The Ongoing, Never Ending WWDC Report: Intel Inside Edition

June 11th, 2005

Just in case you’re wondering, yes, those rumors are true! Apple is going to switch from the PowerPC to Intel processors over the next two and a half years. Why? For one thing, Apple is less-than-happy with the present PowerPC roadmap, which is why it’s casting its lot with Intel. Consider the lack of a low power G5, or the prospect for one in the foreseeable future, and Apple wants and needs a faster laptop processor solution that will also provide superior battery life.

Before I go on, let me make it perfectly clear that this doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to run the Intel version of Mac OS X on a Dell box. I cornered Steve Jobs right after the keynote, and he said that won’t be possible. “The ROM?” I asked, and he responded “Whatever,” before speeding away.

As the published reports stated, the first Macs with Intel Inside will appear by June 2006, and the transition from PowerPC to Intel will be complete by the end of 2007. However, confirming other rumors, Jobs revealed that, for the past five years, Apple has had a parallel project in place, a secret “double life,” building versions of Mac OS X to run in Intel processors. In fact, his demo was run on a Power Mac outfitted with a 3.6GHz Pentium 4.

The obvious question, of course, is how developers are going to manage the transition, and Jobs said it would be a lot easier than you might expect. Java-related apps, such as a Dashboard widget, will work right away. A new version of Apple’s Xcode developer’s tools, just released, will allow Mac software companies to build what are known as “Universal binaries,” which will run on both PowerPC and Intel processors. He also said that both Carbon and Cocoa apps could be updated with minor tweaks and a recompile, saying the process should take a few weeks.

The next huge question is how an Intel-equipped Mac will handle older apps, and the solution is something called Rosetta, an emulation environment using “dynamic binary translation,” which Jobs claims is both fast and transparent to the user. Kind of like the 680×0 emulation on a PowerPC Mac, but it appears to be a whole lot faster. During his demonstration, Jobs launched Microsoft Excel and Word and Adobe Photoshop, and all delivered good performance in translation mode.

To complete the news of the switch to Intel, Jobs brought Intel’s President & CEO, Paul Otellini, on stage to talk about the history and synergies between the two companies. As you might expect, IBM was nowhere in sight.

After this blockbuster, just about everything during the short keynote was an anticlimax. Despite the competition from Yahoo, Napster and Real Rhapsody, the iTunes Music Store had 82% of the market as of May. So much for speculation that Apple would lose market share any time soon.

In his Tiger update, Steve revealed that over 2,000,000 copies of Tiger have been sold so far, just six weeks after 10.4 made its debut. No doubt this is the fastest selling Mac OS upgrade ever and it represents over 16% of the Mac OS X user base. What’s next? Mac OS 10.5 Leopard, which will appear by the end of 2006 or early 2007, just around the time that Microsoft’s Longhorn is due to appear.

But it’ll be next year before we learn anything about Leopard. The era of Tiger is just beginning.

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