Solipsism Gradient

Rainer Brockerhoff’s blog

Browsing Posts published in January, 2007

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MacWorld predictions (and the parallel tracking of the options “scandal”) are growing ever more frenzied, and even starting to overlap, with a pronounced “Chinese whispers” effect, even stronger than usual. I’m not a lawyer or stock/options expert, but my bogometer just about pegged. Frankly I can’t see how Steve Jobs resigning (or even taking some time off for “health reasons”) would help Apple stockholders in any way. FWIW, I think nothing serious will come of this… and I’m not selling off my AAPL stock before the keynote.

Looking over the spate of recent rumors, it struck me that it’s very likely that a future small Apple device would feature an “embedded” Mac OS X. After all, embedded CPUs are constantly becoming more powerful, and RAM and flash memory capacities on embedded devices are also growing – and Unix-like OSes are known for being well-suited to embedding.

At first glance, Mac OS X is a huge beast. You need several gigabytes drive space for a normal install, and half a gigabyte of RAM is now standard on Macs – meaning, double that is the minimum for serious use. However, most of that stuff is necessary for general use. If you look inside the system folders you’ll see tons of drivers for all currently supported hardware configurations, tons of frameworks for all sorts of applications, and lots of extra apps and utilities.

In contrast, any embedded device running Mac OS X would have a stripped-down version of the kernel (most probably supporting only one CPU), the exact selection of drivers and frameworks needed for that device, and one single application controlling the user interface. Supporting additional applications would be relatively easy once their focus is defined. Looking at it in another way, this describes the original Mac very well… and it had 64K of ROM, 128K of RAM and 400K of disk space. That’s much less than the iPod has, of course.

So how small could Mac OS X be squeezed in order to fit into the iTV, or into any rumored handheld Apple thingy/paradigm smasher? That’s hard to say. Offhand I’d estimate 64 to 256MB of flash memory, anything from half to double that of RAM, and that without raising the price too much, given the volume discount Apple could get.

Re: What, already?

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Scott Stevenson just posted “The Year in Mac Development“, an excellent summary. Two comments on specific points…

Re: interface guidelines:

If you need one rule to follow, make it this: don’t introduce new behaviors for existing controls. Don’t make a checkbox act like a push button or a slider act like a scroll bar. That will confuse users. If you need new behavior, make a new control. And when in doubt about UI standards, just do as Apple does.

I’d just sent a build of XRay II for a developer friend to look at – a very early pre-alpha, I hasten to add – and he called my attention to a detail on the UI. While replying to this, it occurred to me that almost all of my UI was custom controls; the only exception were scrollers and text fields. However, my friend hadn’t caught on to this at all, as the custom controls looked and behaved for the most part like Apple’s controls – or at least, like users think Apple’s controls should behave. A good example for this is of course RBSplitView; you can twiddle it to look just like any variation of Apple’s split views look, while underneath it’s all new code.

So, I’d amend Scott’s comment here to “don’t introduce new behaviors to existing controls unless they’re expected. Make a checkbox act as a better checkbox, not like a pushbutton.” Flashy visuals may well be nice or even appropriate in specific situations, but they’re liable to get in the way of the “just works” experience.

Re: marketing shareware controversies:

Perhaps most importantly, these events took the idea of buying independent Mac software out of the shadows and brought it into the community’s consciouness. A lot of the stigma of supporting smaller developers has been lifted, hopefully improving things for everyone involved.

For various reasons, I’ve stayed away from (or wasn’t invited, which was just as well) these new marketing events, tempting though they looked at first sight. They seem directed at a more general public than what is intended for my main application. Still, it’s interesting to note that my downloads and sales have picked up noticeably in the last 6 months. No idea if this is due to the effect Scott comments on, though…

Coming back to MacWorld, here are some more expectations I saw on various sites:

– iApps. Well, of course they’ll be improved as usual, and the Leopard versions will use stuff from the new frameworks. I still can’t understand why so many people turn this concept completely around and mention small app changes when they talk about the OS releases, though.

– iPods. Another area where incremental improvements go without saying. Apple might have a reply to the Zune ready, perhaps with a larger screen for video, perhaps with the patented touchscreen/body. Still, I’m not excited about this.

– Some people are – maybe only half in jest – suggesting that Steve Jobs will announce a career change. Perhaps a Bill Gates-like lateral promotion to “Chief Technologist”? There might something to that. The recent options flap showed that Wall Street’s expectations of a CEO’s functions are increasingly dissociated from what Jobs really does (or should be doing, anyway) at Apple. Of course you and me know that Tim Cook, the COO, already does the dull back-end operations stuff, but do the analysts understand that? I don’t think so.

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