Today a reader sent me a link to an article on the NY Times Bits blog. The piece was reporting on Apple's growing emphasis on parallelism in the next version of the Mac OS X operating system (dubbed Snow Leopard). One bit, however, caught my eye ...
"We’ve added over a thousand features to Mac OS X in the last five years," he [Steve Jobs] said Monday in an interview after his presentation. "We’re going to hit the pause button on new features."
Instead, the company is going to focus on what he called "foundational features" that will be the basis for a future version of the operating system.
"The way the processor industry is going is to add more and more cores, but nobody knows how to program those things," he said. "I mean, two, yeah; four, not really; eight, forget it."
Apple, he claimed, has made a parallel-programming breakthrough.
These few lines have a huge significance and I could say a lot, but I'm going to start off with the most obvious commentary - Wow! Hit the pause button on new features and concentrate instead on foundational features. That has got to be one of the bravest statements I've ever heard applied to a consumer operating system. But it raises a number of quite interesting questions:
- Does OS X, as it currently stands, have enough features to keep users satisfied?
- How will Mac users respond to a pause on features?
- Does the pause button really need to be pressed on features? Can't foundational features be developed alongside new features?
- Is OS X up against the wall now in terms of being able to access more computing power without resorting to parallelism?
- What does this mean for Windows and Linux? Is the amount of power available to these OSes hitting a wall too? Does this explain maybe why the performance of XP is so similar to that of Vista?
This could turn out to be very interesting and exciting indeed.
[UPDATE: Just found the press release relating to this. This deepens the mystery because rather than seeming to confirm that Apple has hit the pause button on features, I'm seeing some pretty hefty features mentioned. For example:
- QuickTime X
- Out-of-the-box support for Microsoft Exchange 2007
- Support for Open Computing Language (OpenCL)
Also, there are some very vague statements. For example:
Snow Leopard delivers unrivaled support for multi-core processors with a new technology code-named “Grand Central,” making it easy for developers to create programs that take full advantage of the power of multi-core Macs.
Sorry, but that comes across as a whole load of nothing to me. It's vague at best.
Still, Snow Leopard is a year away, so it's early days.]