The name of the game for all large technology companies is platform unification and domination, with each of them vying to become the platform that consumers choose. Microsoft has been on a long and winding road to accomplishing this since they first talked about it 3 years ago and Apple has been flirting with the idea ever since it started developing its iOS line of products with features like the App Store making its way back into OSX. Neither of them are really there yet as Windows 8/WinRT are still nascent and requiring a lot more application development before the platform can be considered unified and there is still a wide schism betwen iOS and OSX that Apple hasn’t really tried to bridge.
Predominately that’s because Apple understands that they’re two different markets and their current product strategy doesn’t really support bridging those two markets. The iOS space is pretty much a consumer playground as whilst you can do some of the things that Apple’s previous OS was known for on there its far from being the creative platform that OSX was (and still is, to some extent). Indeed attempts to bridge their previous products with more consumer orientated versions have been met with heavy criticism from their long time fans and their failure to provide meaningful product updates to their creative powerhouse the Mac Pro has also drawn the ire of many creative professionals.
If I’m honest I didn’t really think that Apple would turn their backs on the creative niche that is arguably responsible for making them what they are today. It’s understandable from the company’s point of view to focus your attention on the most profitable sectors, much like games developers do with the whole console priority thing, but it almost feels like the time when Apple still considered itself a player in the enterprise space, only to quietly withdraw from it over the course of a couple years. Whilst there isn’t much evidence to support this idea the latest rumours circulating that they may be considering a switch to ARM for their desktop line doesn’t help to dispel that idea.
ARM, for the uninitiated, is a processor company based out of Cambridge that’s responsible for approximately 95% of all the processors that power today’s smartphones. They are unquestionably the kings of the low power space with many of their designs being able to achieve incredible efficiencies which is what enables your phone to run for hours instead of minutes. Whilst they may no longer be the supplier for the chips that powers Apple’s current line of iOS products their technology is still the basis for them. Suffice to say if you’ve got any piece of mobile technology it’s likely that there’s some kind of ARM processor in there and it’s the reason why Microsoft chose it as their second platform for the WinRT framework.
Apple switching platforms is nothing new as they made the switch to x86/Intel back in 2006. The reason back then was that PowerPC, made by IBM, was not able to keep pace with the rapid improvements in performance that Intel was making but was also because of the performance-per-watt of their processors which was arguably why AMD wasn’t considered. Apple’s direction has changed considerably since then and their focus is much more squarely aimed at portable experiences which is far better served by the low power processors that ARM can deliver. For things like the MacBook and the Air lower power means a longer battery life, probably the most key metric by which these portable computers are judged by.
There’s no doubt that Apple will be able to make the transition however I’m not sure that the cost to them, both in real and intangible terms, would be worth it. Forgetting all the technical challenges in getting all your third parties to re-architect their applications the unfortunate fact is that ARM doesn’t have a processor that’s capable of performing at the same level that Intel’s current line is. This means for creative applications like photo/video editing, graphic design and the like their current software suites will simply not be viable on the ARM platform. Since the transition is a ways off its possible that ARM might be able to design some kind of high power variant to satisfy this part of the market but traditionally that’s not their focus and since the desktop sector is one of Apple’s smallest revenue generators I can’t see them wanting to bother doing so.
This is not to say that this would be a bad move for Apple at large however. Being able to have a consistent architecture across their entire line of products is something that no other company would be able to achieve and would be an absolute boon to those seeking a ubiquitous experience across all their devices. It would also be a developer’s wet dream as you could make a cross-platform applications far more easily than you could with other platforms. Considering that Apple makes the majority of its money from ARM based platforms it doesn’t come as much surprise that they might be considering a move to it, even if that’s at the cost of creative sector that brought them back from the graveyard all those years ago.
I don’t usually comment on Apple rumours, mostly because they’re usually just a repeat of the same thing over and over again, but this one caught my attention because if it turns out to be true it will mark Apple’s final step away from its roots. Whilst the creative professionals may lament the disappearance of a platform they’ve been using for over 2 decades the saving grace will be the fact that on a feature level the Windows equivalents of all their programs are at feature parity. Apple will then continue down the consumer electronics road that it has been for the past 10+ years and where it will go from there will be anyone’s guess.
