Intel Arrives

Will Intel save Apple from certain demise?

Apple officially announces the move to Intel processors starting in late 2006

The stage is set. The time: June 2005. And Apple CEO Steve Jobs addressed his latest Apple faithfuls at the worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco. But this was no ordinary Developers Conference. In what many observers believe was a bombshell, Mr Jobs stated his company will use Intel microprocessors in its next Macintosh computers. Yes, Intel! The processors used in many PC computers!

After five years of quietly preparing OS X for the move to Intel, the decision to move to the new processor in June 2005 was made mainly because:

  1. Linux and Apple users are able to run Apple classic MacOS 7/8/9 software and Windows software side-by-side (thus bypassing the commercial OS of Apple and Microsoft) using emulation software.
  2. Apple can attract the hearts and minds of skeptical non-Apple users to the benefits of owning a commercial OS by seeing how it is possible to run Mac and PC software at full speed on the one machine.
  3. Microsoft and other major software manufacturers can lower software development costs by supplying dual Windows and Mac software capable of running at full native speeds of the processor.
  4. The costs for Apple to implement Repair Extension programs to fix Macintosh computers caused by excessive overheating problems of the PowerPC G5 processors is too great.
  5. The speed in updating the PowerPC G5 processor by IBM (this company wants to get away from hardware altogether in favour of delivering services and software) to a low-powered version suitable for laptops is too slow.
  6. An increasing number of software pirates are acquiring free copies of commercial PowerPC software.
  7. Steve Jobs had been secretly preparing OSX to run on a different processor thanks to his experience with the NextStep project.

The decision was sealed with a somewhat awkward onstage hug between Steve Jobs and the CEO of Intel Mr Paul Otellini.

This brings the final curtains on the relationship between Apple and IBM in the development of the PowerPC processor which lasted 11 years (i.e. 1994). IBM and Apple would describe the end of the relationship as a result of "irreconcilable differences" without going into the details. Later, Apple would say it was because the makers of the PowerPC chips — IBM and Freescale (an offshoot of Motorola) — could not, or would not, meet Apple's demand for faster chips. But the real reason is because building faster chips would make them too hot for use in laptops and Apple needed a faster laptop to compete with the PC laptop market. Because Intel provides cooler and faster chips and can manufacture them more quickly, Mr Jobs believed Intel chips were the best solution to the speed and heating problem.

Microsoft has welcomed the move saying it will save them money when it comes to producing Macintosh software, and Adobe was quick to support it (i.e. it now has enough PC-based software) by saying the ability to create Mac and PC software will be quicker and cheaper under the Intel processor.

When the Intel-based Mac computers arrive sometime in early 2006, it is unlikely Mac OS X will be able to run on non-Apple computers (i.e. true PCs). Steve Jobs would not allow it. And to make sure, Apple will install a ROM chip to work only for OSX. Because of its small market share compared to the PC market, Apple needs to protect itself and ensure a continuous stream of income from Apple users.

UPDATE
January 2006

For the past 6 months, hackers have successfully cracked the developer versions of OSX and installed them on Dell and Sony PC computers, much to the dismay of Apple management. The move to Intel by Apple would almost certainly see this situation happen more easily and regularly as people discover it is possible to run the commercial version of OSX on PC computers. How will this affect Microsoft Windows in the future?

The fundamental reasons for moving to Intel

The absolute "bottom line" reasons for moving to Intel were revealed by Jobs. He says the move would allow Apple to build not only more powerful Macintosh computers but, and this is the crucial point, it would solve the overheating problems by using a new processor requiring much less power to operate.

As Jobs said:

"They've [Intel] got something else that's very important to us...just as important as performance is power consumption." (Tsang, Simon. Intel inside Macs: The Sydney Morning Herald (Icon Supplement). 11-12 June 2005, p.3.)

It is a long time coming, but finally the decision has been made. The overheating problems of the PowerPC chip (i.e. G3) first surfaced in late 1996 when the plastics of the PowerBook 5300c/cs series computers began to warp. Better quality and thicker plastic was later used and eventually titanium and aluminium became the preferred solutions when handling the higher temperatures generated by the G4 and G5 processors (only to create problems internally with loss of connection to the RAM cards, and drawing too much current from the power supply under high temperatures to name a few).

Now, at last, the decision to improve the processor based on a low-powered high performance version has come.

