The Apple/Intel Report: Dual Boot Macs? A Downside?

August 6th, 2005

Before we go any further, I want to make it perfectly clear that I am quite disinterested in those unofficial reports about alleged “Trusted Computing” hardware on the test Macintels developers have leased from Apple. A host of paranoid speculation has arisen out of such reports, that Apple is going to impose onerous digital rights management requirements that will allow them to know what software you’re running, what music you’re playing and any other conspiracy theory you can devise.

Lest we forget, these test systems simply do not represent the final configuration of any future Macs. Apple has said as much and, without evidence to the contrary, and a little dose of logic, you should believe them. Bear in mind that the real retail Power Macs with Intel Inside are at least a year or two away, and the processors and support hardware will quite likely be very different from what’s available today. The systems available now to members of Apple’s developer programs are more or less cobbled together from existing PC components, and are designed to make it possible for developers to build software that will run on both processor platforms. At the end of the lease period, the test computers are to be returned. Period.

With the preliminaries out of the way, let’s look at what Apple has said about the real Macintels, or whatever they’ll be called once they arrive. First, Mac OS X will be designed to run strictly on Apple hardware, as it is now. I’ve also read a rumor or two of some folks being able to hack existing PC boxes to run Apple’s test edition of its Intel-based operating system. Maybe. Maybe not, but as I said about the test Power Macs, this shouldn’t raise any expectations that Mac OS X will somehow be sold in a shrink-wrapped box available to any PC owner. Apple will surely take reasonable and perhaps unreasonable measures to prevent its crown jewels from running on unapproved hardware. Maybe a few will be able to find ways around that limitation, but I don’t expect it to be a widespread danger to Apple’s digital rights management schemes, whatever they might be.

Apple’s executives have also said that they won’t stop you from running Windows on a Macintel, and I suspect the same will apply to the Intel version of Linux. Now that may have some intriguing consequences, and not all of them good. Sure there is a key advantage, which is that a Mac will serve multiple purposes. You want the Mac OS? Fine. You want to run Windows at native speeds, just reboot. It’s even possible that Microsoft will deliver an Intel-based version of Virtual PC for the Mac OS, so you don’t have to reboot at all. That’s the good part, because it will make Macs more palatable to larger businesses, particularly where they need applications that have no Mac equivalent.

Another good thing is the fact that the process of updating Mac applications to Universal Binary form, which allows them to run on both PowerPC and Intel, appears to be less daunting than some feared. This is particularly true for developers who use Apple’s own Xcode to build their software and, of course, follow their guidelines closely. The latter, of course, isn’t always the case, so some developers might have to work a little harder to get their stuff in shape.

Things will be more difficult for software makers who use CodeWarrior, because their products will first have to be imported into Xcode. From there, depending on how much legacy code has to be massaged, it could take weeks or months to complete the task. One notable example is Office for the Mac. But since Microsoft has already committed to building its next version of Office in Universal Binary form, this isn’t anything to be terribly concerned about. Ditto for Adobe.

Now I won’t hazard a guess as to how many applications are involved, but I expect some of the larger, sprawling productivity products are included in that list. You should expect to pay a standard upgrade fee for the Universal Binary versions, and one hopes the publishers will have the decency to craft some new features as part of the package, so you don’t feel you’re being ripped off.

At the same time, developers with cross-platform products will also be busy updating for Windows Vista. Now here’s the dilemma. If Apple is going to deliver computers that will run Windows too, some publishers might just feel it’s no longer worth the time and expense building a Mac OS version. Sure Mac users will feel betrayed at having to endure a Windows interface when they use these applications, but the publishers might not care. A Mac Virtual PC for Intel might even increase the possibility of some developers abandoning the platform. If the Rosetta translation technology, which will let you use PowerPC software on the Macintel, runs with a decent level of performance, it might even complicate the situation.

Is there any danger of that happening? I really don’t know, and I don’t want to be an alarmist for the sake of getting a little attention. But there are definitely some unresolved issues here. Now if the Mac continues to gain traction over the next year or two, whether it’s because of the iPod or growing disgust with Windows, developers confronting the need to update product for Windows Vista might also decide to stick with Mac OS. We can only hope they see the light.

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