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The Slacker's Guide - Mac OS X & the Intel Universe

by Chris Barylick
September 27th, 2005

The Future, a Bit Ahead of Schedule:
My girlfriend possesses a server farm in her basement and is effectively nerdier than myself. These are things you attempt to take in stride, but the day she updated her blog with nigh-screaming news of success in having her Sony Vaio laptop run a developer version of Mac OS X for Intel hardware, my stomach dropped to slosh around my ankles for the next few hours.

Hardware purism aside (and, let's face it, this becomes a moot point given Apple's decision to adopt Intel-based hardware for its machines and Steve Job's declaration that we'll see the new hardware in 2006), I didn't know what to think.

Windows and Linux have served her well on the dual partition configuration she'd set up for herself, and I wondered what more she could want, despite the fact that her main computer was a G4 running OS X. Citing the desire to sort an extensive photo collection through iPhoto on the Vaio and a natural urge to explore the next new thing, she ventured forth, much to my terror at the idea of using an alpha-stage operating system.

She's not alone. The OSx86 Project, a volunteer-based group focused on discussing ways to run Mac OS X on current Intel-based PC hardware as well as future uses for the operating system, has emerged to provide tutorials and other forms of guidance through its active forum and wiki boards with live chat setup instructions being offered through their IRC page.

The project uses code and ideas from the OpenDarwin project, Darwin being the open source code that composes the core of Mac OS X save for Apple's proprietary technologies such as Quartz, Quartz Extreme and Rosetta. Where source code meets unsupported hardware, compiled kernel extensions are being developed to be used on Intel-based hardware while modified drivers are written for other functions.

And as scary as the idea of running an operating system still over a year away from an official Intel-compatible release may be, there is a point to all this. Despite the painful transition period that must be gone through by the developer community (something Apple has set up the Developer Transition Resource Center to help assist), this shows promise from both sides.

Mac OS X may be regarded askance for a bit by PC users, but they're offering something that people want and seem willing to buy into, even if only by experimentation at this stage of the game. Mac users, on the other hand, will be able to gain access to some incredible new hardware on their terms through OS X, and to anyone who ever wondered why the SATA 2 drive technology has made it onto name brand PCs and has yet to hit a G5 near you, this is your chance to level the playing field.

Please keep in mind that the OSx86 project and efforts to place Mac OS X on your PC is not endorsed by Apple, nor is it the safest idea by any means. But for those looking for a better idea as to what's out there, what to expect and a community in which to bounce your ideas and questions off of, this might be just the resource you've been looking for, even if this does seem a bit like entering Muppet Labs and hoping to leave completely unscathed.

Still, enthusiasm is just that and there's no killing an idea once it's germinated, and it'll be more than interesting to see what it grows into.

As always, if you see anything cool or worth comment in the Mac universe, please let me know.

Chris Barylick covers games for The Mac Observer, and has written for Inside Mac Games, MacGamer, UPI, the Washington Post, and other publications.

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