The Macintel Report

PowerPC Macs Obsolete?, Apple to Exit Hardware Biz?, Intel Macs Look 'Normal' Inside, and More

Compiled by Charles Moore and edited by Dan Knight - 2005.06.30

This Week's Mac-on-Intel News

PowerBook, iBook, and other portable computing news is covered in The 'Book Review. General Apple and Mac desktop news is covered in The Mac News Review. iPod news is covered in The iNews Review.

News, Analysis, and Opinion

Tech Developments

News, Analysis, and Opinion

Looking Forward to Intel-Based Macs

The New Straits Times Ahmad Faiz says:

"On June 6, Steve Jobs confirmed speculation that Apple will shift its Mac line gradually to Intel-based chips over the next two years. The announcement was made during Jobs' keynote speech to Mac programmers at the company's annual Worldwide Developer Conference.

"Among the reasons cited was that the PowerPC roadmap was not able to deliver enough performance at the low-power usages needed for powerful notebooks; that PowerPCs would only deliver about a fifth the performance per watt of comparable Intel chips.

"In hindsight, such a turn of events is to be expected, considering that research and development (R&D) on high-performance processors require heavy investments.

"With such a tiny market for Apple computers, IBM and Motorola (now Freescale Semiconductor), which co-developed the PowerPC architecture, could not hope to make the same kind of returns that would justify the R&D spending made by an electronics giant like Intel.

"Also, Apple had stopped comparing Mac benchmark performance results with high-end Windows personal computers (PC) years ago because it was evident that the PowerPC architecture was lagging behind. So, in order to keep producing high-performance Macs, Apple would have to adapt the Mac operating system (OS) to other than the PowerPC, which it did."

Are PowerPC Macs Obsolete?

Roughly Drafted's Daniel Eran says:

"The comfortable Mac ecosystem seemed completely turned upside down when Apple announced the Intel transition. All of a sudden, it was not obvious how long the newest models would remain useful.

"The usual panic mongering press didn't help by suggesting that the PowerPC was now trash, and its performance had actually had been a lie all along, and that suddenly Apple woke up and realized they should have jumped on the x86 bandwagon long ago.

"Of course, none of those things are true. Simply stated, there is nothing obsolete about the PowerPC....

"It's a quandary as old as the personal computer: everyone is afraid of buying obsolete computer technology, and yet everything in the computer world becomes obsolete nearly as fast as you can buy it. Making the best buying decision is simply a balance between current needs, available spending budget, and the future outlook for new products."

Some Mac Users Delaying Purchase until Macintels Ship

The Register's Andrew Orlowski reports:

"A survey by Macworld magazine in the US indicates that one third of readers are less likely to buy a new Mac computer in the next twelve months. That's rather similar, but slightly more encouraging for Apple than the feedback we received immediately after the announcement that Apple would be moving off PowerPC processors.

"Curiously, 13 per cent of readers surveyed said they were more likely to buy an obsolete PPC-Mac in the next year. Whether this is for rational reasons, and they fear a bumpy transition period (as many of you do), or whether it's simply a pledge of fealty, isn't clear from the published results."

[Editor's comment: I don't find this curious at all, and indeed am surprised that the percentage in this category is so low. The new Macintel machines will obsolete a lot of existing software, won't support Classic Mode, and the first examples are bound to be buggy. I think that as the practical realities sink in, more will opt to buy one of the last PPC machines. I plan to buy one more PowerPC Mac. CM]

Will Apple Still Be Selling Macs in 2008?

geek.com's Allan Warner says:

"Now that Apple has decided to drop the IBM PowerPC microprocessor and replace it with an Intel x86 series chip, two questions have to be answered so decisions can be made by both the Mac's ISVs and the end users....

