Just a few days after the historic announcement that Apple was switching to Intel processors, it appears some technology pundits still can’t their stories correct. Or maybe, having nothing to write about, they might as well create stories from whole cloth that are filled with fear, uncertainty and doubt. Take, for example, the assumption that the major transitions in Apple’s history caused severe drops in market share.
Ah, the myth of conventional wisdom.
First, there’s the claim that the switch from 680×0 to PowerPC processors beginning in 1994 must have caused Mac users to desert the platform in droves. They cite the fact that Apple’s market share did decline substantially during that period. I don’t dispute the statistics, just the assumptions. Having survived that period, I really didn’t see anything in that great processor switch that would have caused most Mac users much in the way of pain. I mean, you could still run most of your existing applications with decent performance, courtesy of an emulator. True, you didn’t enjoy any speed improvements until developers ported their applications to the new architecture, but I don’t see that as being a huge factor in causing folks to stop buying Macs.
Rather, the pundits forget one factor that really did hurt Apple badly, and that was the arrival of Windows 95. This was the first version of Windows that was good enough for regular use. Combined with a huge marketing campaign that featured the song “Start Me Up” from The Rolling Stones, it made many feel that embracing the Dark Side was a good thing, that Microsoft had finally caught up with Apple in the great platform wars. Of course, I don’t for a moment believe that parity between the Mac and Windows was achieved, but that didn’t matter.
Now it’s perfectly true that porting applications to the PowerPC could be painful, and it took some publishers a year or two, maybe more, to get the job done. It’s also true that some developers just gave up and went to Windows, but they probably would have done so anyway, eventually. It was all about sales, and that was the major factor.
Then there’s the migration to Mac OS X. This time the Classic environment made it possible to run older applications and, again, developers felt the pain in building Mac OS X software. Apple’s sales were pretty much stagnant over this period, and maybe market share did decline, but that was probably not the reason. If anything, Unix mavens embraced the Mac, since it offered the best of both worlds, a stunning graphical environment that let them use Microsoft Office, and enough command line tools to keep them drooling. That, in fact, may have helped market share to some degree.
Of course, you have to wonder just what might have happened to Mac sales in recent months were it not for the unexpected success of the iPod, but that’s another story. In any case, I don’t see Mac users leaving the platform in droves because Mac OS X was just too pretty, and they really needed the dark, garish, virus and spyware-ridden Microsoft universe to feel comfortable.
Now we are being told that many of you will put off buying new Macs until Intel processors are inside. Does that make any sense? Yes, I suppose it’s possible some purchases will be delayed, but the reasoning, from a practical standpoint, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Let’s say, for example, that Apple’s partnership with IBM and Freescale Semiconductor (the Motorola spin-off) remained fruitful, and that more powerful G4 and G5 processors with lower power consumption appeared in sufficient quantities on schedule. New Macs will, over time, get faster regardless of who built the processor. That’s how it is.
Does this mean that you should put off buying a new Mac becoming something better might be on the horizon? Use that logic, and you’ll never buy a new Mac. The simple reason is that there will always be a better product in the wings. Even as a new model ships, a better one is under development. You’ll never reach the end of the rainbow and it’s foolish to try.
I am quite sure that the first Macs with Intel Inside will provide indeed superior performance, maybe far superior, and that the new iBooks an PowerBooks will have longer battery life. But it’s at least a year away. And imagine a Power Mac with a pair of dual-core Pentiums. That’s roughly the equivalent of having four processors at your beck and call, but don’t expect to see it until late in 2007.
Does it make sense to stick with your old Mac until then, when you really need a faster computer right now? If your present Mac is getting long in the tooth, why wait?
What’s more, don’t be surprised if Apple’s transition timetable is a little too optimistic. Maybe the first Macs with Intel Inside won’t appear until the end of 2006. Maybe the transition will not be over until the early part of 2008. Regardless, the Mac you buy today will last for years to come. Universal binaries will allow you to buy forthcoming upgrades to most of your favorite applications and be assured they’ll work regardless of who built your Mac’s processor. What’s more, the PowerPC will be supported for years to come.
Yes, some day universal binaries will be history and Apple will abandon the PowerPC. But that probably won’t happen until some time in the next decade. Ask me again in 2012. But for now, it doesn’t make any sense to put off buying a new Mac, even if some people in the news business prefer to tell you otherwise.
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