The Rumor Mill

Wind-X: Windows for OS X

- 2000.09.26

Once upon a time Apple, IBM, and Motorola got together to create a new family of processors, the PowerPC family. They also planned to have several different operating systems for the PowerPC: the Mac OS, OS/2, a joint next generation OS being developed my Apple and IBM (Pink? Taligent?), and the dominant OS for personal computers, Microsoft Windows.

The joint Apple-IBM project disappeared from view, OS/2 never made it to the PowerPC, and Microsoft eventually threw in the towel on porting Windows to the new hardware platform. Or so we thought.

It turns out Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, and Office 2001 are not the only reason Microsoft has been hiring Mac programmers left and right. Just as Apple has always had a few software engineers playing with "Star Trek" (the Mac OS for Intel) and Darwin on x86, so a dedicated group at Microsoft has been playing with Windows on PowerPC.

The idea isn't as far-fetched as it sounds. Microsoft Windows is not wed to the Intel family of processors and its clones, although most of the world doesn't know that. It also runs quite successfully on the Alpha processor. Well written code need only be recompiled for the Alpha instead of the Pentium - just like a lot of Mac and Unix code can be recompiled for OS X.

Until now, the biggest obstacle to Microsoft Windows on PPC has been the small Mac market. But thanks to the iMac, Apple has again become a force to be reckoned with in the personal computer world.

However, Microsoft is taking a very different approach to Wind-X (the project was code-named Windex, but Microsoft anticipated serious trademark problems with that name). Instead of a full-blown OS, Wind-X will run Windows on top of the same kernel Apple uses for Mac OS X.

Microsoft hopes to ship Wind-X on April 1, 2001 - assuming Mac OS X is finished by then.

This gives Microsoft three big advantages over emulators such as Virtual PC and SoftWindows:

  1. Windows is not running within the Mac OS, but as a full-fledged shell for the OS X kernel.
  2. Wind-X isn't emulating an Intel processor, which eliminates perhaps the biggest bottleneck with VPC and SoftWindows.
  3. Microsoft owns Windows and many of the leading Windows applications, so it doesn't have to license Windows and can readily port Microsoft Office to Wind-X.

Further, Microsoft won't be competing directly with Apple, since users must have OS X installed before they can install Wind-X.

Of course, the big question is why. Why would Microsoft port Windows to the PowerPC? Why would Microsoft only make half an operating system? Why does Microsoft believe there's a market for Wind-X?

If we knew the answer to those questions, these wouldn't be groundless rumors. But we can speculate.

Why port Windows to PPC? That's a very good question. Microsoft obviously wants to dominate - as the Department of Justice demonstrated. And if they can do this, what next but Wind-X for Intel that runs on a BSD or Linux kernel?

Why make only half an operating system? Well, Windows has never been known for stability, while Unix has. By using a kernel perfected by others, Microsoft can concentrate on other aspects of Windows. It also gives them an out when you call customer service. "Sorry, that's a kernel issue."

Finally, why does Microsoft believe there's a market for Wind-X? Because with the exception of Microsoft Bob, almost everything Microsoft has done has succeeded sooner or later and dominated the industry. They see a modest but growing market for OS X, Linux, and other Unix derived operating systems; this is their way of leveraging that with the face PC users have become familiar with.

BTW, we've heard Microsoft's new slogan will be, "Windows forever." Of course, we all remember what happened when Apple proclaimed, "Apple II forever."

Maybe this is a good idea. ;-)

- Anne Onymus

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