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Intel Inside — WWDC Day One

Okay, so of course the news today announced was that Apple was transitioning to Intel based processors for their Macintosh line of computers. But, before I get into that, I want to share with you the brief observation I made at the beginning of the day, because it is actually germaine to the entire conversation. That is — Apple is not a company that creates computers — it is really a philosophy and a way of life, and it’s a sea change in our culture. Those who participate in the Apple meme are participating in something altogether different from the average computer user. It’s an aesthetic that is pervasive and goes beyond sleek cases — it’s about changing your relationship to computing.
That being said, the big announcement today was Apple’s decision to go to Intel as their processor, ditching the Power PC chip they’ve touted for over a decade. Some rabid die-hard fans took this as bad news, as if somehow they had been betrayed after years of hype about how the Intel processor didn’t stand up to the PPC chip. To me, I see this as a good business decision based on sound criterion, and it shows a flexibility and a dedication towards progress that only strengthens Apple as a company in my mind. Steve Jobs is an excellent salesman and not only were his reasons sound (power consumption on the PPC is like 5x what it is on the Pentium), but Apple has worked very hard to make this a seamless transition in many ways.
First off, it appears that Jobs had a secret mandate for all versions of OS X that they would be processor-independant, and would compile on Intel as well as on PPC. This goes back to 10.0, and shows a prescience that is to be commended. They were still commited to PPC five years ago, but they knew that things could change in the future, and they had to be ready. The fact that not only Tiger is intel-ready, but all previous versions gives me confidence that the hardware platform and the OS are gonna be just fine. He demonstrated Pentium 4 3.4 ghz macs on stage and things worked flawlessly.
Second, the Apple team has incorporated into their IDE a very painless methodology for transforming Apple source code written for the PPC into what they are calling ‘universal binaries’ which are compiled for Intel as well as PPC. XCode allows most code bases to be compiled for dual-platforms with a simple click of a checkbox (and if that isn’t enough, there is the promise of only needing to use ‘minor tweaks’ to get it in line.) basically, if you use Apple Cocoa frameworks and classes, the process is automatic.
Third, Apple has created a product for the intel Mac called ‘rosetta’ which will just run PPC binaries natively w/o the need to launch a whole separate environment (unlike the ‘classic’ mode which has to launch a separate emulator to run old code). So, old apps won’t become useless on the new platform.
machines should roll out gradually over the next two years, and Apple has no plan to stop supporting their PPC line. that being said, their stock was down $.42 today and I’m certain they’re going to take a short-term hit on sales for the next year until intel macs come out (who wants to buy into old hardware?). So, with the gradual roll-out, the ease of porting code, and the fact that Apple is giving their developers communtiy a year to react and to adjust means that users should be completely unaffected by this transition, and it will appear transparent to the average Mac owner.
Overall, I’ve been very impressed by this turn of events and it shows that Apple knows what their doing. This transition promises to be as important as the move to PPC in teh first place, or as the move from os 9 to os x. Apple is a company that’s here for the long haul — they’ve tasted success recently, and they’re leveraging that success to get them to the next level. They are a philosophically driven company, and it appears that their memes are finally paying off.

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