"Apple will use the Rosetta system, from the Transitive Corporation, to translate those older applications written to run on the PowerPC so that they can run on the new machines with x86 chips. Sounds great, but Apple tells us that Rosetta will not work with the following:

  • applications built for OS 9.2
  • code written specifically for AltiVec
  • code that inserts preferences in the System Preferences pane
  • applications that require a G4 or G5 processor
  • applications that depend on one or more kernel extensions
  • kernel extensions
  • bundled Java applications
  • Java applications with JNI libraries that can't be translated
  • C++ code written within the Metrowerks CodeWarrior framework....

"Should you purchase a Macintosh with a PowerPC microprocessor between now and when the switchover is final?

"The answer: a definite yes! For the next few years, including even after the x86 machines are introduced, you will get more for your money by purchasing a desktop Mac with a PowerPC processor....

"By staying with the older PowerPC architecture you will avoid the enviable mistakes that Apple will make during its learning experience when the first machines are introduced. As both Tiger and Leopard will continue to work on the PowerPC Macs, you have years before you might be forced to purchase a new desktop machine....

"For PowerBooks the answer is debatable, as we don't now what chip Apple plans to use on its portables, or if these new machines will really be faster."

"Will Apple still be selling Macs in, say, 2008?

"I doubt it. It looks to me like Apple will be going out of the desktop computer and, possibly, the portable hardware business, evolving instead into being mainly a software company."

[I pretty much agreed with Alan up to that point, but there's no way Apple would be making this revolutionary switch to Intel only to phase out computer manufacture three years from now. CM]

Apple Not Dropping Hardware

Blogger Tim Coughlin says:

"...I was just scanning through today's news and noticed an article by Allan Warner over at Geek.com. I'm not going to attack this like I did those two comments in my last piece. But I am going to have to say that I think Allan is wrong. No bones about it, just flat out wrong. I'm sure he doesn't think that he is. I'm sure he thinks that I'm just another Mac zealot, two bit blogger who thinks he knows more than he really does. But this is one of those topics that crops up again and again, and those who make the 'software' claims seem to be missing the big picture.

"The first question Allan asks is, 'Should you purchase a Macintosh with a PowerPC microprocessor between now and when the switchover is final?'. His answer is yes, and I quite agree with him on this. The next generation of OS X, Leopard, will be released at the end of 2006 and will be compatible with both PPC and x86 offerings. I expect the next iteration of OS X after that to present itself mid to late 2008, though this is pure speculation. This too will almost certainly support both architectures given the last PPC offering will roll off the production lines in 2007. So I would expect full current software support from Apple, and therefore other developers, until well into 2010. Most people buying Macs will be on an upgrade cycle of around 3 years, and those that aren't will probably never know there was a transition in the first place. Given this, there is no rational reason not to recommend people buy a Mac whenever they want. Most likely, they will see the transition as seamless, just like Apple wants. They will never really know anything changed anyway."

"The second question is where it all goes wrong however. Allan asks, 'Will Apple still be selling Macs in, say, 2008?'. His answer is that he doubts it. Hmmm. First he says that Apple will pull out of the desktop business, and possibly even the laptop business. Is this seriously likely to happen in the next 3 years? Especially given that Apple's dominant market share are in areas where the power and screen sizes afforded by desktops are critical. Is video editing going to be done on PowerBooks in future, I think not...."

'Intel Inside' Macs Look Normal Inside

eWeek's John Spooner reports:

"The Mac public got its first look into Apple Computer Inc.'s Intel-based development systems this week, thanks to Web sites such as Think Secret. For those versed in assembling PCs, they look fairly ordinary....

"The machine it surveyed is based on a 3.6 GHz Pentium 4 and an Intel chip set with built-in graphics, paired with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger and 1 GB of RAM, the site said. The AppleInsider Web site posted similar photos and a similar description on Thursday....

"This could mean Apple intends to use large portions of off-the-shelf Intel parts for its machines. Doing so would allow it to standardize on a single chip set and to use Intel's built-in graphics, in some cases, but maintain the option of using a broader selection of add-in cards for graphics and sound in other models. PC makers often pick one chip set and motherboard per model line in an effort to lower costs and improve support for businesses."

