After days of rumours, confirmation this week of reports that Apple Computer Inc. will gradually switch its Macintosh computers to Intel-based processors came as no surprise.
However, not all of the company’s resellers think the news is juicy. At least one is disappointed at the holes in the
announcement made by Apple president Steve Jobs at the company’s annual developer conference.
For while Jobs and Intel CEO Paul Otellini patted each other on the back, details of which processors will be running the Mac OS – which will affect the ease of porting Apple applications to the new system – are causing unease.
“A lot of information has not been announced to identify whether or not this will be a seamless change or cause great pain to Apple’s core marketplace,” said Al Pickard, president of Intuitive Solutions Group, a Markham, Ont. solutions provider.
The IBM-designed G4 and G5 PowerPC processors running Macs are 64-bit RISC (reduced instruction set computer) chips, he pointed out. By contrast Intel chips use CISC (complex instruction set computer) architecture.
[Intel’s Itanium processors and some Xeon processors are 64-bit CPUs. Some Xeon and Pentium processors are 32-bit CPUs that can support 64-bit operating systems.]
The Apple announcement also left unsaid if the Intel chips for Macs will have the same pin sets and be interchangeable with motherboards made for Windows-based hardware.
An Intel spokesman referred questions to Apple. Calls to Apple for clarification weren’t returned by press time.“The big challenge depends on what the application developer community needs to do to accommodate the new Intel architecture,” said Pickard.
“If it’s a minor modification for the application vendors it should be seamless. Otherwise it’s going to be a painful exercise that’s going to hurt the (Mac) environment.“I don’t think the marketplace is going to accept another radical change that’s going to cost them thousands of dollars to upgrade their software to accommodate this.”
His company, which sells mainly to the graphics industry, could be expected to be pleased because it’s also a Microsoft certified partner that sells Hewlett-Packard workstations and servers. An Apple-Intel alliance could benefit firms such as his more than Mac-only resellers.
But Pickard is cautious. The majority of his Mac buyers use four applications, he said: Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, Quark Express and Microsoft Office for Mac.
“If those three (vendors) aren’t on side . . . it will be a challenge” for his customers to move to an Intel platform, said Pickard.
However, Microsoft and Adobe were quick to announce support.“We plan to create future versions of Microsoft Office for the Mac that support both PowerPC and Intel processors,” Roz Ho, general manager of Microsoft’s Macintosh Business Unit, said in a statement.
“We think this is a really smart move on Apple’s part and plan to create future versions of our Creative Suite for Macintosh that support both PowerPC and Intel processors,” said Bruce Chizen, CEO of Adobe.
Neither said when their software would be released.At the same time Apple released a US$999 developer transition kit for its select and premier developers for porting applications to a preview version of Mac OS 10.4 for Intel.
Apple wants to start delivering Intel-based Macs by this time next year on a new operating system – but didn’t say on which CPUs – and have all models switched by the end of 2007.
One of the company’s biggest Canadian independent resellers in the country sees the move as an opportunity for Apple to encroach on Windows.
“If people are able to compare apples to apples in terms of performance . . . and understand it’s not just the (CPU) cycles . . . it will rapidly notch up their market share,” said Ron Paley of Toronto’s Carbon Computing.
He shrugged off concerns that the move will mean existing Mac users will have to pay to upgrade software to run on Intel-based hardware.
“That’s a very easy workaround,” he said. Many software companies offer free or minimal-price cross-platform licensing.
“It would be folly for a company to say ‘We’re not going to have an upgrade path for you,’” he added.
Not wanting to be completely negative, Pickard said the move by Apple to Intel may make it less expensive for software developers to move Windows apps to Macintosh.
“What I hope,” he continued, “is that they don’t try to have their customer base absorb the transition cost through unnecessary fee-based upgrades.”
Similarly, if Apple ties the next upgrade of its operating system to a version that can also run on Intel chips that would be less painful than if it released a separate version of the operating system users have to pay for, he said.
“It could be positive for Apple,” said Pickard, if only because Intel will be a better supplier of CPUs than IBM and Motorola have been for PowerPC chips. Processor shortages from those two manufacturers have been blamed for shortages of Macs.