Apple Patents, Snow Leopard Technologies Solidifying Mac Advantages

Apple has said that the next version of its OS, Snow Leopard, will focus on speed and stability, and at last yearis WWDC, some of the technologies like Grand Central and OpenCL were publicly revealed. Behind the scenes, however, Apple is actively working on patents that will give Macs a decisive advantage over Windows-based PCs that havenit bothered to exploit such technologies in mainstream products.

Itis well known that the software industry hasnit caught up to the hardware, especially multi-core CPUs and and the looming possibility of GPUs on the desktop, or even the lap top, with near petaflop speeds. (A trillion floating point operations per second.)

Three Apple patents, showcased by InformationWeek suggest that Apple intends to solidify a technical lead in their Macs -- or at least extract patent license fees if the PC world wants to play along.

The first relates to parallel computing on multiple processors in which a software layer makes the GPU appear as a general purpose CPU, available to the application and OS as an additional core.

Thatis because GPUs have traditionally been structured for high throughput, multiple cores, and highly threaded, parallel graphics operations, but havenit been tailored for generalized or even mathematical calculations.

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IW pointed out that a related patent application has Aaftab Munshi listed, a software architect at Apple who came from ATI. That patent along with an associated one, describes how multiple threads can be more efficiently scheduled amongst all the available cores made available.

The implications for Apple are obvious. If Apple were making inexpensive, commodity computers, they couldnit afford to delve into these kinds of technologies. However, with Appleis traditional customers, especially those professionals working in research, science, medicine, and engineering, the speed advantages of Macs, comparable to supercomputers of five years ago, could give the company a decisive market advantage.

Recent but unconfirmed reports from NVIDIA suggest that it may be possible, in principle for the new MacBook Pros to access both graphics cores in a computational mode, even though Leopard currently forces the user to log in and out to switch netween them. TMO is looking onto those reports. Snow Leopard could change that from a computational standpoint.

In time, PCs, which are already perceived as uncool, could become even more solidified by Apple marketing as the stodgy computer on which one simply reads e-mail and writes memos in MS Word. Appleis "Get A Mac" TV commercials will have plenty of fodder to work with.

All that is required is for Apple Mac developers to get on board and use the Apple hardware to differentiate themselves, much as iPhone developers already have to their great advantage.