admit, my need for Windows these days has dwindled down to pretty much just games. (While both Steam and GOG Galaxy are available for Macs, the loss of support for 32-bit apps in macOS Catalina means that only a few games in my library will actually run.) So I guess I’ll be making the most of Boot Camp while I can.

Linux is another option, as there has been a lot of progress made in supporting games in that environment, to the point where some titles run better there than they do in Windows.

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