History of Convergence: Mac-PC

Discussion in 'General Mac Discussion' started by ahunter3, May 19, 2006.

  1. ahunter3 macrumors 6502

    Oct 15, 2003
    In the Beginning the Mac was new and very different from the PC (and neither of them ruled the industry — if there was a king, it was the Commodore 64, although the Commodore was old and infirm). The PC ran MS-DOS, normally had a text-based screen (usually black with amber or green characters on it), did not have a mouse, had a large and somewhat esoteric keyboard with keys like "F2" and "Page Up" and "Print Screen" and "Num Lock", had one or two 5.25" floppy disk drives, and each commercial application, called by PC users a "program", had its own repertoire of keystroke commands (some with GUI menus, others without, but each one unique unto itself). The Mac ran the Macintosh operating system, had a pixel-based black-and-white screen, depended from the start on a mouse, a GUI with double-clickable icons to represent commercial applications, folders, or documents, had a small keyboard which, aside from the ⌘ key and the Option key, had essentially nothing on it that hadn't been on a traditional typewriter's key layout; It sported one 3.5" diskette drive, with an optional second external one; and all of its applications shared a set of standard keystroke commands which were replicated in the equally standard overhead menus — from left to right, FILE MENU had or very soon would have ⌘-N for New Document, ⌘-O for Open, ⌘-W for Close Window, ⌘-P for Print, ⌘-S for Save, and -⌘Q for Quit; EDIT MENU, right from the very start, had ⌘-X for Cut, ⌘-C for Copy, and ⌘-V for Paste, and pretty quickly picked up ⌘-Z for Undo. And they were always there, those two menus, in that order (no one put the Edit menu on the far left, etc).

    And they had no simple way to speak to each other. There was no file sharing software/networking protocol, as this was in the days before networking. With different floppydrive hardware, no way to move data back and forth via floppy disk. You could rig a serial cable between a Mac and a PC and use XModem or YModem terminal protocols to exchange files, but file formats were incompatible — there were no applications in common, and the PC used dot-threeletter file extensions to explain files to the OS and its apps, while the Mac used a paired set of metadata fields, "file type" and "creator code", stored in the resource fork (of which the PC's file format had none), to categorize the file. You could exchange plain text files and that was about it! And even then, the line endings, representing the point where the text shouid wrap to a new line, were different, so once you had the text file, you'd have to replace peculiar box-shaped characters with hard returns. Oh, and upper ASCII (anything above the first 128 characters) was encoded differently, so © might come out as Í and so on, in either direction.

    By the time I bought my first Mac, the PC-using world had largely embraced the 3.5" diskette (althought most of them had a 5.25" drive as well) and the later editions of the Mac SE, such as mine, had drives that could read hi-density diskettes and also PC-formatted diskettes, although since they were software-formatted differently, you had to use this awful thing called Apple File Exchange, a program with one halfscreen window showing the Mac universe and the other halfscreen showing the contents of the foreign PC-formatted floppy, with buttons to move and translate PC files to Mac (changing line endings, adding file type codes) or vice versa (changing line endings, adding file extensions).

    Oh, and there was networking. Macs had AppleTalk (LocalTalk, over the serial port), long present to allow several Macs access to a single LaserWriter printer, but by now letting you mount a server volume and access its files as if they were local! The PC meanwhile had this thing called Novell and they could do it too, although of course the two protocols had no overlap on either hardware or software protocol. Somewhat later, the PC world got "NetBEUI", which was built into the OS and not an add-on from Novell, so they had two.

    A couple of 3rd-party companies brought the two systems closer together: there was this expensive thing called MacCharlie, which was an entire PC that would clap onto a Mac and use its monitor. I never saw anyone with one of those. But then Dayna made the DaynaFile, a 5.25" drive for the Mac as an external SCSI device, and an INIT (system extension) called DOS Mounter, and quickly found a market for DOS Mounter above and beyond DaynaFile owners: because it would mount a DOS-formatted diskette right on your desktop just like a Mac diskette, right there in the Finder! Also, I think Farallon put out a hardware-software kit that would let PCs run AppleTalk (LocalTalk). And Macs could get ethernet (thin coaxial, in those days, not 10-base-T) and install a Novell networking stack and be part of a Novell network.

    Microsoft was one of the first companies to have applications of the same name on the two platforms that would save files in the same format, so that reading them in on the other platform didn't require "translating" — all you needed to do was stick a PC-style file extension to go from Mac to PC, or have Dayna DOS Mounter (and later, Apple's own native File Exchange Control Panel) assign a file type and creator code based on the PC file extension, and you were good to go!

    PCs had expansion ports — ISA card slots. Beginning with the Mac II, Mac had expansion slots too: NuBus. Incompatible, of course.
  2. ahunter3 thread starter macrumors 6502

    Oct 15, 2003
    History of Convergence Pt 2

    PCs were soon running Windows (3.1 or 3.11 for Workgroups) and had VGA monitors, pixel-based monitors like Macs had, and they had mice now: two-button mice instead of Mac-style mice, but mice nonetheless. Double-click things and they open. Click and drag and things move, etc. Windows had overhead menus, too, just like a Mac (except that their menus stayed down when you clicked them), and after the first few iterations started to standardize menu commands, using the Mac standards but mapping the PC's Control key in lieu of the Mac's ⌘ key which the PC keyboard did not have. Speaking of keyboards, the Mac optionally came with an extended keyboard with all those PC keys like Page Up and Num Lock; even the standard keyboard now came with a Control key!

