Like many other Mac users I am still a bit puzzled by the Apple-Intel deal. This was just a rumour that was so far off that I considered it rather unlikely. But it happened. Hell froze over again. This time letting Apple use the processor family which they could have just started off with over two decades ago.
From the proverbial user’s point of view this shouldn’t matter too much as the user doesn’t need to see or otherwise interact with the processor. So in a way such a change of processor is computing at its best with the specific hardware in use not really being important. And having in mind the change from the 68K processors to the PowerPC a decade ago, Apple can pull this thing. But while that transition worked quite well it also started years of software being labelled as 68K, PPC or Fat. Once that transition was over, they started labelling applications as Classic or OS X. And now that this phase of transition is over, there’s finally something new to worry about, namely whether an application will run on OS X/Intel and – a few years down the road – whether applications will still run on OS X/PPC. If Apple don’t make their developers be very disciplined there, this could be very annoying.
Talking about developers it sounds like Apple are trying to make this as painless as possible. For my own Cocoa applications I suppose that they just need to be recompiled as I’m just using plain Cocoa/Objective-C at all times and avoid manually doing any C or pointer stuff which could perhaps run you into Endianness problems. Similarly I don’t do any sophisticated AltiVec stuff, meaning that I don’t need to hate Apple now because I haven’t invested a lot of time into it. One problem I see coming, particularly for hobbyist or otherwise small developers who contribute a great deal of nice apps for OS X these days, is that they are in no position to buy a second computer just for testing whether their app runs fine on a different processor. So the whole ‘just recompile’ thing should better work well.
I surely do hope that this decision does make business sense. I.e. I hope it’s not just Mr Jobs’ ego going mad once more and him wanting to kick IBM’s balls just because he didn’t like the tie of one of their executives or because they made him look like a fool because he announced 3GHz processors two years ago. For this to make sense as a decision there must be more to it – like IBM having made clear that they see no future in having future generations of an all-purpose PowerPC or at least in making low-power versions of it. And as far as I can tell, the low-power thing is (because of portable and small computers) and should (for ecological reasons) become a central aspect in computing.
Last but not least, I find this switch aesthetically unpleasant. I have yet to meet a person who says that Intel’s processors are good – in the sense of nice, that is. Even back in the early 1990s I heard Windows programmers say that we had a nicer processor on the Mac. And reading reviews of Intel’s recent processors on the web suggests that, yes, Intel does have good engineers and is throwing a lot of brains and silicon at coming up with very clever solutions; ‘Solutions’ that sound like they’re mostly workarounds for an old and somewhat strange architecture. While what comes out of this will be fine for the user, it also makes me feel unsatisfied when imagining what the same clever people could have done without those restraints.
What I enjoy about this decision is that it will punish Apple and their marketing people for getting into the PowerPC hype too much. Personally I never cared too much about processing power. Back in the days, my Atari was always fast enough and I didn’t even know what processor it was using. Then I got my LC III Mac, which didn’t need to showcase processor information in its name. Only when getting my 8200/120 PowerMac, things started going bad – even giving the clock speed on the label, which isn’t exactly nice. The same goes for the Powerbook which carries a ‘G4’ in its name. I quite like the idea of not mentioning processor information in a computer’s name, as was done in the early Macs and also in the iMac. Starting to use Intel processors might be a good opportunity to do that. The information doesn’t mean much to most people and has become very close to irrelevant at the current processor speeds anyway.
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