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Road to Mac OS X Snow Leopard: the future of 64-bit apps

What About Proprietary Apps?

Apple still hasn't said anything about when its own Pro Apps will move to 64-bit. Aperture, Final Cut Studio, and Logic Studio are all prime candidates for the move, as they handle huge data sets that demand fast and wide access to RAM.

Final Cut Pro and Logic both use the same Carbon API that Photoshop does, so it will be interesting to see how quickly Apple can eat its own Cocoa dog food, or whether Adobe's complaints about Carbon are also a serious problem for Apple, too. If not releasing 64-bit Carbon really was a show stopper for developers, Apple not only knows their pain but would also be experiencing it firsthand itself.

Interestingly, Adobe has already delivered a 64-bit version of Lightroom, an app which was written from scratch using Cocoa and therefore easier to release as 64-bit. Apple still hasn't delivered a 64-bit version of Aperture, which is Lightroom's main competitor. Aperture along with the Logic Studio and Final Cut Studio apps will likely be updated this winter or in the spring, and should make the move to 64-bits at that time, although Apple hasn't committed to that. Along with the late summer release of Snow Leopard, 2009 looks like it will be the year of 64-bit apps. Two weeks ago, Maxon released its CINEMA 4D R11 as a 64-bit Cocoa app.

Windows is seeing new interest in 64-bits as well, in part because the limitations of 32-bit memory are more onerous on Windows, where there's no relief for the MMIO or 2GB app limit problems, and no PAE relief either. However, Microsoft's 64-bit strategy suffers a lot of compatibility problems from third party hardware vendors that Apple doesn't have to deal with in many cases. Mac OS X only has to run on a limited number of premium hardware machines from one vendor.

Adobe hasn't released a 64-bit Flash Player plugin for the Mac either, which will force users back into running the 32-bit version of Safari in order to see animated ads and YouTube videos. Of course, Apple might prefer to see Flash go away on the desktop entirely, just as it killed off Flash on the iPhone.

More 64-bit Macs?

Window's 64-bit problems explain why Microsoft reported only seeing 5.18% of the traffic to its Windows Update servers as coming from users of Windows Vista x64 this June, a year and a half after Vista went on sale, and three years after the company introduced its x64 platform. Microsoft reported this as a huge "percentage of increase" in 64-bit users over its previous figures which were even worse, but it really indicates something far more interesting: the installed base and market for 64-bit Vista is smaller than 64-bit Mac OS X.

Apple said this summer that 89% of its installed base is running Tiger or Leopard. And while an increasing number of PCs are shipping with 64-bit hardware, all of Apple's Mac models are now 64-bit and have been for nearly two years. Apple is also growing at around 40% while the PC industry as a whole is plodding along at a much slower pace. Gartner tells us that 70% of new PCs are being sold to the enterprise, a market segment that takes Vista off and installs its own image (keeping Vista's enterprise adoption rate at an abysmal 8.8% in June). Rejection of Vista, combined with Microsoft's less than stellar 32-bit compatibility, is resulting in the Windows PC market only slowly moving to 64-bit hardware, and even then often still running a 32-bit OS.

Apple has 3.5% of the worldwide market for PCs and servers, and 8% of the US market. What percentage of the world wide market for PCs is hitting Microsoft's Windows Update servers? Apparently not much of the enterprise market (70%), where companies provide their own Windows Update proxy servers for their own PCs. And scratch out the botnet PCs and anyone who doesn't update regularly or automatically. That leaves it pretty clear that only a minor fraction of a minority subset of PCs are running 64-bit Vista.

Valve's Steam, which runs surveys of its serious PC gamers, reports only 3.3% of its users are running any version of 64-bit Windows. Gamers tend to buy premium machines and would be among those mostly likely to benefit from 64-bit Windows; a full 15% were running Vista. Still, that affluent, early adopter, power user crowd had less 64-bit representation than Macs have in the entire worldwide market of PCs and servers.

Can Apple maintain its 64-bit lead?

Apple's early lead in 64-bit desktops with the G5 appeared to have an uncertain future for a few months during in the transition to Intel Macs, but the company has built upon its pioneering 64-bit technical progression to aggressively move its users to 64-bit hardware running a 64-bit OS.

After introducing 64-bit Intel Macs and servers in 2006, Apple made 2007 its year of ubiquitous 64-bit Mac hardware and 2008 a year of 64-bit development. Snow Leopard looks likely to help make 2009 the year of 64-bits apps. With all of its PC competitors tied to Microsoft, Apple has the potential to deliver 64-bit performance and compatibility that set the company apart, if it can deliver the apps necessary to take full advantage of its lead.

Road to Snow Leopard