    This was highly useful when Insignia Solutions shipped their SoftPC product. A PC emulator that could run MS-DOS on a Mac! You would designate a folder as a shared directory, and the DOS environment would see it as an E: drive or some such thing, and that way you could move stuff back and forth between environments.

    Computers had hard drives now, but once again the PC and Mac worlds had adopted different implementations: the Mac had SCSI hard drives, the PC ubiquitously shipped with IDE drives.

    Macs, beginning with the SE and the Mac II, could run multiple monitors which worked as an extended desktop. Under MS-DOS, the PC could run more than one monitor, too, but very few people did it, as support wasn't well-integrated into the OS. It wasn't like an extended desktop, it was more like "which screen do you want to be 'on' now?" and it was even messier under Windows: it was an accomplishment to get the mouse cursor to move from one to the other, let alone moving an icon from one to the other.

    Common file formats began to be common: there was an internet, if not yet a web, and ".gif" and ".tif" and ".jpg" and ".aif" and ".mod" and other filetypes that were almost as often Unix or Amiga in origin as PC or Mac were soon supported by software on PCs and Macs.

    Thursby Systems put out a product called DAVE which put a NetBIOS stack on the Mac and let the Mac participate in TCP-based PC networks. (Less useful for small-biz or home-based PC networks still based on NetBEUI though). Both platforms had some software that would do FTP, though, and internet-based email. Not that internet-based email was big yet — CompuServe and AOL and Prodigy and etc were how most folks emailed — but either way, email was a definite way of linking the platforms.

    Removable media got popular, although far more so on the Mac. Bernoulli drives, SyQuest drives, Floptical drives, and later on, Zip drives and Jaz drives and CD-ROMs. The Macs could natively read PC-formatted media as well as Mac-formatted media, and if you could find a PC with the appropriate drive, you could exchange files that way.

    Mac folks still formatted a lot of their media Mac-formatted, because Macs could boot from damn near anything (Zip, Jaz, CD, SyQuest, Bernoulli, PCCard, you name it) but to boot from it it had to be Mac-formatted, aka HFS. And because of the resource-fork issue (FAT-16 or FAT-32, the main PC formats, were "flat", so resource-fork info had to be either discarded or stored in invisible parallel folders, which was inefficient).

    With Windows95, the PC finally found a use for that extra mouse button, the contextual menu; and alongside of introducing to the PC world a plethora of Mac-like items such as a real Desktop you could save stuff to or store stuff on, a trash can (recycle bin), a customizable menu like the Apple Menu (Start Menu), and icons that indicated what application would "own" it (implemented via a headache called the "registry" since the PC had no resource fork for such metadata), Windows95 introduced the task bar, refined the klunky Win3.x notion of "minimizing" so as to have minimized windows represented as clickable icons on the task bar, and integrated the act of selecting program-type processes with the act of managing files (previously separate under Win3.x), again like the Mac, and implemented some drag-and-drop functionality as well, while rolling out a pair of serious low-level OS infrastructural elements: preemptive multitasking and protected memory. On the PC you could now hit Ctrl-Alt-Del and pick a hung or otherwise unwanted running program and nuke it from orbit.

    The Mac copied the sticky Windows menus that stayed down when you clicked them as of OS 8, and soon had contextual menus which, in the absence of a second mouse button, were invoked by control-clicking. More and more commercial applications used the same file format on PC and Mac, and increasingly were inclined to stick a PC-style file extensions suffix at "save" time, while auto-recognzing files with the appropriate suffixes as one of theirs even without File Exchange gluing on an appropriate File Type code. And then Macs began shipping with ATA (IDE) drives instead of SCSI, and as a consequence could mount a PC's hard drive on its Desktop as easily as a PC floppy if you had the cables to connect it. And then the NuBus card slots gave way to PCI card slots, which had already replaced ISA card slots on the PC, and now the very same expansion cards could work on a Mac or a PC as long as you had the right software drivers for your OS. RAM also increasingly became generic — whereas once upon a time, PC RAM had been different from Mac RAM (with an extra parity chip for the PC RAM, if I recall correctly), Mac models would generally come out using a RAM specification that was in current use in the latest PCs as well.

