Yesterday's WWDC keynote started like many other of Steve Jobs' keynotes, with an update on the iPod, Apple stores and Mac sales. But then came the turning point. After Steve was done talking about iPod, iTunes, OS X Tiger and the rest of Apple's product line, he said the magic words: "now, let's talk about transitions."

And so it began, the minute that the word "transitions" was put up on the projection screen, you could hear the silence in the packed keynote hall. No one could believe it, despite how strong the rumors seemed to be, despite the slide that was staring everyone in the face, it hadn't even begun to sink in.

Then came the "it's true" slide, and all possibilities of doubt, theories of Intel making PowerPC chips, Apple using Itanium, all of that went out the window. The two words said more than any two words ever have in the entire PC industry. From that one slide, we all knew that Apple would be switching to Intel processors, and it would be none other than Intel's x86 line of CPUs.

Some of you have asked if the crowd boo'd - they did not. You could hear gasps and even feel the looks of disbelief on many faces, but there wasn't a single boo in the audience. What's interesting about the Apple crowd is that they really trust this guy, they truly believe in Steve Jobs and in Apple. We've never been to a keynote by any major industry leader and seen the same sort of support; many will call it a reality distortion field, but regardless of what causes it, it is still a lot of support. It is the type of support that a company needs to be able to complete an entire architectural change in less than two years; it is the type of support that only Apple seems to have. Whether that support will always be there, should Apple grow in size, remains to be seen, but it's there now and Apple needs it.

Many are worried about the negative impact that yesterday's announcements will have on Apple's present-day sales. Apple will begin shipping Intel based Macs starting around the middle of 2006, so why would you ever want to be stuck with a PowerPC based Mac that you just bought less than a year prior?
Apple does seem committed to offering PowerPC support for as long as it takes, meaning that OS X 10.5 (Leopard) will most likely be offered for both PPC and Intel based Macs, not to mention all of the applications that will definitely transition to a universal binary system. We honestly don't expect sales to suffer that much. Those who can wait will obviously do so until next year; those who cannot will still enjoy the same compatibility (most likely better at first) later on when the Intel Macs begin shipping.

Apple is doing their best, however, to control excitement about the switch to Intel. Unlike previous major announcements, this one isn't plastered all over the front page of Apple.com. The G5 product pages still showcase how a 2.0GHz G5 is still significantly "faster" than a 3.6GHz Pentium 4; interestingly enough, the very CPU that Apple appears to be supplying in their development kits. Not putting much marketing muscle behind the switch makes sense at this point - the real work that's needed is on the developer side. That being the case, Apple also released their Universal Binary Programming Guidelines yesterday to aid developers in making sure that their applications work on both PPC and Intel based Macs.

Based on Apple's guidelines, we can also conclude a few things about Apple's x86 implementation.

The default compiler for Apple's x86 line will continue to be GCC. Another very blunt statement from the documentation is that "Macintosh computers using Intel microprocessors do not use Open Firmware."

Rosetta, Apple's PPC to x86 binary translation software, also has some limitations:
"Rosetta is designed to translate currently shipping applications that run on a PowerPC with a G3 processor and that are built for Mac OS X.

Rosetta does not run the following:
  • Applications built for Mac OS 8 or 9
  • Code written specifically for AltiVec
  • Code that inserts preferences in the System Preferences pane
  • Applications that require a G4 or G5 processor
  • Applications that depend on one or more kernel extensions
  • Kernel extensions
  • Bundled Java applications or Java applications with JNI libraries that can't be translated."
Apple has confirmed that their Intel based Macs should be able to run Windows, but you will not be able to run the x86 version of OS X on any hardware platform that you choose. Obviously with the switch to Intel's architecture, it is going to be much more difficult for Apple to prevent users from circumventing any protection that they may have implemented to run the x86 OS on their own hardware. Even if Apple's protection is cracked, you can expect driver support to be extremely limited for configurations outside of what Apple will be shipping.

What Intel CPUs will Apple use?
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  • drumt - Tuesday, June 07, 2005 - link

    Predictions?

