Scientists use Mac OS X for better performance, security

“‘For our [Mars] landing site work, we always get the highest-end desktop Mac we can find, so we just got one of the G5s with dual 2-GB processors and 8 GB of RAM,’ Matt Golombek, a planetary geologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told the E-Commerce Times. ‘If you pull up a shot of NASA after the [first] Mars landing and look at the desktops, you’ll see a couple of PC laptops there, but you’ll see more PowerBooks,’ Jon Rubinstein, senior vice president for hardware engineering at Apple, told the E-Commerce Times,” Robyn Weisman reports.

“Although no hard figures are available to chart the Mac’s rise in scientific communities, anecdotal evidence suggests various Apple machines, from the Xserve G5 to the PowerBook, have become viable options. For example, Virginia Tech chose last fall to build a supercomputing cluster using Power Mac G5s, then decided to upgrade to Xserve G5s when those machines became available. The university’s choice of Apple products stemmed from the computers’ attractive price-performance ratio, Virginia Tech spokesperson Lynn Nystrom recently told the E-Commerce Times,” Weisman reports. “As Apple continues to reinvent itself, how are scientists putting Macs to work in research projects and other innovative endeavors?”

“Matt Golombek, a planetary geologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), has used Apple machines since the Mac SE came out in the late 1980s. Golombek told the E-Commerce Times that 90 percent of his JPL colleagues also use Macs for a host of reasons,” Weisman reports. “Michael Swenson, life sciences computing analyst at research firm IDC, told the E-Commerce Times that Apple’s Unix-based Mac OS X has been the driver of Mac popularity in such areas as bioinformatics and chemistry, mainly because porting open-source applications from Linux and Unix has become a trivial process.”

“Why are these moves toward more Mac use taking place now? [Theodore Gray, director of user interface technology and co-founder of Mathematica maker Wolfram Research] contended that Apple occasionally takes a step ahead of other vendors in its price-performance ratio. The company now appears to be in one of those ‘leapfrog” cycles. Wolfram Research has a G4 cluster installed, and Gray said the company is happy with it because it is easy to maintain and is price competitive.
Indeed, because PCs no longer carry the huge price advantage they once did, choosing a hardware and software configuration now also involves an element of personal preference, Gray said. He noted that with Macs, ‘you do not have the [same] sort of virus problem as with Windows,'” Weisman reports.

Full article here.


  1. “A lot of scientists are like me — they may know a lot more about how computers work than the general public, but they don’t really care,” Stevenson told the E-Commerce Times. “They just want something that works reliably.”
    Oh Yes. If you want to get your work done you choose Mac.

  2. Uhh… Bad, bad scientist!! Now you’ll get some IT staff fired. The whole economy which relies on billion dollar IT industry will crumble. You, sir, are an evil scientist bent to destroy the world. Too bad we at MDN find out your plan… we will switch to Windows (like the Homeland Security) to defend the world’s freedom and justice.

  3. Someone pointed me at this. I’ve seen the same thing … in theoretical physics many people have been moving to OS X over the past year. The comments on consolidating platforms is bang on. I gave up an old Sun, HP running Windows and a very flakey Toshiba laptop for a 15″ Powerbook. I’m much happier with the single machine than with the combination I was using.

    It works just fine for me … LaTeX for my papers, X11 for connectivity to my department’s cluster, the standard Internet tools and Mathematica.

    It works just fine for this particle theorist.

    In next year’s budget cycle we are trying to put together enough for a small (128 cpu) cluster. Right now the Xserve G5 looks very interesting to us.

  4. Having been one of those “scientists” I can say the scientific community has always loved Macs. (What got me started on the Mac was Absoft’s FORTRAN compiler with its ability to watch multiple variables in real time as you stepped through a program in the debugger — something unheard of on other scientific machines back in ’84/’85. It cut my software development time by a factor of about 4 or 5.) Even in the “dark ages” Macs were still a wanted machine — it was the first (and for a very, very long time) the ONLY desktop machine that 100% complied with ALL the IEEE floating point requirements. If you were nuts about precision and accuracy (as I am and most of my old “rocket scientist” and “nuke” friends are) then the Mac with the old SANE routines was the only way to go.

    For the scientific community’s use of the Mac the darkest age was the last couple years of the G4. The Wintel machines had greatly surpassed them in compute power (a 1.42 GHz dual G4 did not compare favorably with a 3 GHz Pentium 4 or dual Xeon for many, many applications) and the Wintel machines finally supported all the nice things like double-double precision (sometimes called quad precision) and the IEEE floating point standards which they did not originally do. For most applications it just did not make sense to buy a Mac for scientific work in the 2002 through the first 7 months of 2003.

    With the advent of the G5 machines (desktops and Xserves for compute servers) this situation has been reversed. By the time Apple fulfills Steve Jobs’ promise of 3GHz machines before fall (probably shipping in early September to meet that deadline) the G5 very clearly will be ahead in the price/performance arena.

    It is also nice to know that these people are not having to fight the bureaucratic layers to get their preferred machines.

  5. Shadowself, the Apple price/performance advantage looks to be secure for quite a while with the ongoing evolution of the IBM G5, planned release of the G6 in late 2004, and additional generations after that. With the G5 and OSX it’s a great time to be a scientist (or an engineer)!

  6. “With the G5 and OSX it’s a great time to be a scientist (or an engineer)!” – King Mel

    with an exception like us who get lower end computers while the boss gets a bragging right with a G5 to run MS Words and Mail. Just like one of those Dilbert episode. >:(

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