Monday, June 13, 2005

Macintosh: Intel Inside

This year at the WWDC (World Wide Developers Conference), Steve Jobs had very interesting news to share:

“When we look at future roadmaps, mid-2006 and beyond, we see PowerPC gives us 15 units of performance per watt, but Intel’s roadmap gives us 70. And so this tells us what we have to do,”
Jobs explained.

“Starting next year, we will introduce Macs with Intel processors,” said Jobs. “This time next year, we plan to ship Macs with Intel processors. In two years, our plan is that the transition will be mostly complete, and will be complete by end of 2007.”

The new OS X versions for x86 will be dubbed "Marklar".

Apparently Apple did consider IBM, but IBM already has its hands full with a contract for making XBox console chips and revamping some of its assembly plants for the next 2 years for its future investment in cell processors.

More interestingly though, Jobs claimed they have been compiling Mac OS X on PowerPC and Intel for the past 5 years in the Apple labs.

Other surprises included Theo Gray, cofounder of Mathematica who claimed porting the application from OS X to Marklar took only 20 lines of code. Mathematica is an ideal example since it relies heavily on ALU (Arithmetic Logic Unit), the crux of any processor.

There is also an emulation layer called Rosetta which runs existing Power PC apps on Marklar making the initial transition quick and smooth. Emulation layers are inherintly slow, however, so time will prove if Rosetta can live up to it's name.

Some in the Mac community are prematurely enraged by this and this may even slow down sales of their existing Macs amongst the geeks. Further, this bizzare twist of events means that all the time Microsoft has been developing Microsoft Office for Macintosh, will now actually backfire on their strategy (to get Apple users familiar with the MS environment and lure them toward Windows) and prove to be a big plus for users to migrate over to Macintosh since they can still retain their Office environment (spreadsheets, word processor and email software). Microsoft's Roz Ho who took the stage after Jobs, affirmed they will continue to work together on Office. Whack! Maybe Microsoft feels their .NET platform will take them to the next level and that might be understandable as the OS and Office markets are already stagnated (Office 2005's biggest competitor for example is older versions of Office. Same for most the OS and other products which have already matured and aren't adding much value with subsequent releases).

This will also undermine efforts within the linux community to write a GUI for linux architectures as the OS X on Intel will now fill that void.

It will also mean that Apple won't be cashing in as much on it's proprietory hardware architecture and design but they have plans to disallow their OS to run on just any x86 hardware (this lock-in will likely be circumvented by hardware hackers within the first few weeks, if not months). Further, Apple has never faced much piracy of their OS because it came bundled with hardware; in contrast there are likely more pirated versions of Microsoft than there are legitimate ones which has plagued Microsoft for a few years as they have had to support illegitimate software (which is also the cause for a lot of security issues as unsupported, unpatched machines get infected first and plague the others). As Mac breaks out of the shell and hits the mainstream non-hippie, average Joe they will be in for a culture shock.

Other interesting reactions will be those from current PC Harware assemblers like Dell, if they can react at all--currently their fate relies heavily on the sale of MS Windows.

This might even be leeway for Apple to squeeze into the cellphone market (which might explain why they initially had talks with IBM who is investing in cell processor plants). The landscape will take a very interesting shape in the upcoming years.

I have never wanted to drop a couple grand just so I could experience a one-button Mac. The investment was too risky--if I didn't like the Mac what was I or any other user to do? Mac has never had the concept of a Demo version but that is about to change. How do you feel about this (as a PC or Apple user)? Got your own speculations or insights you would like to share?

1 comment:

Absar said...

Well, I know I'm commenting a bit late (well, a lot late), but I don't think that you get the idea of a Mac.

Demo versions DO exist for the Mac, in fact thay are very common. Freeware, too is VERY common. You CAN use a two button mouse (I use a logitech three button mouse with scroll-wheel).

NOTHING is going to change (as far as software is concerned) after the Intel transition. As far as the end-customer is concerned, nothing will be different - just that PowerPC chips will be replaced by Intel chips. That doesn't change too many things software wise. However, people will be able to install Windows on their Macs (which I am not too enthused about), contrary to popular belief that Macs will be able to natively run Windows software.

And oh, yes... I'm a Mac user in Pakistan :)