Apple Intern Worked On ‘Secret’ Project Porting Mac OS X To ARM

Mac OS X on iPad

While Apple has previously dismissed the idea of porting its entire Mac OS X operating system to ARM-powered mobile devices, the Cupertino company has at least been working on it. That’s according to one intern who worked with Apple’s Platform Technologies Group — a subdivision of the CoreOS department — for four months back in 2010. But does it really mean anything?

Tristan Schaap wrote a thesis on his time at Apple shortly after he left the company in 2010, but he was unable to publish it until August 16 2011, when an embargo protecting the sensitive subject matter was lifted. It’s now available for anyone to read, and it details Apple’s work on porting its Snow Leopard desktop operating system to devices powered by ARM processors.

iMore points to this particular section of Schaap’s report:

The goal of this project is to get Darwin into a workable state on the MV88F6281 processor so that other teams can continue their work on this platform. The project has three major milestones:

  1. Getting the buildsystem into shape, so that it can build the kernel and kexts.
  2. Building and booting the kernel into single user mode.
  3. Booting the system into multi-user mode.

iMore notes that since Apple started working on this “secret” project, it has shipped new MacBook Airs and a new iPad; neither of which show any sign of Mac OS X on ARM. It’s unclear if the project is ongoing at Apple’s Cupertino campus or whether it has now been dropped. But Schaap is now a full-time employee at Apple, working as a CoreOS engineer.

So what does Schaap’s thesis suggest? Well, many have jumped to the conclusion that it means Apple was — and could still be — planning to port Mac OS X to a device like the iPad. But we’re skeptical of that. After all, we already know that the company is so secretive that new employees must work on “fake” products until they can be trusted, so why would they allow an intern to work on a project as big as bringing Mac OS X to the iPad?

Furthermore, I think it’s safe to assume if this thesis revealed any details about Apple’s future plans, Schaap would no longer be an Apple employee. What’s included in his report must now be largely insignificant.

Related
  • McRCN

    This is why Apple puts people on fake project.  People cannot keep their mouth shut.

  • David Lockard

    reply to McRCN, people were not born to keep their mouths shut, hungry?

  • joewaylo

    It’s almost there to happen. Microsoft already beat Apple to the punch though.
    Windows 8 for tablets is a few months away.

  • CharliK

    Sure they worked on it, just like they worked on a 7 inch iPad.

    And decided it was a no go

  • Un_FollowMe

    I bet he’s looking for a new job now

  • Roland Kalusa

    I think it could be about the MacBook Air, since ARM might soon have faster and more power efficient CPUs than Intel.

  • Amanda Black

    @joewaylo:disqus 

    Microsoft haven’t beaten Apple at anything windows 8 will be irrelevant.

  • Jonathan Ober

    I like how it references Snow Leopard on the iOS devices but it’s clearly Lion in the image.

  • Code_cookies

    No I think it’s more likely that they will use it for the MacBook air as Arm processors generally produce less heat and don’t consume as much power.

  • lgerbarg

    You completely misunderstood what this paper was about. He ported Darwin to an ARMv5TE platform, that is an older, less performant ARM than the current ARMv7′s used in iPhones, or eventhe older ARMv6 that was used in the original iPhones, let alone the newly announced ARMv8 64 bit parts that will be available in in a few years. Most of his work involved stuff very specific to working on an older slower part with a more limited instruction set and would not be applicable to an OS X port to another newer ARM architecture.

    The point of this port was clearly to use Darwin on certain embedded devices that do not use Apple SoC’s, probably the AirPort base stations.

  • Eric Neville

    The comment that “Schaap would no longer be an Apple employee” if his paper held any sensitive information seems misguided, given that the article itself notes that the intern left Apple back in 2010, before said paper was written.

About the author

Killian BellKillian Bell is a freelance writer based in the UK. He has an interest in all things tech, but most enjoys covering Apple, anything mobile, and gaming. You can follow him on Twitter via @killianbell, or through his website.

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