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Unraveling the Utopian System that Runs All Software Imaginable Myth
The Utopian System that Runs All Software Imaginable Myth speaks of a hardware or software solution that... does it all. It seems like such a great idea, but is it?

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Unraveled with Extreme Prejudice
Given the superiority of a running specialized software, designed from the start to operate elegantly and optimally on the system, it is fitting to ask: is this actually a good idea?

The main problem with running all different types of software together is not a technical one. That's why engineers have had little problem finding ways to emulate or virtualize nearly anything for which there was a commercial demand.

The problem engineers could not solve was an issue of the human condition. We like consistency. So while computers can, in most cases, stop running one thing and start running something completely different, we humans find it difficult and confusing to change from one environment and set of behaviors to another. If you don't agree, it's because you are a teenager. Just you wait till you get old and slow down.

Slam four beers and then see how easy it is to jump back and forth between the Mac and Windows applications (of course, wait till you get home; and if you're a teenager, make sure you're not in America when you do that).

The desire for familiar consistency is inherent in how our brain works. It has little to do with conceptually understanding or solving those differences. So, for example, I have no problem understanding the concept of how traffic in other countries may drive on the left rather than the right. However in practice things are different.
When walking in London, I repeatedly embarrassed myself by stepping out in front of oncoming cars after looking the wrong way at a crosswalk. And even after several days of riding a motorcycle around Chiang Mai in Thailand on the left hand side without any problem, I found myself instinctively turning the wrong way onto the highway, and facing almost certain death in the headlights of an approaching pickup.

My nearly fatal mistake was triggered in part by seeing another motorbike driving down the shoulder in front of me going the wrong direction. That's because, in Thailand, they officially drive on the left, but will also drive on the right if it suits their needs. That casual indifference to consistency has the unfortunate result of much unnecessary death and destruction.

Trying to run software designed for different systems together might not get you run over (or make you crap your pants), it can be almost as painful (or messy). In the case of Windows software on a Mac, one ends up with two different operating systems to administer. Jumping back and forth is a lot like driving in Thailand, where traffic may come at you from any or all directions at any given time, and consistency only exists on occasion. In many cases, it makes more sense to run PC software on a PC (or dual boot), so the back and forth is at least contained in separate contexts.

That's why Apple offers Boot Camp as a solution to running occasional Windows software. It's hardly a solution for someone wanting to do work in Project for Windows while using iLife, but that's a less likely scenario for Apple's installed client base. Instead, Boot Camp solves the problem of needing a PC and work and wanting a Mac at home, using one laptop (made by Apple, of course). Or having productivity and creative apps running in Mac OS X and booting into Windows XP to run PC games.

The recent confusion between what Boot Camp accomplishes, and what tools like WINE, Parallels Workstation, and Virtual PC all accomplish, in their various different ways, is significant. Boot Camp exists to sell Mac hardware as a PC replacement, or at least obviates the need for two computers.

The other tools serve to mix Windows applications with Mac OS X apps on the desktop. This is a great solution for users who need to do that, but that does not mean Boot Camp is the first step toward an Apple solution for virtualization. Quite the opposite actually, as I point out in Unraveling the Red Box Myth.

Clearly, Apple would be better off focusing on improving Mac OS X as they have been, rather than trying to make their OS X into an alternative way to run Windows applications "almost as well." Historically, attempts to run non-native software have only been successful when they were done explicitly as a temporary migration path. Let's look at some examples.

Continued: A Means to an End


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