Jun 5

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

Good Discussion of Apple/Intel Rumors

There's some interesting discussion over on Dave Farber's list about the rumored Apple switch to Intel and its implications (scroll to bottom of list on this link). (There are also some intriguing postings on Sun's analogous issues with the "other" non-Intel chip, the Sparc.) I forwarded one of the messages from the thread to the O'Reilly editors list, and got this thoughtful reply from Chuck Toporek:

If all of this is true -- which it sounds like it is (and I guess we'll find out tomorrow morning at Jobs' keynote) -- my guess is that Apple will build in a cross-compile feature into the Xcode Tools to allow developers to build their apps for either chipset.

But I have to say, as a long-time Mac user, I'm really surprised this change to Intel chips didn't come earlier, and I'm surprised that they're going with Intel now, instead of someone like AMD. Since announcing the G5 chips, Apple's been pushing 64-bit computing, and (at least to me) AMD seems to be leading the charge with 64-bit processors over Intel. HP is uses AMD's 64-bit processors in their high-end desktop systems, and Intel chips in the low-end consumer desktops.

I think the other factor that's driving Apple's switch to Intel is IBM's inability to deliver a G5 chip (or a dual-core G4) for the PowerBook line. This is a problem that's been plaguing Apple for sometime, and they continually get pounded with questions from market analysts in their quarterly financial reports about when a G5 will surface for the PowerBooks. Apple's response has been "Getting a G5 chip into a PowerBook continues to be the mother of all engineering tasks." (I believe that's a quote from Fred Johnson, Apple's former CFO.)

The PowerBook line has only seen incremental processor upgrades in the 18 months since Apple introduced the 12" and 17" Aluminum PowerBooks at Macworld SF 2003. (It was another 9 months before Apple released a 15" Aluminum PowerBook, on Sept. 16, 2003.) And while the latest model rev of the 15" introduced the SMS (Sudden Motion Sensor) feature (see, the top-end PowerBook is limited to a 1.67 GHz PowerPC G4 chip.

When Jobs said 2003 would be the year of the laptop, he was right, but now that Apple's PowerBook line lags behind the competition in processor speed, Apple has to do something, and if Big Blue can't deliver, it makes sense to look elsewhere. But as Dave and others have commented, the question remains how developers and users will feel about the switch. While NeXT/OpenSTEP ran on Intel (see Chapter 1 of "Running Mac OS X Panther"), and rumors have been flying around about Apple having a secret build of Mac OS X running on Intel machines (codenamed "Marklar") in some darkened wing of the Cupertino campus, it'll be interesting to see how this pans out. Apple has to make it easy for developers to build their apps for the new chips, and asking them to build for PowerPC and Intel is going to be a big pill to deliver, even if they make it easy.

The PowerPC chip has been what's set the Mac apart from the Wintel line of PCs for years. As Apple transitioned to Mac OS X, users had to deal with a transition period of running apps in Classic mode until application developers built Cocoa apps or Carbonized existing Mac apps. We're finally at a point where we know how the system runs and the major application developers have their apps running on Mac OS X without needing Classic. The scars are just healing from that transition, and I can just imagine the reaction to another transition period. If we thought the last one was painful, a switch to Intel could be a real bitch."

tags: rumors  | comments: 3   | Sphere It

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Comments: 3

  mardoen [06.05.05 03:58 PM]

I'd like to believe the slashdot rumor that Intel will be using Apple IP to build PowerPC processors. Makes more sense than changing the whole platform; but we'll see.

  Artem [06.05.05 04:46 PM]

Isn't it funny? Microsoft switches to Power, Apple switches to Intel. What other surprises big cos have in pocket?

I found previous comment (about Intel building PowerPC) interesting but I cannot imagine that this is going to happen.

  Rael Dornfest [06.06.05 10:56 AM]

There's a goodly flow of live coverage of WWDC at Mac Observer (

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