Hiawatha Bray talks about the inroads Apple has made in the biotech industry in
a new article
online and in the front of today’s Business section.
Bray said that while Macs have often been used by biotechnology firms in the past for clerical tasks, Mac OS X’s Unix underpinnings are helping Apple win the favor of researchers who previously depended on heavy iron from Intel or Silicon Graphics (SGI) running Linux or Irix to handle heavy-duty calculations.
One Genzyme scientist called Mac OS X “a better Unix development environment” than Linux or Irix. Mac OS X drew similar praise from NASA engineer who called it “the best Unix I’ve seen come along, ever.” He and other NASA engineers he works with dumped their Silicon Graphics workstations in favor of the Mac. What’s more, they’re using seven Xserves for use in a high-speed computing cluster.
The news isn’t lost on Apple, which told the Globe there’s been a “surge” of interest in Macs from scientists and engineers. Apple worked with researchers at Stanford University and biotech firm Genentech to craft a free version of BLAST, a DNA searching program, optimized for the Power Mac G4 and OS X.
The suggestion that Apple is moving into the rarified space reserved for Sun and SGI workstations drew skepticism from an analyst, as well as Sun and SGI spokespeople. A sun marketing manager called Apple “immature” in the market and said that while it has a Unix-based operating system, it still lacks widespread application support. Bray also noted that unlike Sun and SGI’s 64-bit workstations, Apple is still using a 32-bit processor. “The 64-bit chips allow for the processing of extremely large databases, beyond the reach of a 32-bit system,” he said.
Still, it’s a new market, albeit a small one. “Apple has a history of successfully dominating market niches. It may have found a new one in the nation’s laboratories,” he said.