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ATPM 4.11
November 1998



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Apple Cider: Random Squeezings from a Mac User

by Tom Iovino,

The Evolution Revolution

Do you want to start an argument?

Some of us like to, you know. Growing up in New Jersey helped me hone my disagreement skills through the enthusiastic cooperation of fellow Garden Staters.

One way you can get a good spat going is to go to a football game wearing a jersey with the visiting team’s colors. Just try wearing a Dallas Cowboy jersey into Giants stadium on game day. You could also ask a married couple with children who changes the most diapers. I hear that you can get a few PC users and a few Mac users together in a room and watch the sparks fly as well.

One of the better argument starters is to take a stand on the theory of how life began. Mention that you believe in the theory of Evolution, and some people will tell you that you are wrong. Mention that you subscribe to the Creationist theory, and others will take issue with you. It’s one of those theological/biological/existential arguments which will transcend time, much like the classic ‘Less Filling, Tastes Great.’

Now, this month’s Cider isn’t really going to try to tackle the issue of how life began. However, you do have to admit that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution does raise some interesting points.

Darwin’s theory, in a nutshell, is that species will, given enough time, evolve to adapt to conditions as best they can. Through the generations, only the fastest, strongest, best-camouflaged members of a particular species will pass their specific traits to the following generations. Those who can no longer adapt will be swept aside. Call it natural selection or survival of the fittest.

OK, now that I have proven that I read a few pages of my biology textbooks in college, what does this have to do with Apple Computer?


Because, once upon a time, 68k chips ruled the land.

From the original Macintosh, which debuted in 1984, through the early 1990's, Apple had based our favorite computer on the Motorola 680x0, or 68k, processor. This processor had seen a number of improvements from 1984 through the early 1990's, having evolved from the original 68000, through the 68020, 68030, and finally, the 68040 series.

While it is true that the 68040 chips were far faster than the original 68000 chips, the basic programming for Macintosh software was pretty much the same. Processor speed increases were achieved through the production of more efficient chips.

Then, in 1994, things changed. Well, not right away, but the impetus for change was there. Motorola, in cooperation with IBM (yes, IBM, the people who shaped the personal computer industry which Microsoft and Intel now lord over) and Apple, developed a new generation of processors. These new processors, called PowerPC chips, utilized a different architecture and design to give software a huge speed boost.

The only problem was that the new chip needed programs written in a slightly different code to work their magic. These new processors are also called Reduced Instruction Set Computer, or RISC chips. So, programs would have to be re-worked in order to take advantage of the speed benefits.

Since the already installed base of Macs running on 68k chips couldn’t utilize the new PowerPC (PPC) code, and there were so few PPC Macs in the hands of users, software developers became a little leery of rewriting their code completely from scratch for the new Macs.

How did Apple overcome this hurdle? Easy. They made the PPC Macs look like 68k Macs to software through an emulator. Graeme Bennett wrote shortly after the PowerPC chip was debuted:

...the Power Macintoshes use a “Mixed Mode Manager,” a software component that analyzes instructions and decides if they should be passed to the software that handles the 680x0 emulation, or run in the PowerPC chip’s native mode. If a program contains both PowerPC and 680x0 code (as Apple’s Power Macintosh System software does), the Mixed Mode Manager turns the emulator on and off as the program is running.

As time went by and the RISC chip looked like less of a RISK for software developers, they began to reprogram their products with the new Power PC code. At first, almost all developers produced ‘fat’ programs—programs with both the 68k and PPC instructions in them so they could be used interchangeably. This provided native code which the PPC chip could use without having to access the 68k emulator, while giving users programs that worked well on the 68k platforms.

Soon, however, as the base of PPC Macs expanded, some programs were being produced exclusively for the PPC Mac. At first, it was just games where speed added to the experience of game play, but soon other programs began to exploit the speed gains the PPC chip provided.

It was at this point that the sun was beginning to set on the 68k Macs.

