Are you ready for universal computing?

in Future Apple Hardware edited January 2014,64914,00.html


Step Toward Universal Computing_

By Leander Kahney__|__ Also by this reporter Page 1 of 1

02:00 AM Sep. 13, 2004 PT

A Silicon Valley startup claims to have cracked one of most elusive goals of the software industry: a near-universal emulator that allows software developed for one platform to run on any other, with almost no performance hit.

Transitive Corp. of Los Gatos, California, claims its QuickTransit software allows applications to run "transparently" on multiple hardware platforms, including Macs, PCs, and numerous servers and mainframes.

"This opens up a whole new world of things you can do, because previously software was tied to (a) particular processor," said president and CEO Bob Wiederhold. "It gives you access to a much greater diversity of software."

The company claimed QuickTransit eliminates the need to port software from one platform to another. Software applications written for one platform will run on almost any other, without any modifications to the underlying program.

For example, Wiederhold said QuickTransit will allow the next-generation Xbox (which will have a Mac-like PowerPC chip) to run first-generation Xbox software (which was written for an Intel chip).

In demonstrations to press and analysts, the company has shown a graphically demanding game -- a Linux version of Quake III -- running on an Apple PowerBook.

"One of the key breakthroughs is performance," Wiederhold said. "You can't tell the difference between a translated application and a native application."

Transitive launched the software on Monday with versions for Itanium, Opteron, x86 and Power/PowerPC chips.

The company is initially going after the server and mainframe markets because that's where the money is, but said it will eventually focus on desktop PCs and consumer electronics. It claims QuickTransit will support almost any pairing of processor and operating system.

Transitive said it already has six customers -- all PC manufacturers -- but declined to name them. The first will go public later this year, Transitive said.

Transitive said QuickTransit allows a foreign application to do everything it does on its native platform, with 100 percent functionality.

QuickTransit fully supports accelerated 3-D graphics and about 80 percent computational performance on the main processor. It requires no user intervention: It kicks in automatically when a non-native application is launched.

"It's pretty darn impressive," said analyst Jim Turley. "It's remarkable because it's unremarkable (to see it in action): It just works."

Turley said he watched a Windows laptop running the Gimp image editor for Linux. The software quickly and efficiently performed a series of processor-intensive graphics transformations and effects, Turley said.

"There was no performance hit," he said. "I was expecting a lag, some symptom that things were not as they should be, but that was not the case. There was no hand-eye delay. It seemed completely normal. It responded really quickly."

Turley said a universal emulator is computer science's equivalent of alchemy's quest to turn base metal into gold. Many have tried; all have failed.

Turley said while various limited emulation schemes have been successful -- Apple's transition to the PowerPC platform, or Transmeta's "code morphing" of Intel's x86 architecture -- no one has successfully developed an emulator for multiple processors and operating systems.

"The more you know about it, the more technologically savvy you are, the more remarkable it becomes," Turley said.

The software was initially developed at Manchester University in the United Kingdom by computer science professor Alasdair Rawsthorne.

Transitive said QuickTransit supports software written in any programming language, and that its modular architecture allows modules to be swapped in and out depending on the processor and operating system.

One of the key breakthroughs is an "intermediate representation," a kind of lingua franca that gives the software the flexibility to translate from one platform to another.

Unlike most other emulators, QuickTransit translates blocks of code rather than a line at a time. In addition, it identifies and stores the most commonly executed code.

"It's like a translator versus an interpreter," said lead engineer Frank Weidel. "Instead of working on every chunk of code, QuickTransit translates a sentence, or a paragraph, at a time. That's how we get the performance."

Weidel said in most cases, QuickTransit allows translated applications to run faster on new hardware than it did on the original platform, thanks to the speed of today's machines compared with those made a decade ago.

Analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group said Transitive benefits from the fact that most modern machines are fast enough to emulate each other without much affecting performance.

"Typically with emulation you take a big performance hit," he said. "Their big breakthrough is they are much more efficient ... but there's so much overhead anyway, you can pretty much put any software on any platform. The power user might notice the difference, but the other 95 percent won't notice."

The company is keen to avoid the term "emulator," instead calling its technology "hardware virtualization."

"We try and avoid the word," said Wiederhold. "When people think of emulators they think of things that are very slow."

Now things are getting interesting. This would be incredible for the consumer, but will Apple want to welcome it or kill it? Such a technology could spell the end of exclusive Mac development. Still, as a consumer, I look forward to it, I think. At any rate, this should make for some interesting discussion. Have at it.


  • Reply 1 of 4
    I think there are already 8 threads about this on these very forums.

    Oh...and wrong forum.
  • Reply 2 of 4

    Next question.
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  • Reply 4 of 4
    bodhibodhi Posts: 1,424member
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