Apple steals Microsoft's multicore thunder with Grand Central

How Apple takes something dry and boring -- like multicore tuning -- and turns into something shiny, new, and Apple-"exclusive"

With the predominance of coverage this past week focused on Mac OS X Snow Leopard and its new Grand Central Dispatch multiprocessing technology, I thought it might be interesting to revisit an issue I touched on earlier this year for the InfoWorld Test Center: cross-platform scalability and the benchmark testing I conducted in support of my article "The generation gap: Windows on multicore."

In that piece, I noted Microsoft was already well out in front of the multicore trend with Windows Vista, and the tuning and tweaking that went into its kernel was carried forward -- and even improved on a bit -- with Windows 7. I also noted Windows XP lacks this multicore tuning, hampering its ability to scale. In fact, if it weren't for Vista's longer kernel code path (a by-product of all that DRM-fueled code bloat), it would clean XP's clock on a dual- or quad-core system.

[ Find out what enterprise technology Mac OS X Snow Leopard brings for business IT. | Discover whether your PC can run Windows 7 with InfoWorld's free tool. ]

As it stands, you'll need to reach into the 20- to 30-core range before the multicore efficiencies of the Vista/Windows 7 kernel finally allow the OS to overtake Windows XP in terms of raw performance. And before you snicker about the absurdity of discussing enterprise desktop systems with more cores than there are players on a football field (hint: that's 22 for those of you still living in your mom's basement), please note that Intel is already delivering chips with up to eight concurrent execution threads (4 cores plus hyperthreading).

I bring this up because it serves as another great example of why Apple continues to clobber Microsoft on the marketing front. Simply put, Apple has better pet names. For example, Microsoft creates a sophisticated, block-oriented version control and backup/restore technology for Windows Vista and proceeds to call it by the lame "geeks peak" name, Previous Versions. Apple delivers an inferior, file-based backup technology, slaps a cool "Star Trek" UI on top, and the industry press goes gaga over Time Machine.

I see a similar thing happening with Grand Central Dispatch. Apple is baking multicore-aware parallelism into the Mac OS X kernel -- something Microsoft did nearly three years ago with Vista's technically superior NT Executive -- and marketing it to the world as an exclusive Macintosh development. So the next time you hear a Mac nut yapping away about the cool new Grand Central technology in Mac OS X Snow Leopard, just do like the penguins in the hit movie "Madgascar": Smile and wave.

And maybe snicker a bit.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

How to choose a low-code development platform