Because, as developers were working to develop new applications for the Mac, Apple’s OS developers began to redraft portions of the operating system to help speed the computers along. Emulators are a bottleneck to swift performance. Not too long after, the tables had turned, and it was the 68k Macs which had to have new libraries and patches loaded into their systems to make software run.

And, all of this work on the Mac OS to utilize the speed of the PPC chip has led to obsolescence. Yes, even in the Macintosh family.

At first, the number of Macs which couldn’t advance with the latest version of system software was very limited. The Macintosh 128k and 512k, which had made the big leap to System 7 in 1991, couldn’t make the cut to System 7.5. System 7.6 whacked out the Plus, SE and SE/30, Classic, II, IIx, IIcx, and LC.

But the big blood-letting happened when Apple released Mac OS 8. By the time Mac OS 8 was released last year, the PPC Macs had been on the market for four years. Motorola had improved the line of PPC’s from the original 601 series to the 603 and 604 series chips, and was just beginning to unveil the latest and greatest Third Generation (G3) chips.

So, everything that wasn’t a full-fledged 68040 chip or greater got left in the dust. So long to the entire II series. All of your LC’s can take a hike. Sure, you can still use the older version of the Mac OS software, but owners of these computers have been left with two options—pay up for the latest and greatest computers, or do without all of the fancy features that are now being touted for the latest incarnations of the Mac OS.

Apple has made the type of leap that now separates Neanderthals from modern Homo Sapiens with the release of Mac OS 8.5. According to an October 5th Mac-In-Touch report:

Mac OS 8.5 will run only on Power Macs and PowerPC-based PowerBooks. (In contrast, Mac OS 8.0 and 8.1 also support 68040-based systems.) According to the Mac OS 8.5 documentation, “you cannot use Mac OS 8.5 on a computer with a 680x0 processor that has been upgraded with a PowerPC processor upgrade card” (even one of Apple’s).

My Neolithic jaw nearly hit the floor when I read that. Could it be that the time had finally come for the entire line of 68k Macs, the machines which we fell in love with, to be left in the evolutionary dust?

While it is true that older Macs will still be able to run the former versions of the Mac OS, it is as if they are now like bugs, frozen in time in a block of solid amber. Relics of a former age. New programs will become more scarce. New features will be introduced to the Macintosh, but not available to any but the PPC-equipped. Support for 68k’s will be turned over to friends who can vaguely remember how things used to be or the information located in archival Web sites.
I had always feared this day would come. From the minute that first Power Mac 6100 rolled into stores, the wheel was set in motion. I guess it was inevitable. And, the speed with which the high-tech industry is racing forward is only going to lead to the eventual obsolescence of other processors. One day, the 601 chips will no longer be supported, followed by the 603's and 604's. Even the latest and greatest G3 chips which drop jaws today will no longer be sufficient to keep pace with the features provided by the latest incarnation of the Mac OS. I wonder how the iMac will look as an aquarium?

So, as I sit in my cave, wrapped in woolly mammoth skins, with my trusty club in one hand and my 68k-powered LC 580 in the other, I will see the new breed of Mac users crossing into territory I used to master.

And I will have two options:

Adapt, or become a footnote in history. [apple graphic]

“Apple Cider” is Copyright © 1998 by Tom Iovino,

Also in This Series

Reader Comments (2)

anonymous · June 6, 2003 - 21:30 EST #1
Let it be known that 68030-based Macintoshes can run Mac OS 8 or 8.1. Apple had rigged it for OS 8 to not work on 68030 machines to force users to upgrade. Let it also be known that a 68030-based Macintosh users can find, in various places on the Internet, ways of installing Mac OS 8 and 8.1 on their machines. Such shenanigans are also possible for older PPC Macintosh users who wish to run Mac OS X.
Tom Iovino (ATPM Staff) · June 9, 2003 - 08:17 EST #2
Remember, it was ingenuity that allowed the Wright Brothers to take to the skies over Kitty Hawk, North Carolina a century ago...

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