Today I figured I’d talk about something that everyone in the Mac (and PC) community seems to be talking about this week…
The rumors started a few weeks ago on news sites and blogs, and even the Wall Street Journal threw its hat into the ring. They all read pretty much the same: “Apple to use Intel chips in future Macintosh models.” I thought I’d write this article from a “switcher’s” point of view, rather than from the same point of view I’m mostly seeing, that of someone who has always used a Mac, or at least used one for several years. I have begun moving away from Windows PCs for two main reasons. First, I wanted to have the most advanced operating system in the world, and it happened to be the Mac OS. Second, all I’ve ever read has told me that Apple’s hardware, including the IBM PowerPC processor, was superior to the hardware in most PCs. With the upcoming switch to the hardware that Apple and its customers have mocked over the years, I had to ask myself, “Is this good for me?” Naturally, that’s all I care about. After all, I’m a consumer, and I only care whether or not the platform I’m on is delivering the things I want.
Yesterday evening, when I got home from work, I watched the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote address in QuickTime to see what Steve Jobs had to say about what he called Apple’s “third transition”, the move to Intel processors in all Macintosh models by the end of 2006. He cited the switch to the PowerPC in the 90s and to OS X in 2000 as the first and second transitions, respectively, and I took a moment to think about this. Apple has always been at the forefront of the industry, changing before they were required to do so in order to stay ahead of the curve. I suppose we could trust that they are making the right decision and go along with it, keeping in mind that we have no choice anyway, but I have a concern. If we are going to be purchasing machines with Intel inside, are we going to sacrifice speed and power in the process?
Jobs spoke about the two things that pushed Apple to this decision. First, IBM could not deliver a 3 GHz PPC processor, or, at least, they have failed to do so thus far. Second, he made reference to the lack of a G5 chip with low enough power consumption to make them useful in notebook computers. These are two excellent reasons for a transition to Intel, but my initial question of power and speed still stands. Jobs did not make mention of this, even with the Intel’s CEO making an appearance and playing an old Apple commercial mocking the Pentium processor.
Jobs went on to speak about other things that got me a little excited about the switch, however. Apparently, OS X, since its first release, has been compiled not only to run on the PowerPC processor, but also on the x86 processor manufactured by Intel. At the very least, this was a good amount of forward thinking on Apple’s part, taking into consideration that OS X was first released about five years ago. Jobs called this the “just in case scenario.”
Also presented, because this was, after all, a developer conference, was the ease with which applications written for the PowerPC chip would run on the new Intel design. Jobs unveiled Rosetta, which translates apps written for the PPC to something that Intel’s chip can understand, allowing you to continue to run the OS X apps you already have, whether they are ported to Intel or not. I’m sure this put the minds of many developers at ease, at least for the time being. To demo this feature, Jobs let the audience in on a little secret. Apparently, the machine he was using for the demo was, in fact, Intel-based. Very nice touch, Steve. My only question, and this was not mentioned, is whether or not Classic apps will still run, even with Rosetta. Many users still have Classic apps that they purchased in the past that are no longer updated. These users could be out of luck if Classic support is dropped. Either way, Rosetta seemed pretty slick and appeared to run very fast when Adobe Photoshop was launched as a test.
So, what about porting existing apps to the new Intel-based Mac OS? Well, it seems that this, if it is anything like Jobs has described, will be fairly simple, compared to other ports. XCode 2.1 was given out to the developers at the conference and Jobs promised that making what he termed a “universal binary” would be simple for many applications, and only a small amount of work for others. He described the porting of applications in terms of days and weeks, rather than months and years. This would allow developers to release on application that installs and runs on both the PPC and Intel-based version of OS X. Good for the devs, if Apple’s promise is true.
All things considered, this is a good move. I wasn’t happy when I heard the rumors, but I suppose now I can put myself at ease that my switch was good for me, and Apple’s switch is going to be good for Apple After all, OS X on Intel is certainly better than Windows on Intel, even if the chips are slower. I’m hoping that, given the ability to install OS X on Intel-based machines, I will be able to switch my Dell PC from Windows to Mac, and if Apple won’t make it possible, maybe someone else will write something that will.
Watch the Worldwide Developers Conference keynote presented by Steve Jobs, Apple CEO.