[Before we get started...want to help me do some research? I'm studying printer variability and I'm looking for owners of Epson 3880 printers who are willing to make a couple of 8.5 x 11" prints for me to my specifications. If you're willing to help out, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the approximate purchase date of your printer. I'll get back to you with details. Thanks!
We now return to the usual program in progress.]
If you're a long-time Mac user and you upgrade to Lion (OS X 10.7.x), there's a good chance at least one of your programs or peripherals will stop working. Lion will not run PowerPC-coded programs because Apple decided to eliminate the Rosetta translator.
This will be old news to some of you, but not all. To find out if this is going to affect you before you upgrade, launch About This Mac/More Info...and click on Software/Applications. Click the Kind column and your applications will be sorted by type. Scroll down the list and look for anything that says PowerPC. You may well be unpleasantly surprised.
Drivers for older peripheral equipment—scanners, printers, cameras, etc.—may never been rewritten for Intel processors. Older applications may also turn out to be PowerPC. You may, but not always, be able to upgrade them to Intel versions for some outlay of money.
This is an unsatisfactory situation, he said with extreme understatement. Apple's behavior around this one has been cheap, mean, and, frankly, stupid.
Any time there's a major OS or application rewrite, stuff breaks, and sometimes it is very difficult to repair. See Windows Vista, Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Suite. Mind you, I'm not going to stop railing against that progressive obsolescence, but I do understand why it happens. There was the year Apple eliminated the Classic compatibility box from OS X. I've had to keep an old Mac running OS 9.2 around for the small amount of business-critical software I have that never got upgraded to OS X by the manufacturer. Part of the problem for Apple was that Classic mode never was fully functional, even in its final incarnation. When Apple decided to migrate to the Intel platform and rewrite all its core functionality for 64-bit, it's easy to see how the problems of even keeping Classic compatibility working as not-very-well as it did could became overwhelming. It interacts intimately with OS X functionality.
Rosetta is another matter. It's a translator; it converts PowerPC code to Intel code. It's dealings with OS X are much more constrained. Frankly, if I were to imagine a technical need to eliminate Rosetta, it would've happened when Apple moved from OS X 10.4 to 10.5. There was major recoding of the core functionality. But 10.6 to 10.7? This is an evolutionary product, and there are only modest issues involved in ensuring Rosetta compatibility.
This wasn't a case of Apple saying, "This is going to be really tough to do," it was a case of them saying "Screw you, we can't be bothered." That's the cheap part. I'll get to the mean and stupid part presently.
First let's dispel a few apologias concerning Apple:
1.) "It's the price of progress." No; the price of greed, perhaps. The progress from 10.6 to 10.7 didn't fundamentally break the concept or functionality of Rosetta or even require a major rewrite. This was not necessary, technically nor economically. It's a very minor development project in the total scheme of the OS.
2.) "You got your mileage out of those old programs, you might as well upgrade or find an alternative." Assuming those exist—they don't always. It also ignores the money you'll have to spend to do that and the considerable time (= money) you will have to spend installing and bringing yourself up to speed with the new software. Conservatively, an upgrade to Lion would cost me $1,000.
3.) "Why should all users have to pay for something only a minority need?" With any big-tent operating system or application, most users don't use most of the features. A major OS, or an application like Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop, has to include all the functionality that all their users might need, even though no user will take advantage of any but a small fraction of that. If I listed the 10 major features of OS X, hardly any TOP readers would be making use of all of them. Conversely, the majority of TOP's readers make use of some obscure OS component that a very, very small fraction of users need. That's just the way it is. Anyway, the cost of keeping Rosetta is not huge.
4.) "No one is making you upgrade to Lion." Oh, they will. If I buy a new Mac I'm going to be stuck with Lion. Worse, it's SOP for software manufacturers to not support OS's more than a generation back (the early release of Mountain Lion may throw that off for one cycle). Photoshop CS6 will run under Snow Leopard, but will CS7? CS8 surely won't. Within a few years, one way or another, this is gonna bite me.