    Mine:
    Because of the Intel chip transition:
    ...more games will run under the new Mac OS making the gaming platform of choice.
    ...Macs will be come affordable and more fans will arise.
    ...the faults of Windows will be obvious making a Mac OS the choice.
    ...Windows will buy Apple and merge making the Best OS the computing world has ever seen!
    ...Bill Gates will own the world!!

    Yours?
    Reply
  • Scott66 - Tuesday, June 07, 2005 - link

    Two reasons apple wants to stop using powerpc. Can't deliver on promise to ship 3 GHz G5 with IBM

    Can't design G5 Powerbook with IBM PowerPC
    Reply
  • Fricardo - Tuesday, June 07, 2005 - link

    Tears for AMD. Reply
  • downtowncb - Tuesday, June 07, 2005 - link

    On their G5 website, Apple is comparing the G5s of today to the Pentium chips of today. They are not saying that the G5 will trounce the Intel chip they will use in the future. So what if a current G5 can beat the current development kit? Development kits are frequently underpowered. The G5 machines that were used to develop Xbox 360 games, for example. The comparisons Apple is making today do not hold for the future. Reply
  • adamfilip - Tuesday, June 07, 2005 - link

    Apple isnt saying that intel chips are faster. and there is no reason for apple to change its product page stating that the G5 is no longer faster

    all they stated was that intel has a better performance per watt. not that it has better performance overall.

    so if intel has 4 units of performance per wat and ibm has 2 units per watt. well then the intel part uses has as much energy to go just as fast.
    not that its twice as fast

    Reply
  • rivieracadman - Tuesday, June 07, 2005 - link

    I don't know if it has really occured to anyone, or if it's just me, but has anyone considered that the reason Jobs choose Intel was because they can provide a platform where AMD can't. If this hardware is to remain Apple specific, then they will need what IBM provided them in the past; An entire platform. This goes for mobile, as well as desktop. The last personal Intel Machine I had was a Pentium MMX. I would love to run OSX, but not sure if I'm willing to buy Intel to do it. All this being said. I think Jobs should launch an all out x86 version of OSX, and slowly wiggle free of the hardware buisness. Their software is some of the best on the market, and at a fair price they could really build up a solid user base. Reply
  • MrEMan - Tuesday, June 07, 2005 - link

    My guess is that Apple/Jobs doesn't want to release OS X for non-Apple hardware because then they would run into many of the same problems as Windows, that being loss of stability and greater risk of hacks and viruses/spyware etc, not to mention that they would probably lose the hardware side somewhere down the road (the reason I believe Jobs killed the Mac compatibles when Apple rehired him after his exit from Next).

    I know many don't like Microsoft, but I have to give them credit for making Windows work with so many different hardware and software combinations. The current Mac better be more stable considering that Apple controls both the OS and the hardware.
    Reply
  • barnett25 - Tuesday, June 07, 2005 - link

    If Apple made OSX standalone that you could install on any PC they would die. Everyone would pirate it (you don't even need to activate OSX), Apple's sales would be awfull, and stability would suck (MS has said before that most of the problems they have are due to device drivers). Every Mom and Pop computer shop would sell discount PCs with pirated OSX. I really don't see how you can think selling OSX for PCs is a good idea. Please explain it to me. Reply
  • edwardhchan - Tuesday, June 07, 2005 - link

    #20:

    Becuase Apple would rather sell their own computers that exclusively run MacOS and Windows ... and they can get away with it. Imagine, all us Mac users who also play games won't need two machines anymore! There have been dual-boot macs in the past, but they were always quirky because they had a pc on a daughtercard. With an x86 OS X, one could conceivable use WINE to run windows apps inside OS X, or have the option to dual-boot into Longhorn (just make sure to have LOTS of disk space!)
    Reply
  • Chadder007 - Tuesday, June 07, 2005 - link

    I wonder if IBM told Apple that they won't have the production capacity to make much more PPC's since they will now be making the PowerPC alternatives for the next 3 Gaming Consoles....XBOX360/Revolution/PS3. ???
    They may have asked them to pay more for future processors since they would possibly have to build another factory just to handle the load...
    Reply

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