waffle

Waffle is a weblog.
The author of Waffle, some guy in Sweden, also occasionally writes stmts.net.

Lately on Waffle

Media Library

We did not know how good we had it.

Yesterday, it was about a trove of LPs. Your collection of grammophone records. Then tapes, of the audio and VHS kind. Then CDs, then possibly DVDs…

The point is, it’s never been possible to say: I own a copy of this movie or of this song. You own a copy of a recording of it. That’s all. In the shape that it’s in. Like in Wii Virtual Console, you could buy, say, Super Mario Bros. And then when Wii U Virtual Console came out, you could bring them along, but also had to upgrade them so they’d follow along to the Wii U’s menu instead of living in the Wii menu, because of course the upgrade took someone’s time and work and effort, and it’s time to charge a little bit for that.

I’m not going to talk about how DRM and such things work against conservation, or note how it’s in the interests of producer companies to be able to re-spruce up things constantly and sell you a new copy. This observation has been made before.

What I don’t think has been worn to such a stub before is about the “balkanization” of your possessions. Maybe you’ve never really been able to pour all your belongings into one big pile on the floor and swim through them with what I assume is a very light touch, Scrooge McDuck-style. But to the extent that you could mix and match how you arranged these things before, you can’t anymore.

Every app is its own jail. Every container is its own new shop of horrors, working in a new way, showing its small subset of available creations.

I don’t hold much nostalgia for physical record stores, or video stores. But here’s what I didn’t have to do when I walked into them: I didn’t have to work out which of the 57 resellers, distributors, networks or partnerships a particular thing was available in, I didn’t have to hope that they were available in my city, I didn’t have to look up any of a number of set of terms that will eventually allow me to get the thing, I didn’t have to hunt for discount codes or settle on trial periods or work out which currency is best to pay in, I mostly didn’t have to find the right store to be able to use the payment method I’m most comfortable with, and I sure as fuck never had to worry about whatever I bought being repossessed because three years later, someone is being huffy in a contract negotiation.

Apple TV and things like it are doing the best they can trying to solve all this. But we used to make standards – a CD was a CD was a CD. Now it’s platforms and apps. Now it’s signing up for HBO or Netflix or going manually to Louis CK’s web site to buy Horace and Pete. Now it’s managing a thousand overlapping terms of services and payment schedules.

I understand that this shit is not easy and that everyone wants to make their mark, make their platform the best. But why the shelf died, I will not understand. Why it can’t be that we all work out a set of standards for what a piece of media is, what a payment method is, what a media provider is, and have them all intermingle in some sort of post-iTunes, post-Spotify, post-Amazon, neo-Delicious Library of the fucking 2010s already, where you go to search and it searches all the things that anyone wants to sell, possibly via aggregators because spambots are still a thing, and it’s a click to find something and a click to buy something, and they don’t scurry off into their own apps and you have to sigh deeply when you go to watch that show that’s on the network with the horrible app, and if you’re unsatisfied with this particular neo-Delicious Library, you can get any of a number of clients like this because it’s all just fucking standards.

Yes, I know. Getting people to agree to this would be like pulling teeth, and would make even the normally sort of reasonable people look like the normally unreasonable people, because you’re saying “what if your business model was suddenly worth a lot less?”. But I’m just saying – what if this did exist? People would get paid in droves. Things would stay where you put them and you’d pick the best organization that worked for you. People who listened to classical music could pick an organizer that knew what being composer-centric was, and gain back three hours daily from fighting inefficiencies and/or telling people about it. And most importantly – there would be a chance at a single, coherent collection, not beholden to the success of any particular hare-brained, topping-out-at-9%-of-the-market-for-a-few-years, venture-funded platform.

At ARM’s Length

A few months ago, Intel gave up on trying to get Atom processors into the smallest of devices, after years of trying to achieve widespread success. Meanwhile, ARM processors have been getting more and more capable without giving up the power efficiency Intel apparently never came close to maintaining.

At this point, with an Apple interested in creating MacBook-style, er, MacBooks, it’s only a question of time until there will one day be a MacBook that can run non-x86/x86-64 applications. Instead of trying to predict when, I’m interested in figuring out “how”?

Bitcode. Although it would be more cumbersome and require introducing this technology to macOS, being able to recompile applications to a new target architecture is already mostly a solved problem and would finally give anyone a good reason to use the Mac App Store – giving you compatible versions without requiring developers to recompile their apps. Naturally, all of Apple’s own stuff would be Universal for x86-64 and 64-bit ARM, and naturally every developer could make their own apps Universal.

