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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  • radams - Tuesday, June 07, 2005 - link

    "I think Jobs reminds me of the John Kerry of computing. The guy is always saying one thing and doing but doing another. PPC is better than x86 one minute, the next he's transitioning in two year time. Apple users are deaf, dumb, stupid and blind not to see how patheic Apple really is. And all of the time they have been hating PC's, because of this and that; guess what, now your stuck with one like it or not. Maybe that little Apple dome sticker on the front of your x86 powered, defacto standard PC will make you feel all warm and fuzzy so you can sleep better at night? "

    PPC is better than x86, but economies of scale have made development for the x86 cheeaper and faster. If Apple had 20% marketshare instead of 1-2%, I doubt we'd be seeing this switch. Personally, I don't care what chips they use, and I like the idea of being able to dual-boot Windows and OS X on a PowerBook so I only need one laptop instead of two.

    All in all, I don't think this is the way Apple wanted to go, but they're left with little choice as they don't have the marketshare to defray the R&D costs.
    Reply
  • gibhunter - Tuesday, June 07, 2005 - link

    I agree with #20. Refusing to release it for sale like Windows is sold is a bad decision. They could definitely increase their market share if they opened up their platform to x86.

    They could simply state to refuse support for PCs with parts that are not on their hardware compatibility list.

    Either way, with x86 support and the os based on open source Free BSD core, it's just a matter of time before we see free copies of their OS on the web. Heck, with x86 machines already sold to developers, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see OSX on the web within a month or two.
    Reply
  • Backslider - Tuesday, June 07, 2005 - link

    #16 The thing is that if Jobs were truly worried about the OS, then he would sell the dammed OS to be used on generic PC hardware. Not take generic PC hardware, create proprietary BIOS and brand it Mac.

    From what I've read, the only difference between the hardware will be the BIOS. Which is only being used as a key to keep people from buying non-Mac branded PC's to be used with their OS.

    Pathetic. Their OS may be good, but their buisness sense, and lies are pathetic.

    Mac = Evil = Microsoft

    Why are all of our(American) companies out to F the consumer.
    Reply
  • chennhui - Tuesday, June 07, 2005 - link

    I really pity on AMD, a good innovative, technology driven company, but just lacking of sale and marketshare. I wonder how long AMD can stand under this difficult environment. Reply
  • santa590 - Tuesday, June 07, 2005 - link

    20
    The problem making OS X working with other x86 machine is support. Drivers, hardware conflicts, etc will occur and supporting it will cost alot of time and money.
    Reply
  • ZobarStyl - Tuesday, June 07, 2005 - link

    Too bad they are making it Mac hardware only; if they had made it where I could just go buy a copy of OSX and run a dual boot, I'd try it out for the hell of it. But since it's still just the same overpriced hardware from Apple (rest assured, they will not lower the prices, contrary to what the say). Only this time, it's not apples to oranges (Intel to PPC made it where consumers never knew how the two compared, speedwise) but apples to apples...and their "Switch" marketing isn't going to convince someone to pay 1200 dollars for the exact same system Dell has for 400. Open the OS and you could get some money, but right now it's just a shot in the foot. Besides, who buys that expensive crap except Apple fanboys anyway? It's not like their marketshare is really going to drop if they release an OS to the general hardware using public. Reply
  • orion23 - Tuesday, June 07, 2005 - link

    Why wouldn't apple agree to selling a version of its software to run on regular PCs?
    Wouldn't that boost their sales?
    With the new changes the idea seems more logic than ever before, so why not release it in a way that users can take advantage of multi booting OSX and Windows in a PC or a Mac-intel
    Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Tuesday, June 07, 2005 - link

    Maybe part of the reason Apple are switching from IBM to Intel and not mentioning AMD, is because AMD and IBM are partners. I'm not sure how IBM would respond if they lost business to a company they are in partnership with. Reply
  • JBird7986 - Tuesday, June 07, 2005 - link

    "Given the interest OS X on x86 has sparked I would almost guarantee someone will be cracking it in the immediate, popular software is always the first to be cracked and I'd say this will be high on their priorities... and given that, Apple really is shooting themselves in the foot by missing out on that market it could easily tap into and make a lot of money on."


    AGREED!
    Reply
  • MrEMan - Tuesday, June 07, 2005 - link

    Hopefully IBM will counter Intel/Apple by actually pushing their Opteron servers instead of their outclassed Xeon based servers.

    Unlike AMD, IBM can definitely compete against Intel financially and can easily inflict some financial pain to Intel for courting Apple away from the PowerPC.

    Lastly, I wonder how Michael Dell is going to respond when he realizes that he has competition for mother Intel's affections.
    Reply

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