DaveNet: Tuesday, September 16, 1997; by Dave Winer.

blue ribbon JLG on the PhotoShop Machine

From Jean-Louis Gassée, jlg@be.com:

CHRP had the right goal: To create a hardware standard around the PowerPC similar in intent to what IBM's PC/AT became for the Intel processor, the core platform around which a huge industry was built.

Almost forgotten is that while IBM designed the PC/AT, it lost control of the standard. It was IBM's very loss of control that gave birth to the clone industry, now driven, if not controlled, by Intel and Microsoft.

This bit of history isn't lost on Apple's management. They remember IBM's futile attempt to regain control of the PC standard with the proprietary PS/2 platform and have concluded that even with a hypothetical "private" version of CHRP, they would lose the hardware battle.

In many respects, CHRP would have been a bigger danger to Apple than Power Computing ever was: Power's engineers were industrious and talented -- had CHRP lived, industry and talent wouldn't have been necessary. Lower the bar and increase the competition.

Regardless of what we think of Apple's decision to bring the Mac cloning experiment to an end, the demise of CHRP is a logical consequence of the de-cloning move.

Yet, many have stated their opinion that there is life left in CHRP -- potentially. As a result, we've seen several suggestions on the 'Net with a view to breathing commercial life back into an "independent" PowerPC platform.

These observers go on to suggest there must be a considerable inventory of CHRP systems or, if not systems, ready-to-assemble components otherwise condemned to the scrap heap.

The performance of CHRP hardware demonstrated by Motorola and IBM is enticing; why not use cost-competitive, if not "devalued" CHRP hardware to build a BeOS-based "Photoshop box"?

This is an engaging suggestion, and the thought experiment it triggers allows us to explore issues such as dedicated systems vs. general purpose ones, the cost and performance benefits of the BeOS for a given application space and porting existing applications vs. enabling new ones.

If I follow the dominoes correctly, Photoshop has a large user base, these users are hungry for performance, or cost savings, or both, and many would buy one or more additional "boxes" just to run Photoshop if they saw enough productivity gains in a dedicated machine.

A dual processor CHRP system just running a BeOS version of Photoshop would excite a large enough user population to incite one or more hardware manufacturers to ship such a product. In turn, this would constitute a sizeable enough business to trigger Adobe into making Photoshop available for this system.

This, needless to say, is purely hypothetical and I don't want to imply that any of the companies mentioned or alluded to have expressed the slightest shadow of interest for the idea. This is purely a thought experiment.

Even with this stipulation, I won't speculate too much as to why Adobe would or wouldn't consider such an idea. Performance is always welcome by Photoshop users and we've demonstrated substantial improvements on existing hardware as well as on affordable multi-processor systems.

Still, if I dare to imagine Adobe's concerns, there must be the cost of producing a new version of Photoshop and there must be the alternative of the Intel space. In the latter, there is inexpensive dual-processor hardware and interesting performance improvements in the making. I don't know what would happen if Adobe would let it be known they'd support the concept of a dedicated Photoshop system. Where would the best bids come from?

In the past, dedicated systems haven't fared too well. Take the word processor. In the early difficult days of the Mac, many observers remarked on the ease of use and beautiful printing obtained with MacWrite. They concluded the Mac should be reconfigured as a dedicated word processor. That didn't happen. Does this apply to the current idea? On the one hand customers have shown a liking for a system with a wide range of actual or potential uses. On the other hand, word processing applications are not driven by the thirst for performance Photoshop users experience.

Addressing cost, using the BeOS in a dedicated configuration might do more than add performance. Using the modularity of the BeOS and targeting Photoshop users could further reduce the footprint of the system and thus save hardware dollars. Still, others will remind us that hardware ought to stay as close as possible to the mainstream in order to best capture the benefits of competition between vendors.

Lastly, there is the question of new software versus mature applications. On this issue, the assumptions of today's thought experiment matter a great deal. Historically, ports from one generation of operating systems to a new one don't do well. The reasons might be that the technical constraints of the old design don't permit effective use of the new platform, or it could be that the press of business on the existing front leaves no financial or psychic energy for a risky bet on a new vehicle. (DOS to Windows, or Apple II to Mac are changes of generation; Mac to Windows isn't; Mac or Windows to the BeOS are.)

What differs in today's thought experiment is the assumption that a dedicated box would be sold almost exclusively to existing Photoshop users who want the simplest, least disruptive, most effective way of improving their existing work flow. In such a context a port could do very well.

It is too early to tell if the many suggestions we've seen on the 'Net for a "Photoshop box" will lead to an actual implementation, but we certainly appreciate the positive sentiments they convey.

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