Engineering: The Mac is coming back

Engineering: The Mac is coming back

Summary: Engineering, which was often lumped into the beat called "SciTech," once was strong segment for the Macintosh. Then in the early 1990s, the platform's position was weakened and then lost. But now the Mac appears poised for a strong return.

SHARE:
TOPICS: Apple, Hardware
21

Most attendees at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco this week — distracted by plentiful iPhone apps, whispered tales of the forthcoming Apple iPad, and the sight of dancing booth workers with their faces covered by unfortunate costumes of gigantic Microsoft Office for Mac icons — may have overlooked a trend: The Macintosh is back in the engineering segment.

Engineering, which was often lumped into the beat called "SciTech," once was strong segment for the Macintosh. Then in the early 1990s, the platform's position was weakened and then lost. But now the Mac appears poised for a strong return.

One piece of evidence was the release by Computational Engineering International (CEI) of a Mac-native version of the company's EnSight CFD, software for analyzing and visualizing computational fluid dynamics. Previously, the Linux software ran on the Mac in the X11 windowing environment.

The company said the new Cocoa version removes a number of issues OpenGL limitations in X11, improved graphics performance and of course, offers Mac users the full range of support for input, Mac UI and services.

Also in the fluid dynamics space is a forthcoming native version of Caedium by Symscape, which was formerly called SymLab. The version was mentioned just the other day in the company's newsletter:

Just to be clear, this is not a Windows version running in Boot Camp or Parallels, and not an X Application, but a true native Mac OS X application. The relative ease of producing a native Mac version of Caedium along with the existing Windows and Linux versions demonstrates the unique cross-platform architecture embedded within Caedium from its initial conception. Caedium will become one of the few (maybe only) commercial CFD analysis tools to run as a native application on the Mac.

In CEI's Ensight blog, called Viz Worth Watching, a post says that Caedium isn't a "replacement for Fluent or Star-CD or STAR-CCM or AcuSolve or any of the myriad of super powerful CFD tools which are available from government labs or industry."

Caedium is a CFD environment from end to end. Its solver inside is OpenFOAM. And it's priced at $1,000 and less, depending on the option. It reads geometry, or lets you create geometry, mesh, apply boundary conditions, solve in OpenFOAM, and visualize the results in Caedium's post-processing. Caedium also exports to EnSight format (and some other 3rd party post-processors) for improved post-processing.

In addition, German developer Graebert this week announced its ARES CAD platform for Mac, Windows and Linux, which supports AutoCAD-compatible command line and scripts.

"Engineering is primed to take off now [on the Mac]," said Darrin McKinnis, vice president for sales and marketing at CEI of Apex, NC. He said there was a "growing ecosystem of applications" to support Mac engineers and while previously, many engineers purchased Mac hardware to then run Linux applications or even Windows programs in virtualization, his company had seen increasing demand for a native Mac version.

McKinnis pointed to a number of engineering teams around the country that are now almost all working on Macs. With the native Mac apps, the loser will be Linux, he said.

McKinnis has a long (and painful) history with engineering solutions on the Mac. He was once an engineer at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, where in 1995, CIO John Garman decided to eliminate "unnecessary diversity" and switch thousands of Mac workstations over to Windows 95.

The battle was joined between NASA's directive at the time for Better, Faster, Cheaper," and what Garman dismissively called "Mac huggers" (a techno-word-play on the "tree huggers" environmentalist sobriquet). It didn't help that Garman was  mentioned in a Microsoft advertisement that thanked customers for their "contributions" to Windows 95.

NASA Mac users tried hard to point out that this policy would cause problems. My MacWEEK colleague Henry Norr wrote a series of articles about the fight to keep the Mac at NASA, which won a Computer Press Association award. Here's a slice of his Feb. 12, 1996 front page story:

"Making me take a Pentium is like cutting off my right hand and sewing on a left hand," said a Mac user at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston who recently faced forced migration to Windows. "I'll learn to use the left hand, but there's no doubt my productivity is going to suffer, and I'm going to resent it."

To this engineer and hundreds of other Mac users at the space center, such desktop amputations hardly seem like an effective way to comply with agency administrator Dan Goldin's much-publicized motto, "Better, Faster, Cheaper." To them, the space center's new policy of standardizing on Windows is wasteful, unnecessary and infuriating, and they are not taking it lying down.

Eventually, the fight went to hearings at the Inspector General's office. McKinnis was one of the staff who testified there. While the investigation concluded with a report that sided with the Mac users, the Mac was supplanted.

