As an event for software developers, Apple’s WWDC also often has quite special “guests”: Macs. Over the years, it was this event that saw the Mac Pro “trash”, iMac Pro or Pro Display screen with a thousand-dollar stand appear for the first time in public.
According to leaked information, WWDC 2020 will witness a next turning point of the Mac: for the first time in history, Apple will launch MacBooks running ARM chips – the chip architecture normally used only on smartphones and tablets.
Before Apple, Microsoft also launched a professional PC using ARM chips and received … severe criticism.
Apple is not the first to extend the PC from Intel x86 architecture to ARM. Last year, besides the Intel and AMD Ryzen Surface devices, Microsoft launched the Surface Pro X using SQ1 chip, an ARM chip designed by Microsoft and Qualcomm. At the time of unveiling, the software giant once promised a Windows experience on ARM that wasn’t much different from the “mainstream” Windows 10 Surface Pro and Surface Book.
Previously, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx chip was chosen by many manufacturers to develop a hybrid laptop tablet running Windows 10. The 2018 ARM wave of Windows ARM follows the dream of 2012/2013, when Microsoft unveiled the curtain. Surface RT and Surface 2 run NVIDIA Tegra chips next to Intel-powered Surface Pros.
All of these efforts failed. For nearly a decade, Windows running on ARM chips has been criticized Poor compatibility With the application, there are frequently errors that cause inconvenience to users. So, why does Apple, which can be considered Microsoft’s only worthy competitor in the PC for professional users, take a similar step?
Unlike Windows, macOS originated as a Unix operating system with high customization and compatibility.
The answer lies in the nature of macOS. The origin of this operating system is NeXTSTEP, a product of Steve Jobs but not Apple. In 1984, after a critical conflict with the executive board, Jobs left Apple, establishing a new company called NeXT to develop both hardware and software. As a joke of fate, both Apple and NeXT in the following years failed miserably, and in 1997, Apple acquired NeXT to bring Steve Jobs back. Steve Jobs’s NeXTSTEP operating system continued to evolve into Mac OS X, which was later renamed to macOS by Apple.
As a product of a small company at a time when the PC market was quite mature, NeXTSTEP was not newly developed from the beginning but based on Unix, a architecture very popular among business and scientific circles. Despite the significant changes from NeXTSTEP, macOS still upholds the majority of the “Unix philosophy” chosen by Steve Jobs today, which is particularly noteworthy for its high modularity and broad compatibility. throughout with a wide range of hardware – including different chip types.
A clear demonstration of macOS compatibility is iOS. Because iOS was developed by “miniaturizing” macOS, the coexistence of Macs and iPhones, iPods, and iPads suggests that Apple’s operating system can support both Intel and ARM chips.. Apple had previously taken advantage of Unix when it switched Macs from IBM / Motorola PowerPC chips (which have many similarities with ARMs) to Intel chips in 2005.
In 2003, Steve Jobs once said of his operating system: “Technically, it is possible to port Mac OS X to any chip“.
Before using Intel chips, Macs used PowerPC chips, chips that had a instructional architecture similar to ARM.
Even Apple’s major rival, Google, is also developing the operating system with high compatibility. Around 2013 – 2014, many Android smartphones launched in the market used Intel’s Atom chip, notably Lenovo and ASUS. Or, in recent years, ChromeBook makers can use both ARM and Intel chips on their products. The high compatibility of Chrome OS and Android is also somewhat related to Unix: Google’s operating systems are derived from Linux and beyond, GNU, a project that aims to create compatible software. with Unix but free and open source.
Microsoft is not without thinking about these strengths. In fact, when preparing to remove the architecture of Windows 9x (95, 98, ME) and develop Windows NT (“ancestor” of Windows XP, 7, 10), Microsoft has prepared a core set capable of interoperability. Compatible with many different chip architectures, from x86-64 to PowerPC, MIPS or DEC Alpha. But unfortunately for the software giant, most of these chip architectures were later retired, Windows NT gradually changed from a highly compatible operating system to its own “home” Intel x86 (and AMD x64) for more than 1 decade. When Steve Jobs made the mobile revolution with the iPhone, Microsoft became a giant sink in crisis.
Therefore, when it comes to creating Windows machines on ARM, Microsoft has to start from scratch. The result it produces so far is still zero. Despite the shell of Windows 8, Windows RT can be considered a completely new version of Windows and completely incompatible with traditional Windows applications. Despite running x86 apps, Windows 10 on ARM (Surface Pro X) is still a different version of Windows, having to use the emulation layer to run traditional applications and thus has countless compatibility issues.
ARM chips offer many advantages that laptop makers themselves need to crave: battery life, slim design and integrated 4G / 5G connectivity.
Without ARM in the 1990s and 2000s, today’s ARM-based Windows computers would not have been so bad. On the other hand, when switching to ARM, the Macs of the future will fully realize the advantages of ARM that Microsoft or Google itself have to covet: increased battery life, mobile connectivity (4G / 5G) better, thinner design, reduces the risk of overheating, and reduces production costs. It was all because more than 30 years ago, Steve Jobs made the right choice: to develop a highly compatible operating system instead of betting too much on a single chip architecture.