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Much ado over Apple-Intel developer box

Fans upset over security chip designed to prevent the loading of the new Intel-centered Mac OS onto non-Apple machines.

Apple Computer fans are upset over a security chip found in a special x86-based PowerMac--a chip designed to prevent people from loading the company's new Intel-centered OS onto non-Apple machines.

Apple supplied the Intel-fitted PowerMac to members of its Apple Developer Connection, a group for software programmers. The PowerMac includes a microcontroller known as the Trusted Platform Module--TPM for short--that contains a digital signature necessary in order to install the Mac OSX operating system onto the box.

An ADC member, who asked not to be identified, confirmed the microcontroller's existence to CNET

Trusted Platform Module (TPM1.2)
Credit: Infineon Technologies

Representatives of Apple and Intel declined to comment on the inclusion of the TPM chip in the PowerMac.

The ADC source reported being able to install other operating systems like Windows and Linux onto the test box. But it was impossible, the source said, to install software from the DVD containing the Intel-configured Mac OS onto similar x86-based PCs that lacked a TPM.

Some Mac fans disagree with Apple's desire to prevent the loading of its Intel-based OS on non-Mac boxes. Another issue for some is that the TPM could compromise the privacy of users because of the identifying number built into the chip. The technology could also restrict the use of some digital media by enforcing digital rights management technologies.

Reactions on the OSx86 Forum, Slashdot and other fan sites ran the gamut from annoyance to just plain resentment against Apple for joining Microsoft, Advanced Micro Devices, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo in support of the technology.

"The 'bru ha ha' is that it won't just be the ADC people that have to deal with TPM. Everyone that buys a new Mac will. That's what the big deal is. No one wants to deal with the TPM," said an OSx86 Forum moderator known as Mashugly.

One fan threatened to remove his Apple tattoo should the company include the security chip in its new Macintosh products, which are expected to be on sale by next summer.

Those overly concerned with the issue may have short memories. During the announcement back in June, Apple said its machines would not support other operating systems outside of the Mac OSX, but the company also said it would not be able to prevent underlying software from Microsoft or a Linux distribution from being installed.

Apple is currently transitioning its computers to Intel processors from the PowerPC chips made by IBM. In addition to hardware, Apple is supplying software and other resources as part of its Developer Transition Kit.

A representative with Apple did say that the computers shipped to developers are the same as the one Apple CEO Steve Jobs used during a demo onstage at the company's developer conference in June.

Participating developers received a PowerMac that runs on an Intel D915GUX motherboard powered by a Pentium 4 660 Prescott that reaches top speeds of 3.60GHz, the ADC source said.

The existence of the TPM chip, manufactured by Infineon Technologies, is no guarantee that Apple will be using it in the final Macintosh products shipping next year. But industry analyst Pete Glaskowsky says it is highly likely, considering that Apple has the controller installed now.

"Apple does not want just anybody that has the right Intel motherboard to install the beta version of its software."

Glaskowsky also surmised that Apple developers will come across more surprises as they familiarize themselves with the new Mac architecture.

The ADC source said one welcome surprise was that the combination of Intel chips and the Mac OSX seems to have led to the ability to perform tasks and play games incredibly fast.