    Windows95, and its successor Windows98, although they had a memory architecture theoretically supporting protected memory and a threading architecture implementing preemptive multitasking, accomplished both of those as a bit of a kludge. The MacOS of the same vintage limped along with cooperative multitaking (which worked better than it should have, and up until crash time would let Macs run more apps concurrently than PCs as a general rule) and an incredibly old and moldy memory model (which didn't even do virtual memory worth a damn, and which required one to manually designate how much RAM a given app should have, rather than having the OS allocate it dynamicallyu). Even in memory-management, the Mac wasn't totally in shame, as it handled large amounts of RAM gracefully while the Windows PC tended to have problems with that.
  3. ahunter3 thread starter macrumors 6502

    Oct 15, 2003
    History of Convergence (pt 3)

    But the Windows platform by now had another player on the field, Windows NT, which was a server OS but obviously being groomed to be more than just that. It was a pseudo-port of VMS, not a refinement of the DOS-Windows family. (Developers from a Digital Equipment Corp project for porting VMS to standard PC hardware jumped ship to Microsoft when the DEC project was cancelled, and while NT isn't verbatim VMS-for-x86, they certainly brought their experience, ideas, and probably some devcode they'd worked on to refer back to when they came over). VMS was a solid, stable, no-kidding multitasking memory-protected multiuser security-conscious modern (albeit elderly in direct roots & origin) fiend of an OS, better than anything running on consumer hardware, and with a Windows GUI slapped onto it (first 3.x but soon Windows95-style GUI) it looked to be a robust beast of an OS. NT interacts with the hardware via a hardware abstraction layer, so the codebase is largely independent of the hardware it runs on and is easily compiled to run on other standard hardware.

    Apple, after having abandoned A/UX (an Apple Unix for 68K hardware) in part because it had extensive System V underpinnings that were going to keep it out of pricerange, and then falling on its corporate face with Taligent and Copland, finally bought up NeXT and ported the NeXT OS (or, rather, OpenStep) to the PowerPC Mac platform, while porting Steve Jobs back to CEO of Apple. NeXT was a Unix derivative, a FreeBSD variant, and as such a solid, stable, no-kidding multitasking memory-protected multiuser security-conscious modern (albeit elderly in direct roots & origin) fiend of an OS, and with a slick new GUI slapepd onto it (Aqua) it was a robust beast of an OS, initially a somewhat-inefficient resource hog but faster and slicker with every release as the codebase matured. OS X interacts with the hardware via a hardware abstraction layer, so the codebase is largely independent of the hardware it runs on and is easily compiled to run on other standard hardware.

    Soon, MacOS X natively supported SMB, the modernized version of PC networking that replaced NetBIOS in Windows, and the platforms could do resource sharing easily. (Via 3rd-party stacks such as Extreme Z-IP, the modern implementaiton of AppleTalk can be put on Windows PCs as well)

    Then Apple ditched the floppy drive entirely, ditched the propretary ADB and classic Mac serial port in favor of USB (a standard-in-coming on the PC) and shortly afterwared ditched SCSI external port in favor of FireWire, and introduced AirPort.

    The PC embraced AirPort under the monicker of "Wi-Fi", finished embracing USB and extended the protocol to USB-2, and at least half-heartedly included generic FireWire (IEEE 1394) among hardware offerings, while the Microsoft OS (by now Windows 2000 / XP, later derivatives of NT) was given drives to support it.

    Then Apple released a two-button mouse, finally, and ported the Mac platform to the Intel chips used by PCs. Whatever differences remain in the hardware are negligible, architecturally speaking, especially given the hardware abstraction layer of the two operating systems, and so before long some clever hackers had gotten XP to install onto Mac hardware, and Apple then released BootCamp to make it easier and simpler and more user-friendly to do so.

    So from a beginning point of no interaction beyond text-only files over a serial cable, we now have hardware that is essentially hybrid: the Intel-based Macs are PCs as well as Macs in every meaningful sense of the word. Most applications — all but a handful of the mainstream ones, and a decent portion even of the specialized & small-market packages —*come in a Mac and a PC version and can read saved files generated by the other operating syttem's version. Thanks to the internet and easy file sharing on LANs, as well as the rise of CD and DVD burning and the tendency towards unified standards thereof, moving files back and forth is scarcely more complicated than moving them from one Mac to another, or from one PC to another.

    And still some people complain about the lack of fully fluid integration, not knowing how good they've got it nowadays! :D
  4. steve_hill4 macrumors 68000


    May 15, 2005
    NG9, England
    Very good, if not long and scattered, (mentioning one change then going back five years onto a different section).

    If you split this into pages, add photos, diagrams, (e.g. flow charts), and expand sections seperate from the main article about certain technical aspects, this would make quite a good magazine article. I could see this in glossy format expanding over 10 or more pages.
  5. dejo Moderator


    Staff Member

    Sep 2, 2004
    The Centennial State
    Yeah, the chronology's a little off. For example, Apple ditched the floppy drive before Mac OS X appeared.
  6. SC68Cal macrumors 68000

    Feb 23, 2006
    A very good read. To the above commenters, this should be put on a Wiki so that others can contribute. It would certainly an excellent start to a very good wikipedia article!

    A very good read, very enjoyable.
  7. ahunter3 thread starter macrumors 6502

    Oct 15, 2003
    OK, I thought at first this was sinking like a stone, but now that I'm getting comments, I will take your suggestions and crits into account and make modifications. (Like the out-of-sequence abandoning of the floppy and ADB etc =:slaps head:=))


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