So last night, I went to bed very late. I don’t know if it was spending the entire day playing World of Warcraft, or eating little besides leftover Subway and frozen microwave dinners, or perhaps the fact that I was working on my Web site every time I was waiting for my mage to recover mana, but for some reason I was visited by the spirit of Steve Jobs in my dreams.
The dreams were so vivid that when I woke up, I could almost feel the presence of Steve there in my bedroom. I remember talking to the Great Mr. Jobs about the inside skinny at Apple, and learning some rather…remarkable things. A small part of our conversation:
Me: So when Apple switched from PowerPC processors to Intel processors, you made it possible for users to run their old PowerPC programs.
Steve: Yes. We created an emulation program called Rosetta, which emulates a PowerPc processor on an Intel processor.
Me: Other people have done the same thing before; there’s an open-source program called PearPC that runs Mac OS X on Intel computers. But it’s very slow. I’ve seen it run; it takes about half an hour to boot. How did you get Rosetta to run so fast?
Steve: Well, for technical reasons, emulating a RISC processor like a PowerPC on a CISC processor like the ones Intel makes is very difficult to do. At first, our emulation program was very slow, too.
But then we thought, what if the laws of physics are changed? Is it possible that under different fundamental laws, emulating a RISC processor on CISC architecture might be easy? So when our engineers started going down that path, we discovered we could get much better performance.
Me: Come again?
Steve: It’s quite simple, really. Rather than emulating a processor, what if Rosetta emulated an entire universe–one where the laws of physics made running PowerPC code on an Intel chip easy? We searched through a large number of parallel universes, and found one where the basic physical properties of the universe gave us the results we wanted.
Me: Wait a minute. Are you telling me that Rosetta doesn’t emulate a processor, it emulates an entire universe?
Steve: Exactly! We got the idea from watching The Matrix. When you launch a PowerPC application, Rosetta brings a new universe into being. This particular universe has non-Euclidean geometry; it turns out that Euclidean geometry is particularly bad for emulating RISC on CISC.
Within the laws of this universe, it’s easy to run PowerPC applications on the Intel processor found in all our current computers, like our best-selling iMac or our high-end Mac Pro.
The only drawback to this approach is memory. Emulating an entire universe within Mac OS X requires significant memory, which is why we recommend that our users who still find themselves running legacy PowerPC applications install at least two gigabytes of RAM. You can add more memory to your computer as a build-to-order option from the Apple store.
Me: And this actually works?
Steve: Oh, yes. Emulating an entire universe involves more overhead, of course, but the speed advantage you get by running RISC code on a CISC processor in non-Euclidean space more than makes up for it.
Me: I’ve noticed that when I keep my computer running for a long time, PowerPC apps can suddenly start to slow down.
Steve: Yes. We’ve observed that issue in our labs as well. It has to do with the formation of life in the parallel universe.
Steve: If you let Rosetta run for long enough, eventually life will arise in the universe it creates. Because emulating the complex functions of life is a processor-intensive task, the performance of PowerPC applications can diminish over time.
It’s impossible to predict precisely when this slowdown will occur, because life doesn’t always arise at the same time or in the same way. We’ve found that on an eight-core Mac Pro system, it usually takes about three or four days for life to appear. On an iMac or a MacBook, it can take longer.
When this happens, we recommend that our users quit all their Rosetta applications. This causes Rosetta to destroy the parallel universe. When you launch a PowerPC application again, Rosetta will create a brand-new universe without life in it, and performance will be restored.
Me: Is any of this life…intelligent?
Steve: Sometimes. If you let your PowerPC applications run long enough, you may see intelligent life inside of Rosetta. When this happens, you’ll notice a significant slowdown of your PowerPC apps. We recommend that you quit all your apps at this point.
Me: Waitaminit–isn’t that murder?
Steve: Technically, no.
Me: But…you’re destroying an entire universe full of sapient life!
Steve: If you look at it that way, sure. We look at it as freeing system resources.
Me: But…it’s life!
Steve: Yes. We thought about releasing a game based on Rosetta, to compete with The Sims. The game would allow the user to interact with the parallel universe created by Rosetta and take a hand in shaping the life that formed there.
Steve: It turns out our market research shows that people only want to play with games that emulate human life. And not just human life, but middle-class twentieth-century American human life. Dealing with non-human sapience in a non-Euclidean universe didn’t have the same draw, so in the end we left it out of iLife ’08. However, we’re working on a smart backup feature for Leopard that we’re very excited about.
Me: Do you mean Time Machine?
Steve: Oh, no. That’s a data recovery app that folds the fabric of space-time to recover accidentally deleted files by grabbing them from a past version of this universe. The new smart backup feature uses the intelligence of sapient life in a parallel universe. But that’s all I can say about it right—
And then I woke up. No more WoW and frozen TV dinners for me, I think.