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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger




The Perfect Dual Platform Computer, A Possibility Or A Pipe Dream?
September 5th, 2000

Before we start, let me tell you that this week's column could be nothing more than a wish for a crazy utopia. After all, perfect platform integration is not necessarily an easy thing and Windows is not necessarily everybody's favorite operating system. I decided to raise questions and to speculate on the possibility of something that would sound nice to me.

When will we see the perfect hybrid dual-platform computer? I did as much research as I could and never found any reference to one being offered now. Frankly, I hope dearly that my research was not good or complete enough to find it even though it exists. This is one rare case when you want your investigation to have failed because of you, not because the object of your inquiries does not exist.

All I found was that in the past, PC compatibility cards allowed a Mac to run both platforms. One problem is that it is a card, not a full built-in solution. Do not confuse the idea of cards with that of a hybrid unit!

There certainly are ways to integrate right now, but they sacrifice something in return. Virtual PC and SoftMac 2000 are emulator solutions that work very well to go dual-platform if you do not need the speed of real hardware.

Many of you will remember OrangePC PCI PC Compatibility cards from Orange Micro. They were similar to Apple's own PC Compatibility cards. The word at MACWORLD NY was that this product will not live much longer. You can see from the specifications page (linked above) that its possibilities are limited and that you need to have RAM for the card itself.

All those troubles make you wish that if you needed it, there would be a computer that eliminates the replication of RAM, towers, certain types of drives and others.

What would a dual-platform machine be? Let us define it:

  • One box, both the Mac OS and Windows running on it natively.
  • Two hard disks, one for the Mac, one for Windows.
  • Same thing for processors.
  • The necessary startup implementation to start up and then decide whether you go to a Mac OS or Windows session.
  • A floppy drive to start the PC side from it when necessary.
  • A CD or DVD drive for multimedia and software installation.
  • A monitor port.
  • PCI slots.
  • USB, FireWire and the standard ports and plugs for printing, power, etc.
  • The two platforms would manage to share the RAM since you could only use the systems in sessions, not together.

Such a workstation would not be the typical consumer machine. It would probably serve the needs of someone who needs the usability and full speed of both types of hardware.

It could also serve the classroom well. For a little more money than the price of a single unit, schools could have two platforms in each machine for their students to use whichever they desire or their classes need. This would positively bring down the dilemma of choosing one or the other unilaterally.

What would be the benefits of owning this instead of a Mac and a Pentium/Athlon tower? Space saving on the desk; savings on RAM since both would use the same chips; overall savings on CD/DVD drives and other internal/external components shared by the two platforms. The biggest benefit would be the ability to run the two biggest operating systems on one machine without resorting to emulation.

The price? It would be, ideally, it would range between the price of a single computer and that of buying a PC and a Mac at the same time.

Of course, if you need two platforms running at the same time or in different location for any reason, such a computer would be useless... or maybe not. With two of them, you have more than one person with both platforms present.

My research to find such an offer in mainstream Mac and PC retail venues failed. Ditto on the Internet. I tried to find if any such computer had ever existed (not to be confused with any solution made with cards!) and nada.

Before you e-mail me to tell me that one can easily install Linux PPC on the Mac or run any UNIX flavor on Windows, let me remind you that I am discussing the idea of running a dual-platform machine with preinstalled Mac OS and Windows.

Having a hybrid machine would certainly be nice for power users, freelance users and prosumers who really need it. It could also be a great solution for someone who owns a Mac or a PC and who feels that switching to the other would require too much money at once. It would make it possible to use the Mac or PC and slowly start acquiring the software for the other platform.

This could be only a hallucination but I would think that this is technically achievable. Technology's possibilities seem endless, so why not a hybrid computer? I throw the question publicly and it would be interesting to see it debated, not for its craziness, but intellectually for its possible interest and potential.

Your comments are welcomed.

Michael Munger is a French Canadian living in Montreal. He discovered the Mac in 1994 while studying journalism, the profession he loves and practices. He also studied history and communications. In addition to his work at The Mac Observer, he authors the iBasics tutorial column at Low End Mac, and cofounded MacSoldiers in 1998.

You can find more about him at his personal Web site.

You are welcome to send me your comments or you can post them below.

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