• MacIntel Apps: An Avalanche or a Sprinkle?

    February 4th, 2006

    It may seem strange that I must always return to Apple’s previous processor transition in discussions of this sort, but the comparisons are important to some of you. When I purchased that first Power Mac 8100/80 back in 1994, the wait for native software seemed endless. Sure, there was a plugin from Adobe that accelerated some Photoshop functions, and the speed boost was compelling evidence that the switch would someday mean something other than slowing down my computer big time.

    When some commentators compare that experience with the current transition to Intel processors, the memories are strong. Macs with Intel processors are destined to be slower than their predecessors for a long time, except when you run the few Universal applications. But there’s a distinct difference. This time, Apple didn’t have to wait on another company to build development tools. The new version of Xcode was there in June, and some applications made their debut in Universal form within days. No doubt the trend accelerated when the new iMac shipped.

    This morning, in fact, Apple lists over 500 Universal applications, and at the head of the list are some of its own products, such as the applications included in Mac OS X Tiger, iLife ’06 and iWork ’06. Updates to its professional software, such as Final Cut Pro, are just weeks away. But the joy or potential joy isn’t limited to Apple. While most of the third party Universal applications are system maintenance utilities or shareware products of one sort or another, there are some compelling entries of major productivity software. For example, Maxon’s CINEMA 4D, a professional 3D modeling program widely used in the film industry, is now available in Universal form, and the company boasts that performance is double that of the previous iMac. This is very much in line with Apple’s controversial performance claims.

    Beta versions of QuarkXPress 7.0 and Adobe Lightroom will soon be available as Universal binaries. Quark Inc. has already completed its transition to Apple’s Xcode development environment, the linchpin of building Universal versions. Other Adobe software will make the switch, but it won’t be a fast or easy process. We’re talking about millions of lines of computer code, developed over a number of years using other development tools. So Adobe’s programming team has its work cut out for it, and you’ll have to forgive them if it takes a number of months to get the work done. It won’t happen until the next major release of Adobe’s Creative Suite, and one hopes there will be plenty of new features to justify the upgrade price.

    The same is true with Microsoft, which recently signed a pact with Apple recommitting to continued development of Office for at least the next five years. Some suggest that’s why there’s still no spreadsheet component in Apple’s iWork. Whatever the reason, Microsoft isn’t saying when its next version of Office will appear, although a Mac BU marketing manager, Amanda Lefebvre, reminds me that the company follows a 24 to 36 month development cycle the suite. Since the last version came out in the spring of 2004, you can pretty well guess that the next edition could appear as late as the spring of 2007 and still remain on schedule. By the way, you can hear the full interview on this week’s forthcoming episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE.

    Of course, this probably isn’t as critical a factor as other sprawling productivity applications. Office runs pretty well on the new iMac, and when I tested it on a prototype MacBook Pro at the Macworld Expo earlier this month, I was pleasantly surprised at its performance on that model too. It seemed actually speedier than on my 17-inch PowerBook, the version with the 1.5GHz G4. But that’s a very subjective observation, and I’ll need face time with the shipping computer to confirm this. But others tell me they aren’t really disappointed, and could certainly live with Office in emulation for a long time until the real thing is out.

    Like Adobe, Microsoft’s Mac BU has a lot of work to do. Cracking the whips and forcing the crew to work overtime can’t speed things up that much, if at all. You just end up with very tired programmers who can make lots of mistakes. You can remind Adobe, Microsoft and other companies that Steve Jobs has long urged developers to move to Apple’s own programming tools. Had they done so earlier, we wouldn’t have to wait so long for Universal versions of these programs. At the same time, few outside of Apple expected to suffer another processor transition before last June.

    Regardless of the problems some may encounter, you can be sure that there will be new Universal applications every single day. It won’t be long before that 500 number becomes 1,000. At the 2007 edition of Macworld Expo, I’m very sure that Steve Jobs will be touting a successful transition, that all Macs are using Intel processors and the vast majority of the applications you need have made the trip to Universal binary. There may be a few left over, but the numbers won’t be high.

    How do you compare that to the experience of the last processor migration, in 1994? There is no comparison.

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