Okay, so what should be done, given that big companies like Apple almost never backtrack on technical decisions, no matter how brain-dead they may be? Well, there is a simple and only mildly inconvenient solution. Allow users to virtualize their copies of the older OSs. VMware, Parallels, and VirtualBox can all run virtual Mac OS X; folks have hacked their way through the technical thicket to show that's the case.
Just one little problem. Apple's end-user license forbids virtualizing older Mac OS X clients, even on Apple equipment. Consequently, virtualization software does type-checking to prevent installing a Mac OS client. Usually. An interim release of VMware had a different installation interface that would allow client Snow Leopard to be installed. I quickly grabbed it and created virtual Snow Leopard machines to experiment with (figure 1). I believe the current version won't do that. I have this suspicion it was a trial balloon that Apple pricked.
Apple could enable this with the stroke of the pen by issuing an EULA addendum for the older client OS Xs stating that they may be virtualized on Apple hardware, and that Apple does not support this. That means they're not responsible if the older virtualized OS doesn't work, so no cost to them.
That's all it would take. Let me run Snow Leopard, or even Leopard, or maybe even Tiger in a virtual machine on my Mac. I get to keep all my old functionality with modest inconvenience and expense. A couple of paragraphs from Apple would solve so many headaches and it wouldn't cost them a penny. (It's not like there's a big market out there in pirating old OSs, and besides, pirates don't pay much attention to EULAs.) So far, though, they haven't budged.
That's the stupid and mean part.
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Thomas: "Rosetta isn't Apple's code to do with as it wishes. (Source here.)
"I'm a former software engineer who is now a patent and copyright attorney. Part of my work involves reviewing software license agreements. I'm posting semi-anonymously to make clear that I'm not soliciting clients with this post.
"It is the typical practice for software to be licensed in commercial environments for a certain term. That term might be denominated in years, in relation to other software releases, or anything else.
"Your invective at Apple would be sorely misplaced if their hands were tied.
"Say, for example, that Transitive, the owner of Rosetta, had licensed it to Apple for five years or three major releases of OS X, whichever came first. (I'm making the exact terms up, but you get the idea.) Apple would have had to go hat-in-hand to Rosetta to get a license if Apple wished to included it with Lion. Today, however, Transitive is owned by IBM. IBM might will simply not be interested in helping Apple maintain backwards compatibility or, perhaps, the necessary technical expertise to maintain this old code isn't there anymore and so IBM can't or won't license the code to Apple.
"I can speculate (and so can you) as to what really happened here, but we simply don't know. Getting nine women pregnant won't result in a baby in one month; no amount of cash is sufficient to conjure software out of thin air. Given the software patent environment of late, it is even possible that IBM wanted to license it to Apple, but another patent holder who'd given a license to Transitive/IBM refused to grant a necessary license. I doubt we'll ever know.
"If 30 years of hanging around the computer industry has taught me one thing it is this: you can't upgrade part of a system and expect that nothing could break and, eventually, you have to upgrade part of a system because old hardware will fail. In other words, find a working system and enjoy it while you can because, eventually, you'll have to find a new and different working system to replace it. Change is the only constant.
Ctein replies: I much appreciate you posting an authoritative reference on the Transitive/Rosetta business. It's nice getting that confirmed instead of dealing in third-hand information.
That said, this is something of a red herring. As you carefully note, this is all speculation. It might have been beyond Apple's control. It might have been entirely within their control. We don't know. The real point is that they, like most of the companies in this industry, don't even care that they screw people by systematically breaking existing hardware and software. This is merely just one more example of it.
The industry has collectively decided that it's okay to constantly break our tools in the name of next year's profits. They've decided it's okay to screw us over, repeatedly. I've decided that policy sucks. I don't have to lie back and grin and take it. This isn't even close to the first article I've written about planned obsolescence in the computer industry; I've been in it for 45 years. I promise it won't be the last.
If, and I emphasize if, Apple had no choice in this matter, then Apple could ameliorate this with the stroke of the pen, by changing their EULA. That's just policy, not engineering. Policy can sometimes be changed by force of opinion. This is mine. I don't plan to stop writing about specific complaints against the computer industry's planned obsolescence policies.