This action was replicated in many other places and segments of course. And Apple's own confused and changing systemware strategy didn't help matters. Cupertino circled the wagons around a dwindling number of segments and the needs of engineers were sometimes neglected. In addition, Apple lost some credibility with claims that some hardware and APIs were 64-bit when they weren't.

"Yes, the time between System 7.5 and Mac OS X were dark days," agreed McKinnis. On the other hand, today's Snow Leopard is solid, he said. "We're running the heck out of it."

Topics: Apple, Hardware

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

21 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • If they are already running Linux apps

    Why pay for Mac hardware?

    What a waste :\
    T1Oracle
    • Mac hardware is worth every penny...

      Not sure why you want to skimp on hardware, sure, Macs cost about $100 more up front, but over 3, 4 years it's the best money you will spend on your computing environment.
      Pederson
      • Winders users are slowwwww.....

        Unix/Linux distro users are smart...
        They know how to make things work and
        Winders guys know how to point and click.
        no_barry_2012
        • Well they have to be slow if they are using Winders

          These cheap Windows knock offs are multiplying, now we got Winders to go along with Windoze and WinBlows. They must be built over some linux kernel if they suck this bad.
          bobiroc
      • Obviously you don't do CAD

        We just replaced 3 workstations in our division. The new systems are Dual, 3.2Ghz i7 procs, 16 Gig ram, Dual 1 gig GeForce GT-120 video configured SLI, 1 300G OS drive and 2 data 1T Drives configured Raid-1, plus the normal bell and whistles (DVD Burner, gig NIC, 7.1 sound. Cost per workstation, $2353. To check out your claim I tried to config a Mac Pro with matching the specs, the execption of the 1 gig video cards (GT-120 with 512 was only available on Apple site). Cost at Apple, $6,649.00. Thats almost triple the cost. Maybe you meant 100% more instead of $100 more. Maybe there's only $100 difference on a bottom end iMac but if you're running engineering applications you need more ram and horsepower than an iMac can muster.
        Scubajrr
        • Obviously you build your own

          Using the Dell site, cofiguring a T5500 workstation to about the same specs as a Mac Pro comes to a very similar price (about $100 difference) assuming you buy a non-Apple monitor for the Mac.

          The biggest issue with Apple hardware is the limited choice of configurations. The cheapest way to go about it is to buy a basic box with the processors you want, then do all memory, disc and graphics card upgrades as after-market purchases. You can usually sell the unwated bits on eBay to recover some cost.

          If you approach an Apple reseller as a business to buy a few workstations, they'll do better deals than the Apple store. Say you want no discs, graphics or RAM (presuming you buy those components yourself separately) that can reallly drop the price without affecting warranty (though there is the usual hassle of 3rd party add-ons of working out who is at fault if something doesn't work or breaks).

          The biggest reason to buy Apple hardware over other OEMs is the quality of the Apple enclosure and chassis. Not only do they look great (I guess that's subjective) but they are very well built and quiet (although workstations are usually beneath a desk where a bit of fan noise isn't such an issue).
          Fred Fredrickson
        • Cad today or yesterday

          Apparently you are fairly new to architecture and engineering. The article says just exactly what is true ... Macs were prevalent in many, many A/E firms that could afford them. BUT, as Windows graphics improved and Apple seemed to have lost their guidance we all changed to the PCs. Upon retiring I instantly went back to Mac.

          If there were a good Cad program for a Mac, I suspect the same thing would happen today with the organizations that are financially able to make the change.
          781lc
        • Typical...

          That is odd I just configured a Dell workstation (not a desktop, like
          you did), and for a dual Xenon with 6 GB of RAM the cost is:
          [b]Dell Precision T5500 64bit Dual Processor
          Starting Price $5,676.00[/b]
          To get the specs you listed the price jumps to [b]$8,996.00[/b]!
          http://configure.us.dell.com/dellstore/config.aspx?
          c=us&cs=555&fb=1&l=en&oc=MLB1763_64_2&s=biz

          For a similarly configured Mac Pro:
          [b]Mac Pro Dual quad core Xenon
          $5,198.00[/b]

          Making adjustments to the Mac Pro's configuration, it would jump to a
          whopping [b]$7,248.00[/b]!
          http://store.apple.com/us/configure/MB535LL/A?mco=MTM3NDc3NjI


          So the reality is that Dell workstations (not desktops) are actually more
          expensive than Apple workstations. From as little as [b]$478.00[/b], to
          a whopping [b]$1,748.00[/b]! So which computers are overpriced?
          Windows based Dell workstations. Try comparing similar types and
          you find that Mac's are not overpriced.
          Rick_K
    • Because they like a quality OS and hardware.

