There’s a lot of confusion surrounding Apple’s move from PowerPC CPUs to Intel x86 ones, so in the interests of clarification: Mac OS X will run on my Dell No, it won’t. Somehow Apple will make sure that the operating system that makes the Mac special […]

There’s a lot of confusion surrounding Apple’s move from PowerPC CPUs to Intel x86 ones, so in the interests of clarification:

  • Mac OS X will run on my Dell
    No, it won’t.

    Somehow Apple will make sure that the operating system that makes the Mac special remains a Mac-only thing – as far as they can, perhaps by using the (rumoured) DRM features on Intel’s CPUs. It might well become possible to emulate it under, say, Windows or Linux at decent speed, but it probably won’t run natively. At the end of the day, Apple needs the money from hardware sales to keep its operating system Insanely Great.

  • No-one should buy a PowerPC-based Mac now
    This isn’t totally groundless, but it’s being vastly overstated. Developers know that there are a huge number of PowerPC Macs out there that they have to target if they want their applications to get any kind of use. With fat binary creation being a matter of simply ticking a box or two in Xcode (once the appropriate parts of the code have been modified), the minimal amount of effort to reap a very important reward will be something developers will bear in mind for quite some time to come. 68k code didn’t disappear for years.

    The only exception to this might be games, where companies may be less willing to port code over to PowerPC-based Macs (given the greater complexity of the task), leaving them as x86 only. But such a decision would leave any Mac port made with an initially very small potential market. On this front, there is talk of Wine style compatibility methods being used, making companies like Aspyr irrelevant. Some game developers seem to welcome the move, whilst others think the transition will be very painful, with two sets of code to test.

    But the Mac you just bought hasn’t suddenly become obsolete. It will probably live as long as it was going to anyway. Apple knows Mac users don’t like change – hell, there are still plenty of places still using OS 9 – so they won’t push users on that hard.

  • Leopard will leave PowerPC Mac owners out in the cold
    This seems extremely implausible, but I’m not going to say it won’t happen without explicit evidence to the contrary. But it makes no sense.

    Tiger has sold well, and will have made Apple a considerable amount of money. Why would they want to get rid of that revenue stream? As Steve said in the keynote, they’ve been building for PowerPC and x86 for five years. They aren’t going to change that soon. In fact, what you’ll probably see is that not until Mac OS X 11 will the system be x86 only. And that’s a way off.

  • x86 means malware
    This is a novel one, but has no basis in reality.

    Viruses and malware which exploit vulnerabilities are often operating system version dependent, and what works on an unpatched version of Windows XP will not work on Windows XP SP1 or SP2 (usually). Porting malware and spyware will not be any easier.

  • SSE is no replacement for AltiVec
    AltiVec isn’t necessarily as great as Apple has made it out to be over the years.

    SSE and AltiVec are two ways of achieving the same thing, and the general consensus seems to be that for developers, SSE is more accessible and easier to code for at the end of the day, even if perhaps AltiVec may have been technically superior. In my previous post, I noted how the better state of the GCC compiler on x86 (vs. that on the PowerPC) means better optimisations and so faster code.

  • Apple is abandoning the chip of the future
    You could be forgiven for thinking that given the fact that IBM’s PowerPC CPU (or variations thereof, i.e. the Cell) is to be used in all three next-generation games consoles, it is the architecture to be betting on. Why is Apple forsaking it for x86?

    The fact is that when it comes to processor requirements, games consoles and personal computers are two very different things. Whereas a console requires a highly specialised processor which can be manufactured cheaply in massive quantities over its 3-5 year lifetime but which needs no improvement once it has entered production (save, perhaps for die size reduction and tweaking), a personal computer (whether Mac or PC) needs a more generally useful processor and, as mandated by 20 years of history and ever increasing software complexity, regular speed increases, whether by traditional means (i.e. clock speed) or through multicoring. IBM’s plans for the PowerPC (and, consequently, its R&D budget) are mainly geared towards supplying the needs of console makers, not those of Apple.

  • This is all about DRM
    Pamela Jones of Groklaw fame has, somewhat surprisingly, weighed in to comment on the switch. Her view is that Apple’s reason for moving to Intel is all about taking advantage of the chip’s DRM features, and then out of her perpetual fear of anything proprietary, bashes Apple for not allowing Mac OS X to run on any old beige box.

    Moving to Intel for DRM makes no sense. If Apple really needed on-chip DRM, they would have asked IBM for it. No, the move was about regular speed increases for processors, although as I have noted above, Apple may use any on-chip DRM to ensure that Mac OS X only runs on Macs. That’s pure speculation though.

  • Linux is doomed
    John Dvorak, professional troll, believes that the move to Intel will be bad for Linux, although his reasons seem rather spurious. The Linux ‘movement’ should actually see some benefit from this – it will be in Apple’s interest to tweak GCC on x86 as much as possible, and this will mean faster apps on all open source operating systems (that use GCC).

It’ll be fine. At the very least it means faster, cooler PowerBooks. For that, I can hardly wait.

  1. Most of these points seem sound to me, except for these two:

    “No-one should buy a PowerPC-based Mac now” — Come on, you know it’s true. Your argument against this is based on the fact that PowerPC is not yet obsolete. But things are obviously heading that way. There’s no reason anyone would buy a Mac in the next two years if they know what’s coming.