CodeWeavers Easing Windows Developers' Move to Macintel

MacNewsWorld.com's John P. Mello Jr. reports:

"CrossOver can make the emerging MacTel market more attractive to midtier Windows developers, CodeWeavers CEO Jeremy White maintained. "Rather than spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and several man-years to port their application to the Mac, a software maker can spend tens of thousands of dollars and a few months to do it," he contended.

"For years, CodeWeavers has been greasing the way for Windows developers to run their software programs under Linux. Now it's turning its attention to the brave, new world of Macintosh computers based on Intel microprocessors (MacTel)....

"'The switch to Intel makes the Mac market compelling to us,' CEO Jeremy White told MacNewsWorld. 'We are now presented with this great opportunity that in 12 months we'll have this brand new market of 15 million users that we've never had before.'"

Inquirer staff report:

"Windows-to-Linux software developer, CodeWeavers, Inc says it is busy building software to allow the easy port of Windows applications to upcoming Intel-powered Apples.

"The company currently produces 'CrossOver' and 'CrossOver Office' productivity tools which enable Windows applications to run natively on popular flavours of Linux."

First Intel Macs: iMac and Mac mini

Macworld UK's Narasu Rebbapragada reports:

"Apple's decision to abandon IBM PowerPC chips in favor of processors from Intel raises the possibility of new, affordable Apple computers that could boot both Mac OS X and Windows. Analysts predict that the first Intel-based Macs will be the iMac and Mac mini."

Evolutionary Improvement to Revolutionary Machines

Computer Business Review Online's Jason Stamper says:

"The big debate is around whether Jobs will license Mac OS to other manufacturers, so they can build Intel machines around Mac OS. Some pundits have been saying that if he did, Apple could quickly grow to rival Microsoft's Windows dominance. A little hasty, perhaps.

"Jobs has so far said that he will not allow others to license Mac OS on Intel, or any other hardware for that matter. That's because Apple's current business model is reliant on its hardware sales more that its software sales. It could of course change its business model, and if sales of Mac OS on other people's hardware became great enough it could more than make up for the loss of Apple hardware sales. But so far that looks like a bridge too far for Jobs, who is no doubt mindful of what a change like that might do to the company's share price in the short and medium term.

"Culturally, too, the company sees itself very much as a solutions company. It likes the idea of someone buying its hardware and software together, wrapped up in a fantastically slinky, well-engineered skin. That philosophy is in its blood now more than ever.

"In which case, what difference does MacOS on Intel really mean? Instead of buying a sexy Apple Mac running a PowerPC chip, you will get a sexy Mac running Intel."

Sun's McNealy on Apple's Intel Move

CNET's Ina Fried reports:

"As part of a wide-ranging interview this week, Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy shared his thoughts on Apple Computer and its recent decision to switch to Intel chips.

"Although he said he fundamentally disagrees with Apple's approach - that is making powerful desktop devices as opposed to thin clients - he said that Apple certainly does make the best looking of the unnecessarily featured desktops.

"As for the Intel move, McNealy said he expects the transition will take the better part of five years and ultimately could cause a challenge for the software developers that write for the Mac."

Tech Developments

Photonics the Way to Faster Chips

"Intel researchers are shedding some light on a potential new application for chip photonics: upping the performance of multicore processors.

"The processor giant's research labs are exploring ways to use silicon photonics-on-chip components that use light to transmit data-to replace electrical interconnects using copper wiring and simultaneously speed up vital connections that move data into and out of processors."

Intel Rules WiFi Waves

Opinion: Dominating WiFi chips in computers won't squeeze out the company's competitors just yet, but watch for long-term effects.

"Well, it seems that the Intel juggernaut is heading onward to the WiFi chip sector. ABI Research of Oyster Bay, N.Y., figures that Intel in the last quarter was the No. 1 seller of chips in the WiFi g and a/g market."

More Mac News

PowerBook, iBook, and other portable computing news is covered in The 'Book Review. General Apple and Mac desktop news is covered in The Mac News Review. iPod news is covered in The iNews Review.

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