• The Mac Hardware Report: When You Believe Apple Lies, Anything is Possible

    September 3rd, 2005

    It’s very easy to take a story and put a negative or positive spin on it. A baseball team loses by five runs, so you point out that the last time they played in the same stadium, they lost by six runs. Now isn’t that an improvement? Maybe it’ll be four runs next time. At the same time, you can realistically point out that a loss is still a loss, and the team’s record so far this year is worse than last year’s, so they’re in lots and lots of trouble.

    Since Apple decided it wanted to switch to Intel processors, some folks with a negative approach have been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Surely Apple’s stated reasons, that IBM couldn’t deliver the chips they wanted, and that Intel’s future (not present) processor roadmap is superior, couldn’t possibly be true. After all these years of PowerPC chips trouncing Intel, how could Apple suddenly change its tune, unless it was lying before, or is lying now? The possibility that both statements just might be true isn’t considered.

    The latest attempt to seek out the lie in an Apple announcement is the report that it signed a contract with Freescale Semiconductor to allow it to buy G4 chips through the end of 2008. Now wait a minute here! If Apple plans to complete its move to Intel chips by the end of 2007, why would it still require the G4? Aha!, so maybe there’s trouble in MacIntel land and Apple’s has already encountered some unknown obstacles that will make it impossible to fulfill its promise. Of course, it’s also true that, when asked about the deal, an Apple spokesperson said nothing has changed. Does that prove Apple is playing fast and loose with the truth?

    Not quite. You can take Apple at its word and not find anything strange about the deal. Remember, that it plans to sell Macs with G4’s through 2007. So what about warranty service? Clearly those computers are expected to continue to operate for years beyond the date they are discontinued, and Apple would need to make sure it can buy extra processors to keep its service depots supplied. Did Apple stop servicing 680×0 Macs when the PowerPC arrived? And what if there is really is an unexpected delay in switching to Intel, and it does need to keep a few G4 models around, even if only to serve customers who require Classic compatibility? It sounds like smart planning to me, not a conspiracy.

    Now what about rebuilding applications as Universal Binaries? Is it really a piece of cake as Apple and some developers suggest? Well, when you study Apple’s developer’s site, and that’s the public section that is not shielded behind any confidentiality agreement, you’ll find lots of case histories about the ease of transition. Each story is nearly the same as the next. Applications developed with Apple’s XCode can be updated to be compatible with both PowerPC and Intel by clicking a button and recompiling. Maybe there’s a few extra hours of work fixing a little computer code here and there, but that’s no big deal. In fact, there are already a handful of Universal Binary applications out there, if you look around.

    So why would anyone bother to build applications that are compatible with computers that aren’t even on sale yet? Well, other than to allow other developers to test them with Apple’s transition hardware, it gives a software company some bragging rights, being first on the block with a free update and all that.

    At the same time, there’s a published interview with Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen, where he says it’s really not as easy as Apple pretends. “If you look at most testing cycles, that’s three or four months until the product’s out. You can’t just turn a switch and get a MacTel product…and Steve knows that.”

    Does he?

    Well, Chizen goes on to say that “there’s just a lot of work to do” to build a MacTel or MacIntel version of Adobe Photoshop. I have no doubt that he is correct. At the same time, because it’s hard for Adobe doesn’t mean it’s hard for other companies and that doesn’t mean Jobs is lying either. The real problems will come for publishers with huge cross-platform code bases that were not developed with Apple’s own tools. I don’t want to get into any highly technical stuff here, and I’m not a programmer anyway. But the process of conversion would first involve importing a program’s code into Apple’s XCode. Now Apple has lots of online documentation on how it’s done, and I don’t want to trivialize the process.

    Indeed, for sprawling productivity applications such as Photoshop, Microsoft Word and others, it will indeed take months of work to do the job properly. More to the point, those MacIntel compatible versions won’t show up until the next major version upgrades, which means there will be also new features to lighten the pain of paying extra to get your copies.

    Is Apple guilty of trying too hard to minimize the process? Well, I think they’re doing the best they can under the circumstances. Developers who use Apple’s own tools and follow the company’s guidelines as closely as possible will find an easy ride. Those who use other tools and have to support both the Mac OS and Windows will have to work a lot harder. I have little doubt that Apple will work closely with the big players in the software business to smooth the transition as much as possible.

    There will no doubt be some real bumps along the way. But I’m interested in real problems, not imaginary ones.

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