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Unraveling the Red Box Myth
According to proponents of the Red Box Myth, Mac OS X will supposedly soon run Windows software natively, perhaps as soon as Leopard 10.5. They're wrong; here's why.

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Unraveled with Extreme Prejudice
If you'd only just learned that 2+2 = 4, you might conclude that 4+2 = 8. It's not. While somewhat reasonable, adding two doesn't always double your result.

Robert X Cringely knows industry people, and he has a good grasp of tech vocabulary, but he just doesn't get the full picture of how things really work, or what is involved in engineering complex solutions. Unlike F.U.Dvorak or the great mind behind the Windows SuperSite, Cringely at least comes across as a nice guy. Regardless, leaping to grand and fantastical conclusions isn't the same as speculation based on facts.

In particular, Cringely's Red Box punditry involves some extremely problematic leaps of logic:

  • First, that development of a "Red Box" is either already complete or can be whisked together without much effort, since Apple already has some exposure to Microsoft technologies from existing intellectual property sharing agreements;

  • Second, that Apple would have the interest, desire, and profit motive to sideline its existing business, and developments already in progress, to devote a massive investment in maintaining a secondary version of the Windows platform, entirely dependent on the whim of Microsoft;

  • Third, that Apple, by allowing Intel based Macs to boot Windows using the BootCamp tools, has signaled interest in a far flung campaign to out-Microsoft Microsoft at being Microsoft, which includes finding ways to add Windows to Mac OS X (and perhaps eventually replacing Mac OS X with Windows) in a bizarre and surreal effort to beat Microsoft at its own game.

The first painfully destructive fact is that developing a Red Box would be a monumentally massive undertaking and a huge investment of time and money. Even if Apple had some insider rights to the "Windows API," they simply could not deliver a functional compatibility environment for Windows applications anytime before 2011, at which time it would be wholly obsolete. Why?

Consider how difficult it was for Apple to deliver Classic, the so called Blue Box compatibility environment for legacy Mac OS 9 applications. Apple spent more than five years openly developing Classic, working closely with third party developers. Apple engineers had intimate knowledge of the classic Mac system, full documentation, and every line of source code ever written for it. Yet it still took them years to put together a system that only worked clumsily, and is now, five years after its first appearance, mostly obsolete. Why was it so hard to complete?

Partly because it's really difficult to take desktop applications designed to work against one API, and run them in a wholly different environment. Partly because it is inherently clumsy to present users with two different systems and make it serviceable to jump back and forth between them. And partly because the pipedream of running different software together is just that: an idea that sounds good until you sober up and start taking stabs at developing or using such a system. This of course, is the core problem with the Utopian System that Runs All Software Imaginable Myth.

The Classic Blue Box was a necessary evil to get Mac OS 9 users to upgrade to Mac OS X, while still being able to run QuarkXPress and a handful of other old applications that wouldn't run natively. As soon as Mac OS X could stand on its own without any need for Classic, all focus and interest in further development of the Blue Box faded. It won't even run at all on any of the new Intel Macs.

Continued: Red vs. Blue


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