Saturday, August 13, 2005

OS X On The RISC Platform Is "Natural"

With all the recent hype about OS X working on an Intel platform, I decided to explore it's roots. I had no idea what I was in for when I met with a student at the University of Berkley in California. He had tracked me down by e-mail a few weeks prior.

I flew out to California on a Friday, and settled into my dirty hotel late that night. The following morning, I threw on my jeans and headed out un-showered. I couldn't wait to get to the University and meet with my contact. During a phone call earlier in the week he had promised me that he could reveal "everything about OS X ... things that he shouldn't know", or so he said. This all sounded very enticing, and I was looking for something good to put in my blog. This guy insisted that I meet him in his favorite cafe, which was about a mile or so off the main campus. He had said he didn't want to be identified, but felt that this information should be made public.

When I arrived to the cafe, the man looked at me from across the room and waved me to his table. He nervously looked around the room, gripping a dirty yellow folder. "In this folder" ... he paused ... "are photos that will change the history of computing as we know it". Then he laid the folder down, smacked it with an open hand, and began to tease a cup of coffee with a stir stick. "Where do you think it came from?", he asked. I had read my history. I knew a little. "FreeBSD", I replied. He scoffed. "FreeBSD? Do you really believe that something so wonderful ... so elegant ... is a product of 1900's UNIX code?".

I had never really put much thought into it. One platform built on top of another seemed to be the way things get done with Operating Systems. He lean forward, reached into his folder, and drew out a photo. Sliding it across the table, I snapped it, and held it into the light from a neighboring window. "It's a mossy slab of ... something. It's a rock, right? A mossy stone?", I asked. He chuckled.

"Yes, a very important mossy stone. I signed up for the peace core seven years ago. I wasn't interested much in going to college. So I went off to Tibet for a while. I was there about three months when I found that rock. I had been trying to fit in with the native refugees I was there to help, and so I had been walking barefoot in brightly colored robes. Then I stepped in something. I stopped at that stone to wipe my feet off on it".

He stopped with his story, sipped at his coffee and then looked at me as if he were expecting me to ask him to continue. "Go on", I finally said, "what was it?". "It was dung. I'm sure of that now. Looking back, I remember stepping in it, and I could see the consistency was far too thin and granular to be mud-". "No!", I interrupted, "the stone! What was it about the stone?". "The stone", he paused, "revealed a piece of code. It was binary. It's simple really. If you look closely, you will see that the moss is dense, but has many empty spots. The empty spots separate the code".

"You mean to tell me ... that OS X grew on a rock ... naturally?". "Well not entirely", he added, "the rock ended up just being part of that 'expose' feature. But it was largely flawed. That component would later be discovered growing on the side of an old tree and would be added to what Apple later called 'Panther'. At least I think it was 'Panther'. I don't follow that stuff much".

I sat silently, turning the photo around in my hands. I looked, and didn't see much more than a moldy rock, and the toes of someone who had been standing at the edge of the rock when the photo was taken. "Do you have more?". "I have more", he replied, and pulled out a second photo.

The second photo was of a group of weeds. I stared at it intently. "Focus", he said. After several minutes of looking at the photo I gave up. "I just don't see it", I huffed accepting defeat. He snapped the photo back from me and looked at it himself, seeming surprised. "Oh this!" ... he raised his eyebrows and stuffed the photo back into his folder. "That is the wallpaper for Windows Vista ... so far it means nothing ... but I am exploring some theories ... it looks like weeds from the area where I had been staying and I think Microsoft may have people looking around there now. They steal things you know ... Microsoft, that is". Shuffling through his folder he removed a third photo, smiled, spun the photo around (still hiding it from view in his folder), smiled again, and finally yanked the photo out dropping it on the table.

This was a picture of a rain forest, taken from high in the air (possibly a cliff or mountaintop). "It's stunning", I said, "simply ... beautiful". "It looks pretty impressive. Nature has formed that wonderful forrest without the help or the effort of man. I knew that there had to be a reason for it being there. So I took this photo, and ran it through a piece of software I wrote to discover algorithms". "What did this reveal?". "It revealed a strange combination of plain text code, and an image". "And what were they?". He stopped for a moment, smiling at his little secret, and leaned forward before whispering, "It was Safari! ... I had discovered the Safari Web Browser!".

Naturally, one would be skeptical at such claims. I certainly was. As the hours passed, the man laid photo after photo on the table. Most looked like poorly planned vacation photos. The kind you have to sit through after one of your family members takes a trip to a coast line. A bunch of trees. Some people standing around monuments. A boat. Really, really, dull stuff. But all of these photos revealed pieces of code when properly translated and my new friend had all this supporting code to prove it.

"What ...", I started to ask, "who ... did you give this to?". "Who else could I give it to?", he replied angrily. "Didn't you see the code? ... It was RISC based, and it was written for the Apple platform. I took it to Steve Jobs, of course!". "Of course!", I added respectfully. "What would the developers of this software have to say about all of this?", I queried. "Do you mean ...", he looked around the cafe slowly lifting a finger and pointing upward, "... the Gods?". "No, no! The people that work at Apple who claim they have developed it. What would they say about all of this". "Oh those guys. They would probably say I'm nuts. What could they say? That they spent months trying to come up with an Operating System that would run on their Darwin base, and I found it growing on a tree?".

Suddenly, my mind began to race. "The iPod!", I shouted. "The iPod?". He shook his head. "Oh so you think that everything grows on trees, even iPods". I nodded. "No ... the iPod was just some slick engineering, and great marketing. No miracle of nature there".

"What did you get out of finding this?". "Nothing really. I took these pictures, I made my discovery, and I sent it all to Apple. I heard nothing back from them so I assumed they just thought I was a nut. But then I turned on the news one day and I saw it! I saw a preview of the latest stuff from Apple. And the wallpaper looked really familiar. It was derived from a pattern I discovered in a murky body of water were algae had grown at the waters edge".

I wondered why this had never been discussed. Why had Apple covered this up? Who else knew the truth about this Operating System? What would be next? I guess only time would tell. I headed back to my hotel later that afternoon and hit all my favorite news sites on my iBook. There were all sorts of people reporting about how OS X might ultimately run on an Intel platform as this was Apples plan. But, inside, I know that this is just not natural. It grew on a rock, and it was formed (by natural means) to run on a RISC based Motorola processor. Is it a gift from the heavens? Is earth nothing more than a natural formation meant to serve our technological means? What other modern wonders do we use on a day to day basis that were grown in this same manner?

The next time you go walking through a wooded area you had better look around. You may be tromping over or disturbing the next big Operating System. And if our disrespect toward the environment doesn't change ... Microsoft will never be toppled.

Historic Comments
I guess you ate those 'special' brownies today.
Poe | 08.14.05 - 1:24 pm | #

Apple before being on IBM chips was on Motorola chips.
oc12 | 08.14.05 - 9:06 pm | #

TIM | 08.15.05 - 7:52 pm | #

I dont understand it either and I wrote it. It's like a cross between a mock news item, and a bad interview from Rolling Stone.

Let's just forget I blogged that.

Ray Dios Haque | 08.21.05 - 9:59 pm | #

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