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  • Should Apple Postpone the Power Mac Replacement?

    May 26th, 2006

    This may seem like a radical idea, but the conventional wisdom, such as it is, states that Apple will announce an Intel-based professional desktop Mac during the WWDC in August. That is, along with Leopard and perhaps a second generation Intel-based model or two. This would complete the transition to Intel, assuming the Xserve is part of the program.

    But hear me out: While this may be a good idea from the politically-correct standpoint, there are issues from the practical standpoint that may, to some, argue against such a speedy product release. In a case of the chicken and egg syndrome, not all software creative people need will be ready. While I can’t speak to 3D software, such as Autodesk’s Maya, it is certain you won’t see Adobe Creative Suite 3 until the second quarter of 2007. That news comes straight from Adobe, and it doesn’t seem likely they’ll suddenly change their tune and have it available six months earlier. Only Apple manages to release products ahead of schedule.

    Now if your main software requirements begin and end with Apple’s Final Cut Studio or other Universal applications, this won’t be a serious matter. I’m certain that the Power Mac replacement, which we all expect to bear the Mac Pro moniker, will be an outstanding performer. No doubt it’ll have processor power sufficient for Apple to boast that it will be two to four times faster than the model it replaces.

    What this means is that emulated PowerPC applications may run no faster than they do, today, on a Power Mac G5 Quad. So is that any incentive to pay a bundle for an upgrade that won’t enhance your productivity, or only provides the potential for that enhancement? Would you pay three grand for one, and maybe a thousand more for gobs of memory, knowing full well the promised speed enhancements won’t affect you for another nine months, if then?

    What if Adobe doesn’t get is updated Creative Suite ready before the end of that second quarter, say June of 2007? This isn’t unlikely, because software development is a highly uncertain process. Adobe has a huge job ahead of it, and things can go wrong. What if the date slips to the summer of that year?

    How would that affect Apple’s sales?

    Now it’s quite true that the rest of the creative applications may have made the transition to Universal by then, even Microsoft Office for the Mac. Maybe Adobe will be the only significant holdout. More to the point, although Rosetta gets a bad rap for killing roughly 50% of your Mac’s performance potential, it’s quite possible things will get more efficient. Don’t forget that MacIntel users are working with a version of emulation software that’s basically at the 1.0 stage, or slightly beyond.

    It isn’t out of the realm of possibility for Apple to announce a souped up version, Rosetta 2.0, which will be included in Mac OS 10.5 Leopard. Maybe it’ll deliver 60% or 70% of native performance. If true, performance of your older applications may actually be faster on the Mac Pro, even though still somewhat short of what a Universal version can do.

    All right, I’m speculating here, but I do not think for a moment that Apple isn’t looking for ways to make its emulation environment perform faster, take better advantage of the advanced features of the new Intel chips it’ll be using in its next generation hardware.

    So, even if you don’t get the full speed boost, you’ll get enough to justify the investment in a new professional Mac desktop. Another possibility, which I’m not affording a high probability rating, is that Adobe will release its Creative Suite 3 products in stages. From a marketing standpoint, Photoshop is mission critical, and it’s always possible it’ll get priority above the others, and ship several weeks earlier. It may present some marketing complications, because Adobe would be forced to sell it separately, with a coupon to get the rest of the updates at a later time. But that’s not something that hasn’t been done before in the software industry.

    In the end what approach should Apple take? Frankly, they have no choice, in my opinion. Power Mac sales have stalled for years, and getting a super-powerful Intel-based version out by late summer could goose sales substantially, even if all the key creative software isn’t quite ready. That, along with an Intel-based Xserve, will mean the transition to a new processor will be done months and months ahead of the original schedule.

    It will also provide a tough incentive for Adobe to push harder to get its work done. Maybe a larger base of waiting customers will help them jump through some extra hoops. Besides, even if some key productivity software must run in emulation for a while longer, things may still be pretty good. Don’t dismiss Rosetta until you’ve tried it, as I have. It’s really not as bad as some will have you believe.

    Postpone the Mac Pro? Not on your life!

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