Ah the flying car, it’s like the milestone that needs to be hit before the general public believes we’re living in the future. I guess it’s because its so elusive, every time someone has made a prediction that we’d have one in X years (much like the jet pack) we’d inevitably reach that goal without a hint of it coming into reality. The reasons behind it are fairly simple, flying isn’t exactly easy and it’s not clear what the potential benefits of a flying car would be even if it could be made for mass use. Realistically it’s a solution in search of a problem and that’s the main reason why there’s been little serious development in the idea.
Of course there is a cross-over niche where some kind of flying car would have a potential market. There are many people who have their own aircraft, typically small 2 to 8 seater types, who do use them to travel distances that we’d usually take a commercial flight for. When they get to their destination though they’re in the same boat as we are, needing to find some kind of last mile transportation. The current solutions to this problem are the same for all travellers (hire cars, public transport, friends, etc.) but there’s been a few companies looking into solving this problem by making the air craft they take there road legal.
These are called, funnily enough, roadable aircraft.
The idea isn’t exactly new with examples of such craft dating all the way back to the 1930’s. Most of these designs weren’t terribly practical however usually requiring heavy amounts of work to transition between car and plane modes. There are several working modern designs that use parachutes to generate lift but they again suffer from practicality problems, usually being limited to joy craft rather than an actual useful means of transportation. There are 2 companies that have caught my eye in this space however and both of them has just recently made their maiden flight.
Terrafugia is a company that would be familiar to a lot of people since they’ve been attempting to make a roadable aircraft for just on 6 years. Their design, called the Transition, is an interesting one as it’s clear from the design that it’s primarily an aircraft that’s been modified to work on the road. To switch between plane and car modes the wings fold up along side it, allowing it to fit into standard size car spaces. Whilst its performance is nothing spectacular it does sport a rather incredible range for a vehicle, able to fly up to 787km or drive up to 1296KM. As they develop it further I’m sure they’ll make improvements to it as I’m sure I can recall those specs being a lot worse in the past.
The one that really caught my (and everyone else’s it seems) attention recently was the PAL-V One which takes yet another intriguing stab at the roadable aircraft idea. Instead of using wings to generate lift it instead relies on a set of helicopter blades that provide lift through autorotation with the thrust provided by a pusher propeller. Aviation nuts will recognise that system as an autogyro a curious combination of helicopter and plane components. The transition between autogyro and enclosed motorcycle takes about 10 minutes but can be done by a single pilot without any additional tools. Whilst I can’t see much of a use for it now (the runway requirement kind of puts out of reach for any domestic use) I really do think the design is quite cool.
Whilst both these craft are amazing in their own right they do highlight the issue with combining driving and flying. They are really 2 completely different methods of travel and neither of them will let a regular person with a driver’s license be a pilot of them. Indeed both of these craft will require a private pilot’s license if you want to fly them. Getting one isn’t exactly out of reach for everyone but still quite a hurdle requiring 50+ hours of flight time (10 solo), several written exams and a final test with an experienced pilot. The reasoning behind this is flying isn’t as easy as driving and that’s the main reason why you’ll probably never see skies full of flying cars, at least not for several decades.
It’s no secret that I owe a large part of my IT career to virtualization. It was a combination of luck, timing and willingness to jump into the unknown that led me down the VMware path having my first workplace using VMware’s products which set the stage for every job there after seeing my experience and latching on to it with a crack-junkie like desire. Over the years then I’ve become intimately familiar with many virtualization solutions but inevitably I find myself coming back to VMware because simply put they’re the market leaders and pretty much everyone who can afford to use them does so. So you can imagine then I was somewhat excited when I saw the release of vSphere 5 and I’ve been putting it through its paces over the past couple weeks.