    “This is all about DRM” — While I don’t think this is true either, moving to Intel would make sense to me. With IBM having all three next-generation consoles to worry about, I can see them blowing off Apple’s requests for DRM. Meanwhile, Intel already has DRM in the works. Still, I doubt that was the reason for the switch.

  2. Dan,

    There’s no reason anyone would buy a Mac in the next two years if they know what’s coming.

    Well…actually, yes, there is.

    Most people – a large proportion of the switch-it-on-and-it-just-works type that choose the Mac for that very reason – don’t know or care about any of this. They will buy a Mac and use it for five years. Maybe longer. Because it will do precisely what they want it to do. They don’t care about upgrades, they won’t need to worry about spyware or viruses, they can just be blissfully ignorant. For them, the Mac – whether one bought tomorrow or one bought in two years time – is just an appliance, a tool which does a job, and for that reason it really doesn’t matter what’s currently inside.

    For people like myself and, I presume, yourself, given that you are brave enough to forsake Microsoft Office for NeoOffice/J, it’s a different matter, and none of us will be buying Macs until they have Intel inside. But dinnae forget the little people. For them, PPC is just fine.

    With IBM having all three next-generation consoles to worry about, I can see them blowing off Apple’s requests for DRM.

    Yeah, quite plausible actually, given the minimal share of PowerPC CPUs that Apple’s usage counted for. Still, I’d like to think that Apple’s not so much into things like Palladium/TCPA.

  3. Actually, I think Dvorak is right on this one, though not for the reasons he thinks.

    Apple doesn’t really compete with Microsoft. People who are going to buy PCs buy PCs, and people who are going to buy Macs buy Macs, and there’s very little overlap between them. Of all the Apple and Microsoft customers in the world, added together, a very small percentage would have gone either way.

    But Apple does compete directly with Linux. Therefore anything that’s good for Apple is inherently bad for Linux, and vice versa.

    This move is good for Apple. So it’s bad for Linux. And frankly, Linux is teetering on the brink of utter irrelevance right now, so even the slightest insult can have a big impact.

  4. Rich Trouton Tuesday, June 7, 2005


    I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Linux is teetering on the brink of utter irrelevance. It’s not used much by Mac shops, to be sure, but it’s being adopted by more traditional enterprise shops that were using Sun servers and now are looking for a more cost-effective alternative. For those enterprise shops, the preferred alternative is not (currently) Mac OS X. I do think Mac OS X put a big hurting on “Linux on the desktop”, but not back in the server room.

  5. Linux hasn’t had a major release in four years, and frankly it wasn’t that great when it was new. In the face of both the vaporware innovations of Longhorn and the actual innovations of Tiger, Linux has offered … nothing. It had a long way to go to catch up when we were comparing Linux to Jaguar. Now it’s fallen completely off the radar.

    I think I was being generous when I said that Linux is teetering.

    Does Linux have a place in cheap, headless servers? Sure. But so what? That’s an evolutionary dead end. Linux’ fleeting mindshare, totally lost to both Microsoft and Apple, has left it in the niche that was for so many years occupied by BSD and UnixWare and Solaris for IA-32. They’ve persisted, lurking in the dim, deep places where humans rarely go, like coelacanths hiding in the dark. They live their quiet, purposeless lives unseen and unremembered.

    Survival? Sure. But to what end? At that point, you’re just part of the carbon cycle.

  6. I will buy a new PowerBook later this year or next spring (as I had planned before the announcement). If anything, I’d rather have the last G4 powerbook than the first Intel based PowerBook. It will be sure to run all my existing applications. It will carry me through the next two years by which time it should be safe to switch.

  7. Linux still aims at a different market than Longhorn and Tiger. Yes, their ultimate goal is the desktop but they’re no where near that yet. Why in the world would one need Dashboard on their webserver?

    The Linux community doesn’t have a high priority on flashy GUI innovations. [joke]So darn, I guess my linux router isn’t going to display a fireworks show each time it blocks a packet.[/joke]

  8. I’ll be ordering my PowerBook next week… why would I wait two years just so I can have an Intel one? So I can save money now by buying a Dell laptop? Makes no sense to me… :)

  9. “Linux hasn’t had a major release in four years”

    Dude, with that you just proved that you don’t know much about Linux.

    First, ‘Linux’ isn’t monolithic. You can’t talk about it as if it is.

    Second, every important Linux distribution has seen at least one new release in the last four years. And that’s putting it mildly, because of the next point.

    Third, the theme in the Linux world is not revolutionary change, it’s constant and relentless evolution done in a distributed fashion. You shouldn’t expect huge changes from one version of a distribution to another. That’s just not the way it works. In the Linux world, distributions (for the desktop, anyways) are expected to release early and often. (Server-oriented distributions are of course more conservative.)

  10. First of all, there is a bigger overlap between potential Mac and Windows users than there is between either of them and Linux users. Linux users are just as brazenly loyal to Linux as Mac users are to Macs.

    Linux distributions may come and go, but the major force behind Linux development are volunteer open source programmers. It would be almost impossible to stop that kind of development. They all get their money from somewhere else.

    The Apple-Intel deal will have very little effect on Linux. I do see, the possibility of Apple contributing open source tidbits, like GCC and, perhaps Wine.

    On a completely different note, Microsoft must be kicking themselves for buying Connectix. They obviously didn’t see this coming.

    Apple should start perfecting their own version of Wine. Wouldn’t it be great to use Mac OS X, and then, if you have Windows-only software, have the capability to run it on its native processor…


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