What took Apple so long to figure it out?

Apple customers concerned about the transition to the new processor

Understandably a number of Apple users are anxious about the move. What would the transition to Intel be like in mid-2006? If the problems of Tiger is anything to go by, the transition would have to be a major headache. But then again, nothing could be as bad as installing Linux on a PC or Mac!

Jobs tried to ease the concerns a little by declaring:

"...every release of Mac OS X has been compiled for PowerPC and Intel. This has been going on for the past five years." (Tsang, Simon. Intel inside Macs: The Sydney Morning Herald (Icon Supplement). 11-12 June 2005, p.3.)

What about OSX third-party applications and the Classic Environment?

Again users are wise to wait and see what arrives and to let the technology iron itself out before purchasing the new Macs (especially if it is going to come with other hardware problems such as weak clutch hinges, poor quality connectors and wires, and the works).

Intel quick to promote new processors

Intel quickly announces improvements to its range of Intel processors in June 2005.

Dual-core and hyper-threading will become the common technical terms for Intel as the company forges on to reveal its current range of dual-core Pentium D and dual-core Pentium Extreme Edition processors. Dual-core simply means having two processors in one. Its purpose: to allow your computer to multi-task by running multiple applications (and OSes if you like such as Windows and Mac) simultaneously at near full processor speed (i.e. the speed of one core processor). Just so long as the speed of the Intel processor is not too high to exhibit an overheating problem as does Apple's PowerPC G4/G5 chips at high speeds!

Hopefully the low voltage and current requirements of the new Intel processors should see this overheating problem minimised.

How difficult is it to convert OSX 10.3.9 and Tiger software to the new OSX Intel environment?

A number of developers have jumped at the opportunity to test their OSX PowerPC-based software against the new OSX Intel-based environment, also known as OSX x86, using the recently released Developer Transition Kit from Apple.

A few weeks on and the evidence so far suggests the transition to OSX Intel will be relatively smooth (almost a non event) for most OSX PowerPC software, so long as the developers of OSX software today are running on 10.3.9 or higher and are willing to recompile their work for compatibility with the new environment. In essence, this means that as a consumer, commercial software you have bought today will require an additional cost to have them upgraded to the new OSX Intel environment. For moderately well-funded shareware developers, the cost to consumers will hopefully be minimal.

As for freeware, open source and low-end shareware developers, it is a question of whether it is worth porting the software over to the new environment and how easy and quickly the recompilation work can be done. Assuming the software will remain useful in the new environment, should the developer decide to recompile the software for Intel Macs and can achieve it in a couple of clicks of the mouse there is a good chance consumers can benefit from a simple update to their favourite OSX PowerPC software. If, on the other hand, some work needs to be done to make the software compatible, there may be a cost. It depends very much on the generosity of the developers at the end of the day.

Generally the more time and pain is involved in fiddling around and changing the source code to make the software compatible, the more you will have to pay. Or else face the possibility some of your favourite software today disappearing after 2006. (1)

That's the hard reality of all these changes to OSX and the software depended on it through a simple changeover of the microprocessor. If you are rich, the transition will be easy as you can afford to buy new commercial software and perhaps a few shareware ones. As for everyone else, perhaps a secondhand PC computer running Windows XP today is starting to look mightily attractive at this stage.

This appears to be the case with evidence that the cost of the transition kits has made it beyond the reach of low-cost shareware and free open source developers. (2)

To Apple's credit though, at least the transition kits have been made available to developers as we speak before the new computers arrive in 6 months time.

Wincent Colaiuta summarised the situation well when he said:

"I wasn't programming for the Mac back in the days of the 68K to PowerPC transition but I get the impression that the current transition is going very smoothly indeed. Apple has had plenty of practice at this kind of thing and they've made it very easy for developers to make the switch. Their development tools are excellent and free and getting better all the time with each new version. Their documentation is top notch. The only downside of the whole process was the financial outlay required to obtain a Developer Transition Kit, but it's probably worth it in the end because it gives you the ability to test your product on the new platform before getting it into the hands of customers. I think that customers expect free, native Intel versions of the apps they've already bought prior to the transition; they don't want to pay for that kind of upgrade, so the question of how to recoup the outlay on the Developer Transition Kit remains to be answered. Perhaps it's just one of the costs that a developer has to absorb.

