• The Apple/Intel Report: Still More Myth Busting

    July 2nd, 2005

    I was pleased recently to discover that at least one online commentator who totally messed up the story about the deal between Apple and Intel recanted and presented a revised, and quite accurate report. Too bad more so-called journalists haven’t suffered from similar bouts of conscience. No matter. I’m still here to correct the misunderstandings, as much as I can and maybe some good will come of it. Or maybe not.

    In any case, I’m sure some of you have read about the Developer Transition Kit (let’s call it DTK) that Apple is leasing to help programmers build Universal Binaries of their products. The DTK includes a modified Power Mac with a 3.6GHz Pentium 4 processor inside. Now I don’t know to what extent Apple is frowning upon stories about that test computer, but I will say this: Don’t assume that this Mac represents the kind of product Apple is going to sell when it converts to Intel processors. For one thing, it’s clear that Intel will have a different line of chips a year or two hence, and it’s very possible Apple might just create a whole new form factor to usher in the new order.

    In fact Apple has been quoted as saying, “Don’t assume that what you see in the transition boxes represents what will be present in the final product.” I don’t see how things could be more obvious. It’s just a test bed to allow software publishers to make sure their updated applications will work properly in the Intel environment, and that’s it. In fact, the computer will eventually have to be returned to Apple.

    In any case, this hasn’t stopped some folks from benchmarking the test computers to gauge the performance of the Rosetta emulation environment and other performance parameters. Of course, I should remind them that the benchmarking tool, itself, has to run in emulation, which is a double whammy as far as performance hits are concerned, though I’m sure native tools will be out before long.

    Regardless, the results mean nothing, absolutely nothing. This isn’t the Mac with Intel Inside that you will eventually be able to buy. In addition to using chips that aren’t out yet, there might be many performance optimizations on the motherboard that aren’t present on the test product. Can I make it any clearer?

    Then there’s the question of whether the special version of Mac OS X that comes on the DTK will run on a vanilla Intel box. Reports say it won’t, except for one that claims to quote developers as saying it will. I’ll go with the former, since it’s in keeping with Apple’s stated policy that, “We will not allow running Mac OS X on anything other than an Apple Mac.” Do you see any room for fudging in that announcement? I don’t, but that doesn’t stop some people from predicting that Apple will eventually allow some PC box builders to market products with Mac OS X. We know that Dell would like to do it, and I’m sure other PC makers are begging Apple to open up the platform.

    But don’t expect it to happen anytime soon, and if it does happen, it may be strictly for products targeted at market areas where Apple has little, if any, presence. I suggested perhaps a Dell running Mac OS X Server, since sales of Apple’s Xserve are still quote low in the scheme of things. But I don’t see it going further than that.

    Another issue is whether developers are going to submit to still another migration process, especially coming off the five year move to Mac OS X. Well, if you can believe Apple and the early reports from some developers, building Universal Binary versions of many applications will be real simple. It can, in some cases, be done over a lunch break, and in other cases, in just a day or two. But folks who haven’t switched to Apple’s Xcode programming tools will have a lot more work ahead of them. Converting those sprawling application suites, such as Microsoft Office and the Adobe Creative Suite, will probably involve months of hard labor, but these two companies have already committed to taking that critical step. However, it’s also clear that the Universal Binary versions will be incorporated in the next major feature upgrade a year or two hence. So you’ll have to pay the standard upgrade fees to get your copies.

    So far it doesn’t appear that any developer of importance won’t support the changeover. However, that didn’t stop some commentators from suggesting that, since it will be possible to run Windows on an Intel-based Mac, even though it’s not supported, some developers will simply give up on their Mac versions. That doesn’t meet the logic test. If you had the choice of a Mac OS X or a Windows version of an application, which would you choose? You bought a Mac to run Mac applications, with the Mac OS X user interface. Why should that change just because there’s a different brand of processor inside? Why indeed!

    And what about the cost of the new Macs? Is there going to be more pressure on Apple to cut prices still further, the better to compete with cheap PC boxes? It’s doubtful. Today’s Mac already has lots of industry standard components, and virtually every model, from the top-of-the-line on down, is already competitive with comparably equipped products from the likes of Dell and HP. Apple doesn’t sell stripped computers, and I don’t think that’s going to change just because there’s an Intel chip inside.

    The point of all this is that a Mac will still be a Mac, and the processor it contains simply doesn’t matter. Too bad some commentators can grasp that simple fact. My advice: Be skeptical about anything you read on the subject unless it comes direct from Apple or from a writer you trust. And if you decide not to trust what I have to say, so be it.

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