Secret Apple project worked to port Mac OS X to iPad-style ARM processors
Was Apple investigating the idea of Mac OS X iPads, or MacBook Airs running on ARM chipsets?
In 2010, Apple's Platform Technologies Group (a subdivision of the CoreOS department) spent some time working on a project to port the Mac OS X Darwin kernel to the ARMv5 chipset architecture -- the same family of chipsets that currently powers iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad.
Here's a snippet from the project, titled Porting Darwin to the MV88F6281, subtitled ARMing the Snow Leopard:
The goal of this project is to get Darwin into a workable state on the MV88F6281 processor so that other teams can continue their work on this platform. The project has three major milestones:
- Getting the buildsystem into shape, so that it can build the kernel and kexts.
- Building and booting the kernel into single user mode.
- Booting the system into multi-user mode.
The project was only made public several months ago. While iOS also uses the Darwin kernel, this project involved Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard and was left for the CoreOS teams to continue. Since Mac OX X 10.7 Lion has since shipped, as have newer generations of iPad and MacBook Air, without any sign of MAC OS X on ARM, it's unknown if this project is still ongoing or has since been put on the shelf. However, the author of the paper is now a full-time employee at Apple, working as a CoreOS Engineer.
While some might find the idea of a Mac OS X iPad intriguing, Tablet PC, which put full Microsoft Windows on a tablet, never gained any traction in the market. It, like Mac OS X, was simply not designed for a multitouch user interface.
Microsoft, to their credit, is currently working on Windows 8, which will have both a Windows Phone-like Metro user interface optimized for tablets, and a more traditional Windows 7-like interface for desktops and laptops.
Instead of making MacBook Airs with ARM processors, Apple decided to take iOS software "Back to the Mac" instead with OS X 10.7 Lion.
Given Apple's preference for simplicity, and the huge sales they've achieved with iPad, it seems unlikely they'd deviate from their current strategy. Indeed, there has been more speculation of late that Apple would continue to move iOS towards the Mac, as opposed to moving the Mac to ARM.
However, Mac OS X once ran on Power PC chips, yet Apple had it secretly running on Intel chips at the same time. It only makes sense for a company as forward thinking as Apple to have ARM-compatible builds of OS X in the development labs.
SO while neither an OS X tablet nor an ARM MacBook Air seem likely, it's interesting to see evidence that Apple
UPDATE: For those curious about the group, kernel, and chipset referenced above, here are the descriptions from the project introduction:
Source: Delfte University of Technology
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So what if MacBook Air doesn't run Windows natively. Very few consumers run Windows on their Macs anyway. The MacBook Pro could continue to use legacy Intel chips for those to are stuck using Windows.
I can't imagine it would take much work to get the Mac OS x kernel running on ARM since it shouldn't be all that different than iOS kernel.