Apple to Switch to Intel Processors (Updated)

Yes, it is true

In a move likely to cause lots of concern in both the Apple developer
and user community, Steve Jobs announced at the developers conference
that Apple is switching from the PowerPC processor to Intel processors
in a phased plan. The plan will see all products switched over to Intel
processors by the end of 2007.

This is likely to have potential benefits to developers eventually
cause major dramas in the short term. It remains to be seen whether
Apple is planning to run with a Windows PC compatible machine
architecture, making it feasible to run Mac OS X on Windows machines,
or whether they will run with a different architecture. Indications
are, at this stage, that Apple will be running with a non-compatible
architecture. At the developers conference Steve Jobs showed a
developer machine that they could buy for code porting purposes that
was build into a current G5 box. Had they been intending to support
standard PCs this would not have been necessary. More information will
undoubtedly emerge.

In the presentation Jobs indicated that of Apple’s major independent
software developers over 50% were using Apple’s Xcode development
software, which now provides an easy way to compile for both PowerPC
and Pentium. However, that means that many are not and are using other
development systems, like Metroworks or Realbasic, whose support for Pentium compiles is an unknown
quantity at this time. Xcode can produce a single package that contains
the code for both processors with a smart loader that automatically
picks the right code for the processor. They also had Wolfram Research
on stage demonstrating a port of Mathematica that was achived in a few

Apple’s rationale for making the change is hard to fault. IBM’s PowerPC
plans looking forward just do not provide the performance that Apple
want and the designs also require significantly more power for a given
performance level, being a major issue for Apple wanting fast
notebooks, for instance, and also causing issues particularly with
multiple processor desktops and some server configurations.

At one level this seems a reasonable move. However, one is also left
wondering if Apple did not miss an even bigger opportunity by not
looking at either the processor in the new xBox 360 or that in the new
Sony Playstation 3. These offer the potential of even higher
performance and would allow Apple to remain ‘different inside’ as well
as ‘different outside’ with their OS. However, these are unlikely to
have the multi-processor hooks in their interface that Apple would
require, and thus might have been too difficult an option.

Also these new PowerPC-based designs are not low power for notebooks.
With the proportion of desktop to notebook sales shifting in favour of
notebooks, this seems to be the major issue. IBM can clearly do great
things with the PowerPC architecture. It may just be that Apple
represents too small a market share to have been able to pay IBM enough
to develop the needed notebook versions of the chip. None of the other
PowerPC processor users seem to have the need for low power and high
performance chips, so it would mean making them just for Apple. Maybe
there was enough volume there and maybe not.

From Jobs’ presentation I was left believing that Apple had a well
planned migration path and had already put in technologies like Rosetta
that can translate a PowerPC application on the fly to run on Intel.
The demonstrations of this seemed believable.

The big question now is, given this is all out in the open finally,
will anyone buy a new PowerPC Mac over the next one to two years or
will they delay the purchase for the new platform? Certainly some
proportion of people will delay purchases or perhaps down purchase
(iMac rather than PowerMac, iBook rather than PowerBook) in the short
term to meet immediate needs but to not heavily invest. If this is too
high a proportion of people it will hit Apple’s bottom line and market
share over the next 2 years.

It does feel like an unfortunate timing to have to do this. Apple seem
to finally be seeing the benefits of the iPod in increased Mac sales.
Do you really want uncertainty in the minds of potential buyers at this

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