Their Cheatin’ Hearts

Those wife-swapping reality shows seem to be having an effect on the IT
industry. Several of the big players have suddenly taken a swinger’s
attitude in respect to their traditional partners.

Apple’s had some secret rendezvous’s with Intel over the past few
months which recently culminated in a very public display of affection.
And Microsoft offered IBM a shoulder through its recent divorce with
Apple, a friendly act that elicited some hot product on the gaming

The result of all this polygamy? Some of Apple’s Mac computers run Intel processors now (processors are the computer equivalents of brains). Considering that Intel used to be like Satan to most Mac users, this is no small development. Intel’s processors have traditionally powered Microsoft’s Windows environment and the two are commonly referred to as Wintel, so closely entwined are they.

Now, lo and behold, we have Mactel.

On the other side of the fence, Microsoft picked up where Apple left off with IBM. In their new XBox 360 gaming console Microsoft has stuffed a very powerful PowerPC processor from Big Blue.

Funny. It was only a few years ago that Bill Gates was dismissing the PowerPC as a joke even as Apple was declaring it the processor of the future.

What the — ? Is this the end of the world?

In fact, it’s the beginning of a new age.

We’re entering a truly revolutionary period for technology. We’re finally moving past a fairly staid period of boring desktop applications and static web content into an exciting time of convergence and true multimedia.

During this time of massive change it’s only natural to see some shake-up in the industry.

This fact is displayed in the major new directions that companies are taking their businesses. Intel’s chips are optimized for a networked entertainment environment. IBM is putting the pedal-to-the-metal and gunning for the fastest possible processors to power the demands of a new generation of high definition content on consumer entertainment devices. Both companies are less interested in desktop PCs and the traditional internet.

In the XBox 360, with IBM’s high-powered processor, Microsoft clearly wants raw power. And that’s what they got.

Of course, the major drawback to raw power is heat and noise, and the XBox 360 has these in spades. This is the noisiest computer I have ever owned. When I turn it on, sometimes my son will look outside and ask, “plane?”

Of course, most games for the 360 offer spectacular Dolby surround sound to induce the sensation of an artificial aural environment. That’s important, actually, because only by cranking this quality audio can you actually hear the game you’re playing over the 360 itself.

Heat is another issue. The 360 and its power adapter get disconcertingly hot. Stories abound online about the 360’s power adapter cooking itself.

But Microsoft obviously felt that it needed raw power to have a chance at seizing at least a piece of consumers’ living rooms. We’ll have to wait and see how many folks enjoy sitting on a jet engine while they watch DVDs.

Apple’s move to Intel, I would guess, was in no small part driven by the high levels of heat and noise of IBM’s PowerPC.

The new Intel core duo chips that you’ll find in the Mactel boxes are actually designed with compromise in mind. They’re not hot, they’re not noisy, but they’re also not remarkably fast.

As Apple makes deeper forays into the living rooms of its users in the coming months and years, it would seem they feel a cool, quiet approach is a good one.

So there is logic behind all this technical fraternizing. And like most relationships, these ones are about heat, power and noise.

The processor is probably the key ingredient in a computer, so the directions that Apple and Microsoft have set off on will define their approaches to emerging technology for years to come. Only time will tell which company made the wiser decision.

And the plot will soon thicken when Sony releases its Playstation 3, based on an entirely new processor, sometime this year.

Is that romance I smell in the air?

First published in the Yukon News on Friday, January 20, 2006

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