A double chip solution. Some parts of this would require some heroic engineering, like being able to have an operating system span, straddle or move across from one CPU to the other, but the potential to run the apps that are available in ARM versions on a separate ARM chip and let the x86 processor nap for a lot longer is irresistible.

Apple already makes a video adapter and a remote with ARM chips, and a beefier ARM chip could subsume some of the ancillary tasks that require separate chips today and possibly pay its weight in both board location and power budget even before we get to running apps.

The OS would likely run handily on ARM, and with the decade long effort to spread out tasks into isolated processes, running them on the most appropriate processor would suddenly be viable.

Rosett-me-not. Survivors of the 2006 Mac PowerPC to Intel transition may remember Rosetta, the dynamic binary translator that made it possible to run PowerPC apps mostly transparently and with some caveats. Survivors of the 1994 Mac 68k to PowerPC transition may remember the 68k emulator layer that was more capable and so efficient that when the Mac OS X strategy was first presented in 1998, a major point was made of how it was all finally going to be PowerPC native – the emulator had worked so well that parts of the OS had simply never been rewritten.

What this tells us is that the relative strengths of the architectures involved plays a role in the viability of providing emulation in the first place. Maybe by the time Apple cuts over, the ARM processor will be sufficiently able to emulate or translate the x86 instruction set at usable speeds for the intended devices, but I’m betting against that. For one thing, I think that ARM isn’t more energy efficient because of pixie dust but because of an instruction set that more easily lends itself to being implemented in an energy efficient way. Asking it to emulate the x86 instruction set has the air of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, no matter how desirable being able to execute x86 instructions may be.

The Apple instruction set. Continuing from the previous points, one of the reasons that ARM has been able to progress is that it has been able to introduce new instruction sets and set a new cadence for compilers and other tools. You can continue to use the instructions you already use, or you can switch to these new ones and not only speed things up but save energy. One of the big ways power is saved in new processors is by shutting parts of the chip down when work isn’t happening. Apple’s “don’t call it PA Semi” department, led by Johny Srouji are becoming experts in making improvements to ARM designs and are surely keeping track of what an even more ideal processor would look like. Who’s to say that what I’ve been referring to as ARM won’t instead be a processor that works much more like ARM than x86, but which has new fundamentals and a new instruction set in addition to the ARM instruction sets (and may not even be backwards compatible with much of ARM at all)? I call it AppleArch and am hoping for a repeat of the reasonably correct forecasting of xlangSwift.

End note: I am pulling all of this completely out of my ass, and many are the subjects where I know only just enough to be dangerous, like following the unveiling of the Mill with equal interest and befuddlement. Treat me like an authority on your own peril. That said, it all seems to make sense to me.

WWDC 2016 Predictions

  • macOS.
  • watchOS 3 – simpler overall, custom watch faces and something else on the side button. (No new watch until later this year.)
  • tvOS 2 with pluggable Universal Search and integrated support/allowance for live TV.
  • Siri:
    • A passive Siri API, in the same way as the Spotlight API is passive – you get to put things in the right places or define static (code-signed property lists) phrases but not respond directly to Siri commands.
    • A way to embed Siri functionality, like speech recognition/synthesis or Spotlight.
  • X11 for iPhone. Just kidding.
  • iOS 10 with a new home screen.
  • App Store:
    • Mea culpa about unfocused, uneven history (followed no doubt by the unanimous awarding of a pony to me, with condolences); focus on recent developments.
    • Letting some developers have privileged or trusted access.
    • Some sort of widening in ad hoc/enterprise distribution for iOS, similar to Developer ID/Gatekeeper.
    • In-app purchases on Mac.
  • iMessage for Android.
  • Thunderbolt 3:
    • A new Retina MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt 3.
    • A bumped Mac Pro with Thunderbolt 3.
    • A Thunderbolt 3 5K Display with an embedded GPU.
  • International:
    • Touting the 60 countries that developers come from.
    • …followed by references to sports that no one outside of the US plays and to clubs that no one outside of the US has heard of.
    • At least one service or capability or upgrade that is only usable in the US.
    • Apple Pay to Germany and France.
  • Grab bag:
    • A major upgrade to Photos.
    • Tag support in iCloud Drive.
    • Eddy Cue’s outfit louder than auditorium PA system.

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