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The experiment – Mac OS X on a regular “white box” PC – Part II

Hopefully you’ve already read Part I of the experiment – if not, I suggest you do so now, as I’ll be picking up where I left off.

 

The Installation:

Computer ready and DVD in hand, I placed the DVD in the drive and started the computer. The computer booted from the DVD and the screen displayed the following message (I apologize in advance for the poor-quality digital camera pictures):

osxinstall1.jpg

This is basically the boot loader, and is the only non-gui part of OS X most people are likely to ever encounter. It says “Press any key to install Mac OS X, or press F8 to enter startup options.” All I did here was hit enter to install.

After that, the GUI fired up, and I was presented with a couple blank-looking screens while the OS loaded. It took a little while (I eventually decided to get a cup of coffee and figured if it hadn’t loaded by the time I got back it must have crashed). Finally, the first part of the install showed up, where I was to choose my language.

osxinstall2.jpg

Simple enough. It then took a while to continue loading the installer, and I was then brought to a screen called “Welcome to the Mac OS X Installer”. I clicked “Continue” and kept going through the prompts, until I came up to the “Select a Destination” part. Unfortunately, there weren’t any destinations shown, because my hard drive was currently partitioned as NTFS (Windows was currently on it).

 

Luckily, OS X has a Disk Utility built into the installer. From the top menu, I simply clicked “Utilities, Disk Utility”:

osxinstall3.jpg <– click the thumbnail to open the full-screen version where I chose the disk utility from the menu

That opened the Disk Utility, where I was able to select my current volume and erase it (thereby destroying everything on my hard drive including Windows). When erasing it, it had me set a new partition which I left as the default journalled file system.

osxinstall4.jpg <– click the thumbnail to open the full-screen version where I erased my current Windows partition.

That done, I closed the disk utility, and my newly-partitioned hard drive was shown. I selected it and chose “Continue”.

The next part was possibly the most important step, and was where I had to click “Customize” instead of “Continue”. Since this isn’t a Macintosh computer, an “easy install” would have probably failed at some point.

osxinstall6.jpg

Clicking Customize brought me to the following option menu:

osxinstall7.jpg

This is where selections must be made depending on what type of processor you have, and in some cases, where you can add support for a certain GPU and audio processor. In my case, I selected 10.4.6 Combo Update, Intel SSE3, and 10.4.6 GMA900 Support. I wasn’t sure as to whether I needed to select SSE2 or not as well, but decided against it (so despite the picture, I did not select SSE2).

After finishing the packages, I clicked “Install”, crossed my fingers, and waited.

And the verdict is….

SUCCESS!

After the install, I restarted the computer, removed the DVD, and it booted into OS X. There were some basic set-up things to go through (which Apple did a beautiful job with by the way), and then it was up and running.

Everything was working and properly detected. Sound, video, and the network adaptor were by biggest worries, but they all worked perfectly! I ran iTunes, listened to some music, installed “mplayer”, and played around with the OS (I haven’t used a Mac OS since my old powerbook had Mac OS 8 ).

OS X is really beautiful. It took me a few seconds to figure some things out that were different from Windows, but the experience was great nonetheless. It’s easier to use than Windows, and things just seem to make more sense the way Apple has them set up. But since this isn’t an OS X review/comparison, I obviously digress…

There were 2 minor issues that kept the OS from being “perfect”. First of all, being a PC keyboard (I’m assuming), the Control, Alt, and Windows key didn’t convert to their respective Mac keys. This was changeable in the keyboard options though. The second thing was that the system wouldn’t power off when shutting down.

Of course, both of those issues wouldn’t be experienced by someone running a genuine Apple computer, but were specific to my own setup.

Having the Intel GMA900 GPU, this of course wasn’t a gaming machine, although I did install and run Warcraft III just to check it out. It did run, although at about 2fps from my estimation – completely unplayable, but again, almost certainly due to the GPU.

All in all, the test was a big success. There were no quirks during the install, and aside from not automatically powering off when the computer is shutdown, the “white box” setup seemed to run OS X perfectly.

So what does this mean?

In the event that Apple were to decide to license OS X for generic PC’s, they probably could. Granted, there would undoubtedly be driver issues, and it would be a major headache for them to try and support every new piece of hardware, but it could be done. This experiment shows that it’s possible to assemble a computer that works about 99% perfectly with OS X.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your viewpoint), this is not likely to ever happen. The problem is that Apple really works at making their computers simple to use. Opening up their OS to run on any-old-whitebox-computer would undoubtedly result in people needing to use tricks, hacks, patches, etc to get certain hardware to work. As soon as Apple releases control of the hardware, there exists the chance for mayhem (including hardware and driver conflicts, etc).

The good news is that with the change to x86-based processors, Apple probably isn’t going to have to spend a heck of a lot of time in the hardware development area. As long as they continue to base their products on existing PC-platform mainstream hardware, things in that area should be extremely easy for them. For example, if an ATI video card were to have issues on a certain Intel chipset, you can bet that ATI would have a fix out in no time. When Apple was building computers based on the PowerPC architecture, they didn’t have the same guarantees, and undoubtedly needed to meticulously test their hardware for compatibility issues before release. Now that they’ve switched over, checking for (or obtaining support for) issues will become that much easier, and will allow them to get new products out faster. Since Apple is going to add to the sales volumes of companies like Intel, there’s also the potential for hardware prices to decrease for everyone (PC and Mac) over the long term because of the increased production.

Be sure to check out Part III – another “white box” PC with a different chipset, no SSE3, and an AGP video card. Venturing a little farther from the specs of the Developer kits, you’ll find out if OS X still runs, and if so, what differences there might be.

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