GoogleIt Mail IT Print IT PermaLinkApple's Next Big Mistake
09:05:41 PM
Written By : Richard SchwartzCategory : Industry News And Comment
Location : Nashua, NH

C|Net is now reporting that Apple's recently rumored switch from IBM PowerPC chips to Intel chips is not a rumor. It will be announced officially on Monday.

I am not a Mac user. I bought my first Mac in 1985, and stuck with Macs for more than ten years, but I gave up on them. I got rid of my third and last Mac, a PowerBook Duo 230 -- with dock -- because it was the second hardware dead-end architecture in a row for me. It suffered from the same problem as my previous Mac IIsi: no vendors being willing to support their hardware products on it. Apple's OS and hardware upgrades were leaving my software and hardware add-in investments in the dust. On top of that, inadequate warranties and high repair costs played a part in my decision, but it was mainly anger with Apple as a user and developer that made me go to Wintel. When the move from 680x0 to Power chips happened, I was oh so glad that I wasn't going along for the ride.

I had been hearing from friends about how cool the new Macs are, how cool OS X is, and how much better Apple is doing with compatability. I had been thinking of going back to them when it comes time to buy my next personal machine.

But here they go again.

If you're a developer doing Mac software, be prepared to be forced to purchase an expensive early-model Intel-based Mac in order to be able to port your software in a timely fashion. And even if you're doing Mac-oriented Java or JavaScript development, so you think you are mostly insulated from platform issues, be prepared to need additional machine at least for test purposes (and possibly for dealing with some JVM or browser incompatabilities that go hand-in-hand with the forced OS upgrade that your customers will have to go through in order to accomodate the versions of other vendors' software that will support their new Intel Macs.

If you're an IT department, be prepared to have to double your Mac testing budget for applications, be prepared to have to deal with sorting out two versions of every Mac app, and be prepared to have to upgrade all your Power Macs to a new OS as vendors are driven to a new minumum OS by the need for Intel support. And also be prepared to find replacements for some orphan apps whose vendors aren't around any more but which won't run on Intel -- and which may even have problems on Power under the new OS.

If you're an end-user, be prepared to be forced to purchase new versions of all your applications when buy your first Intel-based Mac.

I hat to be such a pessimist, but Apple is a company I'd love to love but can't. I can't because I came to the conclusion years ago that they don't love me back.

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Comments :v

1. Ben Poole06/04/2005 03:39:59 AM

I'm still not convinced this is going to happen, but who knows. In any case, I went through the last transition, from the 68x to PowerPC architectures, and it didn't go like this at all -- it was actually pretty painless (when it came time to upgrade your software, you simply grabbed the PowerPC version, you didn't let the OS dictate when you upgraded).

The bigger issue which you highlight is whether vendors stay for such a ride, not end-users.

Now, as for shifting to an Intel-based architecture, it wouldn't be that bad. OS X is written in such a way that the underlying processor isn't the be-all and end-all (Cocoa based on NeXTStep which ran happily on Intel chips, the kernel based on FreeBSD, etc. etc).

So let's wait and see. But don't think Apple are going to leave people high-and-dry: they have too much at stake.

2. Dan Sickles06/05/2005 03:29:10 PM

It's all about the Centrino. There is no powerpc chip on the horizon that can compete in laptops. If they had one, this wouldn't be happening.

3. Ben Poole06/06/2005 03:38:38 AM

Agreed. I think laptops / small form factor devices are the key here: Apple can't wait any more for a G5 that will work in the Powerbooks. Like I said earlier, having OS X on a non-PowerPC chipset isn't a big deal, certainly not on the scale of Apple's migration in the early 1990s (which was successful to boot).

Anyway, today we find out exactly what's what!

4. Justin Freeman06/06/2005 05:37:04 PM

I'd have to agree with Ben on all points. Apple is a smart player.

Apple are the most-user centric IT company in the world. Look at how much effort they put into their hardware and software to make it consumer-friendly. After many decades of competition, they still lead in making the most usable computers in the world.

As Ben points out, the big transition for Mac's has already occured - Mac OS X, FreeBSD and opening up the opportunities of open source. I've seen hordes of open source developers & hackers use iBook and G5 in preference to the standard black IBM & Dells. Very smart move, Apple.

So does Apple love their consumers? I'd say so. I think they're an example to the other large players (MS, IBM etc) out there.

And Rich, don't forget that WINTEL has been happily forcing their consumer base to regularly upgrade their software and hardware as well - it's just that we've all come to accept this "normal". I've got a garage full of old PC's, components and devices that still work, but are "no longer supported".

5. Richard Schwartz06/07/2005 12:48:44 AM

We'll see. The details they announced today do look promising. The universal binaries and the dynamic translator (which sounds very much like the same type of technology that DEC tried to provide for running Intel binaries on Alpha) could make all my fears moot.


6. Justin Freeman06/07/2005 06:22:33 PM

A couple of the local Apple Zealots in my part of the world also pointed out that this is a really good move for MS Windows users. Why? Because now there will be a very real opportunity to run Mac OSX on standard Intel hardware. Cool.

7. Bernard Devlin06/07/2005 11:16:58 PM

I'm not sure it is a good sign that Apple are moving to X86. It looks to me like it is tactical rather than strategic. I just don't get how Apple go from banging on for years about the superiority of PPC, and how OS X is 64-bit... and then do a volte-face, moving their users to X86 and 32-bit at that (I realise that they might be 64-bit in a couple of years, but everything at the moment points to 32-bit initially, so in terms of technical strategy it is a backwards step). Indeed, since it is a similar move to the one that Jobs made with NeXT, I'm not sure it doesn't signal the end of Apple (unless Jobs has learned something new since the demise of NeXT). And it is risible that the OS X - X86 system that is available to developers now is only _rented_ for a couple of years and at a cost of $999 for _paid-up_ members of ADC. This is surely a sign of a company that is not confident about its future. Normally paid-up ADC members get 'significant' hardware discounts from Apple (approx 20% on top of the range items) - but they are going to be leasing systems to the people who they really, really need to get on-board.

Also, it looks like Apple sales will plummet until this transition occurs. I cannot see that it was something that was planned until quite recently (despite what Jobs says about all versions of OS X having been compiled also on Intel in the last 5 years - we had a strong suspicion that was going on, but that it was a backup plan that Apple could turn to if the need arose). There are those who point out that Apple is making most of its profits from the iPod and iTunes. And if Gates is right that the iPod will only hold the lead for a year or two more, then I wonder what Apple's future really is.

I would have preferred a world where they continued to be behind PPC (I love my quiet and cool mac mini, I really like the old iMac - my partner loves his iBook).

On another note, the latest version of WebObjects (a java application server that is a work of beauty compared to Websphere) is no longer being supported on Solaris or Win32 from now on, only on OS X (also development is now only supported on OS X too). I think this is sign of further re-trenchment at Apple. The WebObjects users were quite bitter about the move from Objective-C to Java when WO moved from 4.5 to 5. They were told it means that WO has a great future because the apps will be deployable wherever there is a 1.3 JVM. Now they are told the apps are only deployable on OS X.

Having seen the way in which almost every version of OS X involves breaking compatibility with the last version of WebObjects, and seeing that these other platforms are now being left out in the cold, and the way in which the developers are being treated, I'm inclined to agree with you Rich.

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