On the surface ESXi 5 and vSphere 5 look almost identical to their predecessors. ESXi 5 is really only distinguishable from 4 thanks to the slightly different layout and changed font, whilst vSphere 5 is exactly the same spare for some new icons and additional links to new features. I guess with any new product version I’ve just come to expect a UI revamp even if it adds nothing to the end product so the fact that VMware decided to stick with their current UI came as somewhat of a surprise but I can’t really fault them for doing so. The real meat of the vSphere 5 is under the hood and there have been some major improvements from my initial testing.
vSphere 5 brings with it Virtual Machine Version 8 which amongst the usual more CPUs/more memory upgrades brings along with it support for 3D accelerated graphics, UEFI for the BIOS (which technically means it can OSX Lion although that will never happen¹) and USB 3.0 support. There’s also a few new options available when creating a new virtual machine like the ability to add virtual sockets (not just virtual cores) and the choice between eager and lazy zeroed disks.
The one overall impression that vSphere 5 has left on me though is that it’s fast, like really fast. The UI is much more responsive, operations that used to take minutes are now done in seconds and in the few performance tests we’ve done ESXi 5 seems to be consistently faster than its 4.1 Update 1 counterpart. According to my sources close to the matter this is because ESXi 5 is all new code from the ground up, enabling them to enhance performance significantly. From my first impressions with it I’d say that they’ve succeed in doing this and I’m looking forward to seeing how it handles real production loads in the very near future.
What really amazed me was a lot of the code that I had developed for vSphere 4 was 100% compatible with vSphere 5. I had been dreading having to rewrite the near 2000 lines of code that I had developed for the build system in order to get ESXi 5 into our environment but every command worked without a hitch, showing VMware’s dedication to backwards compatibility is extremely good, approaching the king of compatibility Microsoft. Indeed those looking to migrate to vSphere 5 don’t have much to worry about as pretty much every feature of the previous version is supported, and migrating to the newer platform is quite painless.
I’ve yet to have a chance to fiddle with some of the new features (like the storage appliance, which looks incredibly cool) but overall my first impressions of vSphere 5 are quite good, along the lines of what I’ve come to expect from VMware. I haven’t yet run into major gotchas yet but I’ve only had a couple VMs running in an isolated vSphere instance so my sample size is rather limited. I’m sure once I start throwing some real applications at it I’ll start running into some more interesting problems but suffice to say that VMware has done well with this release and I can see vSphere 5 making its home in all IT departments where VMware is already deployed.
¹The stipulation for all Apple products is that they run on Apple hardware, including virtualized instances. Since the only things you can buy with OSX Server installed on them are Mac Mini Servers or Mac Pros, neither of which are on the Hardware Compatability List, running your own virtualized copies of OSX Server (legitimately) simply can’t happen. Yet I still get looks of amazement when I tell people Apple is a hardware company, figures.
I’ve noticed that whenever I start a project or define one of my dreams there’s always a couple stages I go through. Initially I’ll get an idea about something (this blog is a good example) and I’ll muse over it for a while. During this time I’ll do some research on it, discuss it with friends which gives me a really good grounding from which to work on. Then comes what I believe is the hardest part, which is actually getting off my ass and working on bringing this idea into reality. After working on it for a while something interesting usually happens, and this is what I refer to as “The Transition” whereby I’m no longer driving myself to achieve this goal, it’s driving me to completion.
More recently this came to me whilst doing my daily CrossFit work out. I’d completed the routine for the day and this is when I’d usually just pack up and leave. After thinking about leaving for all of 10 seconds I immediately thought I could easily do another 10 minutes and the best thing was I wanted to. Now up until this stage I’d been making myself do the workout of the day and not really adding to it, as per usual I was doing the minimum work required. That day marked a change in my attitude towards doing these daily workouts and the transition from me driving myself towards the goal and the goal motivating me.
What usually triggers the transition for me is when I start to see measurable results from the effort I put in. I find it hard to start anything that I can see immediate or short term results which is why I always split most of my long term goals up into smaller ones so that I don’t lose motivation. Some of the time though I’m lucky enough to discover something that doesn’t require small short term goals to keep me motivated, like my dream of becoming a pilot and eventually an astronaut. Although I’d class dreams as separate entities from goals, as they pose their own set of challenges.
But that’s a post for another day!