      Simple answer.

      Next?
      Bruizer
    • Paying for Mac - awaste?

      It is a waste only if it doesn't provide the quality and service expected. Obviously, there are a large number of folks who appreciate excellence and service.

      Actually, in all segments of humanity the selection process result in a form of pyramid.

      How you think and what you do determines the part of the stack

      No question Windows OS machines are cheaper ... lots more of them..
      781lc
  • RE: Engineering: The Mac is coming back

    T1Oracl you are an idiot
    U53r
  • RE: Engineering: The Mac is coming back

    Of course "tree huggers" can no longer be used as a perjoritive. So you couldn't call people "Mac huggers" and expect people to get the point (that Mac users are bad).

    Now you'd have to call them "PC deniers" or "outside the engineering mainstream". That way people could make the connection with "climate change deniers" who are "outside the scientific mainstream".

    Once labeled (as PC deniers or climate change deniers) these horrible people can be publicly identified, subject to scorn and ridicule, excluded from discourse on the issues, removed from positions of influence, lied about and conspired against, and, if necessary, fired.

    Only then can we live, comfortably, in our garden of pure ideology, without those pesky Mac users.
    Patrick462
    • RE: Engineering: The Mac is coming back

      I like !!! As they say: "the road to hell is paved with good intentions"
      TheOriginalRobster
  • RE: Engineering: The Mac is coming back

    I think people should work with what they are comfortable with. After switching to Linux for a year, hating it, switching to Mac for another year plus, then goin back to windows, then 2 years later, repeating. I'd have to say that the Windows platform is just right for me... for now. I use AutoCAD all the time and I've tried ARES solution (Linux and Mac, not Win yet)... and no... its like saying that Windows and Mac versions of Office are the same... they're not... they're just off from eachother enough to ruin your day.

    On the other hand, I don't think I would make a Movie like Avatar on Windows... Linux did a fantastic job, and I guess Mc helped polish that apple enough to give it some cred...
    mjlaverty@...
  • RE: Engineering: The Mac is coming back

    Unix/Linux based CFD has been on the Mac since the beginning of OS X.
    This is nothing new. The Mac also has some great CAD apps. Apps like
    VectorWorks are best of breed, but are heavily slanted towards
    architectural CAD. BUT, the Mac will always be a third or fourth class
    citizen in the engineering world as long as SolidWorks is Windoze only
    (file viewers are worthless; all CAD/CAM developers jobbed out their
    solids modeling to SolidWorks in the late 90's, killing all cross-platform
    software). Period.
    Scott Kitts
  • RE: Engineering: The Mac is coming back

    I like the way you think.
    roger that
  • RE: Engineering: The Mac is coming back

    Why force people to use Linux? Why not let
    each of us write his own operating system.
    That way we'll each have the system that best
    suits our needs and lets each of us work at
    our full potential. No need for costly Mac
    hardware? Of course not. We don't need
    overprices HP or Dell hardware eather. We
    should each be allowed to build our own
    system and run it with our own software built
    on our own personalized kernels.
    roger that
    • Common sense should guide us

      There's little risk of OSes multiplying like rabbits. There once was a risk
      of one company controlling the entire PC landscape like a Soviet state-
      run enterprise that would have mired us in mediocrity (and security
      vulnerability) for decades.

      In nature, diversity means survival. It's a good thing.
      cwkoller2@...
  • Obiously you don't do CAD.

    We just replaced 3 workstations in our division. The new systems are Dual, 3.2Ghz i7 procs, 16 Gig ram, Dual 1 gig GeForce GT-120 video configured SLI, 1 300G OS drive and 2 data 1T Drives configured Raid-1, plus the normal bell and whistles (DVD Burner, gig NIC, 7.1 sound. Cost per workstation, $2353. To check out your claim I tried to config a Mac Pro with matching the specs, the execption of the 1 gig video cards (GT-120 with 512 was only available on Apple site). Cost at Apple, $6,649.00. Thats almost triple the cost. Maybe you meant 100% more instead of $100 more. Maybe there's only $100 difference on a bottom end iMac but if you're running engineering applications you need more ram and horsepower than an iMac can muster.
    Scubajrr
    • Meant as a reply to Pederson above.

      Meant as a reply to Pederson claim that mac hardware is only about $100 more expensive.
      Scubajrr