Apple and Intel Sittin’ In a Tree…

So much has already been written about Apple’s announcement yesterday that they will soon make the switch to Intel processors that I don’t have much else to add. What are my thoughts? After watching Steve Job’s keynote, it’s clear that the decision was necessary and well thought out. IBM, maker of the PowerPC microprocessors running inside Macintosh computers, simply isn’t able to deliver the chips in the quantities and at the speeds needed by Apple. There isn’t much future left in the PowerPC line – if Apple can’t use the G5 processor in their Powerbook (it runs way too hot), it’s a dead end.

From a business angle, I’m really impressed. One insightful commenter on Slashdot put it very well:

Folks, you can argue the technical pros and cons back and forth until you’re sick in the face, but one thing leapt out at me from Steve Jobs’ presentation:

“Mac OS X has been “leading a secret double life” for the past five years, said Jobs. “So today for the first time, I can confirm the rumors that every release of Mac OS X has been compiled for PowerPC and Intel. This has been going on for the last five years.”

Damn. This is forward looking, hedge all your bets corporate Management. World class Management.

I don’t know if this thing will succeed or fail, but just parsing that statement above shows me that Jobs and Apple Computer will continue to evaluate all possible options at all possible times.

This is one well run company.

I totally agree with this guy. Apple had (and still has) a lot invested in the PowerPC line of processors. It takes a lot of guts and vision to dump what you know well and have been using for over 10 years. At its heart, this decision was made for the consumer – Apple wants to provide the best possible products to its customers, and it sees this move as one way of achieving that. Just as important, Apple has taken many steps to make the transition as seamless and painless as possible for developers, who appear to be supportive of the change. I have no doubt that this change will be successful.

Now, having said this, the news of Apple moving to Intel processors is not all that important in the big scheme of things. The people who are most affected are the developers who will need to tweak and recompile their programs so they will run on both PowerPC and Intel based Macintosh computers. Consumers will see very little difference besides faster and possibly less expensive machines. Chad Dickerson of InfoWorld put it best: Yawn.

There seems to be a lot of misconceptions about this announcement floating around the Internet. The biggest by far is that you will soon be able to install Mac OS X on your Dell or HP/Compaq PC. This is simply not going to happen. I repeat: You will not be able to run Mac OS on commodity PC hardware. Why? Apple has always been, and is still, primarily a maker and seller of computer hardware. The only reason it develops great software is that it happens to be the best way for it to sell hardware. If Mac OS X could run on any and every cheap PC, sales of Macintosh computers would disappear, as would Apple itself.

Second, one of the things that makes a Macintosh a Macintosh is the tight coupling of hardware and software. Driver issues are practically non-existent on Macs, as 99% of devices “just work” out of the box. If Apple all of a sudden had to move from simply supporting hardware it designed to supporting every possible device from China and Taiwan, it would be a disaster. In fact, it would be a lot like Windows.

One very well informed commenter at Vodkapundit (of all places) made a very insightful observation in one of his several comments to a post from Will Collier titled I For One Welcome Our New Intel Overlords. After watching the keynote address, he noted that Steve Jobs was very careful in saying that new Macintosh computers would run on Intel processors, not Pentium or X86 (the generic name for the 386, 486, and Pentium line of processors). He explicitly said the word “Pentium” exactly twice: Once when showing the “About this Mac” dialog box during his demo and once when he talked about the transition kit that developers could purchase. This is leading some to speculate that Apple will be using a special version of Intel processors that are compatible with the Pentium 4 but that will be different enough to prevent the Mac OS from working on a Windows PC.

So, sorry to disappoint you if you had hopes of turning your Dell into a Mac. Trust me though: things are much better this way. You wouldn’t be happen with the result anyway (drivers, incompatibilities, etc.) and you would probably end up disliking Apple because of it. If you’re looking to make the move to Macintosh, by all means do it. The Mac mini is a great way to jump in. It’s inexpensive ($500) and lets you keep using your current monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer, etc. Then you will see that there is more to a Macintosh than the software running on it. It’s the whole experience!

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