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posted by martyb on Tuesday February 19 2019, @12:19PM   Printer-friendly
from the Good-Fast-Cheap...pick-two dept.

Let's say you've got something that needs to be computerised at a slightly higher level than an Arduino, with the computing part costing less than about $100-150, and ideally less than $50 (think Beaglebone, Odroid, PCEngine, Pi and clones, Pine, etc). It looks like the only choice is between ARM at the low end and x86 at the high end. Everything else has fallen by the wayside: The last MIPS-based product was the Ci20/Ci40 from 2015 and neither the hardware nor software have been updated since, PowerPC is out there but only as high-priced SBCs and good luck finding a distro that supports it, Sparc is left with Fujitsu working on it for mainframes, and RISC-V is still a glint in everyone's eye - the few SBCs based on it cost more than a low-end server, and despite various enthusiastic press releases I can't see any timeline where I can get a $50 RISC-V device that performs the same as a $50 ARM-based one. And then there's the software support, once you leave the x86 world you've got, outside of various specialised RTOSes, Linux. A very few systems have one or two of the BSDs, often in a hit-and-miss manner, but that's it.

Has Linux + ARM/x86 killed everything else?


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  • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Tuesday February 19 2019, @03:58PM (10 children)

    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Tuesday February 19 2019, @03:58PM (#803511)

    x86 is job security for too many people to ever be let to die.

    I still remember the day that the 80286 addressing schema was first explained to me: such obvious complexity for the sake of complexity (and vendor lock-in...)

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  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by DannyB on Tuesday February 19 2019, @07:48PM (5 children)

    by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday February 19 2019, @07:48PM (#803633) Journal

    The death of x86 / 64 would have a secondary benefit to the entire world.

    The end of Windows.

    Bare bear with me. The primary value of Windows OS is that it runs legacy apps which are not easily ported to another OS or processor architecture. The ones that can be ported, even if not easily, already have been. That is, they already run on Windows on ARM, or on non-Windows.

    If x86 goes away, then the entire forty year old blight goes away also. Drive C? Kids today probably don't even know why there is a drive c. Segment registers? The ability to boot DOS 1.0?

    Left to compete in software without the Windows monopoly? Microsoft wouldn't know how to compete its way out of a paper bag. Despite pretending to embrace open source.

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    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by JoeMerchant on Tuesday February 19 2019, @09:00PM (4 children)

      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Tuesday February 19 2019, @09:00PM (#803668)

      I think you missed it:

      The primary value of Windows OS

      is the vendor/customer relationship network. Literally millions of people keep their jobs because they "know Windows" in some capacity, even if it is something as non-value-add as how to deal with their licensing keys. The majority of people continue to train to Windows because the majority of paying jobs available in the market are for people who "know Windows."

      You might hope to slowly turn this iceberg to a new course, you might just wait for it to melt, you can even try to blow it up, but reality is: it will take time, lots and lots of time. Putting the squeeze on x86 might be like lobbying for continued use of fossil fuels, to raise the mean global temperature, to try to melt the berg a little faster. Just watch out for the unintended/unwanted side effects.

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      • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Tuesday February 19 2019, @09:14PM (1 child)

        by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday February 19 2019, @09:14PM (#803675) Journal

        If x86 doesn't go away, it could just shrink in number and get more expensive because it isn't efficient or cost effective. It merely is part of what supports the legacy Windows jobs you speak of. That seems to be a self reinforcing death spiral.

        It's like saying the horse and buggy won't go away because it is so entrenched compared to the automobile.

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        • (Score: 3, Insightful) by JoeMerchant on Tuesday February 19 2019, @10:50PM

          by JoeMerchant (3937) on Tuesday February 19 2019, @10:50PM (#803725)

          There is definitely a self reinforcing death spiral (and it's not limited to computer OSs...) Unfortunately, the difference in efficiency between ARM and x86 isn't even an order of magnitude, whereas horses and buggies were several orders of magnitude less efficient/capable than automobiles.

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      • (Score: 3, Touché) by DannyB on Tuesday February 19 2019, @09:17PM (1 child)

        by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday February 19 2019, @09:17PM (#803680) Journal

        How much training do you need to support windows?

        1. Did you try restarting?
        2. How about power cycling?
        3. Re-install the OS.
        4. The best advice I can offer is to buy a new PC.

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        • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Tuesday February 19 2019, @10:54PM

          by JoeMerchant (3937) on Tuesday February 19 2019, @10:54PM (#803729)

          Exactly! That Linux stuff is HARD by comparison, there are actual answers out there for most things if you dig for them, and if you can't find an answer it's always possible to dive into the source code and figure it out - unlike Windows where: once you've called tech support and gotten an official shrug from the vendor, you're done: case closed, what the boss is asking for just isn't possible.

          Are you trying to say that all those people trained to your 4 step solution to all the problems in the computing universe could actually be retrained to support an OS like Ubuntu? Not likely.

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  • (Score: 2) by driverless on Wednesday February 20 2019, @04:44AM (3 children)

    by driverless (4770) on Wednesday February 20 2019, @04:44AM (#803867)

    x86 also just works. It's not surprising that it's the platform that OSS OSes support first and foremost, it's got a (mostly) standard init and boot process and, barring oddball hardware settings, you can generally just drop a generic distro on an x86 system and it'll work, even if it doesn't necessarily use every exotic hardware feature out of the box. OTOH even with something as widespread as Arm you need custom builds for almost every single device and hardware config. An extreme example of this is the PI 3B+, which despite it's name was incompatible with the Pi 3B until they patched the kernel to handle it.

    So x86 is never going to die, because "it just works" gets you a lot of support in the industry. I'm no great fan of x86 either, but it is annoying that if you need to run X, where X is some arbitrary OS or application, it's got a far greater chance of working on x86 than on anything else. Which was part of the motivation for my original post, why am I always pushed back onto x86 unless I want to spend a week with a kernel debugger trying to figure out why FooOS 12.7 hangs on boot on aarch64 system XYZ?

    • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Wednesday February 20 2019, @02:58PM (2 children)

      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Wednesday February 20 2019, @02:58PM (#803984)

      So x86 is never going to die

      Perhaps not until the rise of the machines - when AI takes control they'll have no use for backwards compatibility with all the legacy crud, and they'll probably also want to "confuse the enemy (us)" with something like a simplified RISC architecture that just looks like patternless binary noise to meatbags...

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      • (Score: 2) by driverless on Thursday February 21 2019, @02:10AM (1 child)

        by driverless (4770) on Thursday February 21 2019, @02:10AM (#804330)

        So x86 is never going to die

        Perhaps not until the rise of the machines

        Then we'll be back to 6502's [apl2bits.net].

        • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Thursday February 21 2019, @12:45PM

          by JoeMerchant (3937) on Thursday February 21 2019, @12:45PM (#804476)

          Fine by me... around about 1983 I was of the opinion that you could do just about anything that needed doing on a computer with a 6502 based system. They needed help with the graphics, and sound, and would also need a network co-processor to handle TCP/IP - ethernet today, but with those I could easily enough be posting this message to Soylent News from a 6502 based PC.

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