As for how this compares to the Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X transition, I think this one has been much, much easier. The move to Mac OS X involved lots of API changes and a whole new environment and way of working; the move to Intel is really just a case [of] minor technical tweak in comparison." (MacFixIt.com: Mac OS X Intel transition special report: Many apps a simple recompile, some more involved; Compatibility issues; Outlook; more. 9 December 2005.)

UPDATE
January 2006

It would appear Apple will provide a Rosetta application for running PowerPC-optimised OSX applications under the Intel environment. Using the latest OSX 10.4.4, you can find out if your applications are "PowerPC", "Universal" or (when the Intel machines arrives) "Intel" by opening up the Activity Monitor in Applications/Utilities. Click the "Kind" tab. You will find all the information in here. Good luck!

Now Apple has released Knowledge Base article #303058 containing the following quote:

"You can't start up an Intel-based Mac from a CD or DVD that came with a PowerPC-based Mac, nor a PowerPC-based Mac from an Intel-based Mac's discs, either by holding the C key at startup or by using Disk preferences.

"To start your computer from a disc, use the disc that came with the computer."

In other words, a universal Mac OSX installation disk will not be produced. When you get an Intel Mac, you will get an Intel-specific OSX disk. And PowerPC Macs will continue to receive a PowerPC-specific OSX disk. But neither disk will boot the opposite type of Mac even if the version of OSX are identical.

So what's the point of having a "universal" option for producing software to run on both types of computers if Apple won't produce a universal OS X?

Sounds like Apple is concerned consumers may try to copy bits and pieces of system components from the latest Intel Mac onto a PowerPC without purchasing a full version of the latest OSX. Or maybe there are too many burned OSX system CDs and DVDs being supplied free with secondhand Macs on eBay.com which is annoying the hell out of the company?

Or maybe this is the way to entice Mac users to upgrade to the new Intel machines by telling PowerPC users their software is coming to an end? As one MacFixIt reader said:

"While the installation DVDs will not work universally, its probably to stop people using it on older Macs and installing iLife 06, that does not mean the version of Mac OS X and its components that it installs are not universal binaries either." (MacFixIt.com: Intel-based Macs: The booting situation — no Universal (PowerPC and Intel) version of Mac OS X; Discs will not boot both system. 13 January 2006.)

Does this mean users will have to buy two versions of every software? This is a concern for one consultant:

"This is certainly going to make life interesting for consultants such as myself and the various utilities such as DiskWarrior, TechTool Pro, Drive Genius, etc. So now we will have to buy two versions of everything? I think not!!!" (MacFixIt.com: Intel-based Macs: The booting situation — no Universal (PowerPC and Intel) version of Mac OS X; Discs will not boot both system. 13 January 2006.)

Well, it all depends on whether the software manufacturers decide to provide a "Universal Binary" version of their products or not.

But remember, even if you could buy Intel Macs with universal binary applications, you will encounter bugs in those applications because of their third-party plug-ins requiring updates. If this happens to you, the Intel version of OSX should provide you with the option to force the application to run in the Rosetta emulation mode.

As MacFixIt.com stated:

"If you are running into an issue with one of the new Intel-based Macs where plug-ins for some applications are not operating correctly, or the Universal Binary's Intel code appears to be buggy, you can use Mac OS X to force an application to run in the Rosetta emulation environment. When this option is selected, only the PowerPC code will run." (MacFixIt.com: Intel-based Macs: Forcing a Universal application to run with Rosetta; avoids issues with plug-ins. 13 January 2006.)

The Rosetta emulation environment is activated by choosing Get Info on the application and putting a tick in the "Open using Rosetta" check box.

UPDATE
26 January 2006

Java applications that use the JNI Libraries do not run correctly under Rosetta. This is because the Libraries are loaded before Rosetta. If the situation was reversed, it is likely all Java applications will run correctly.

Similarly all disk repair utilities such as DiskWarrior and TechTool Pro are incompatible to various degrees under Intel Macs.

UPDATE
2 February 2006

There is a common problem with Intel Macs in that PowerPC applications running under emulation mode in Rosetta will run slowly. For example, launching the Apple file sharing (AFP) protocol to find Apple servers and quitting from a number of PowerPC applications can take 30 to 40 seconds or longer, if ever, not to mention actually using the applications. It's even considered much slower than quitting Windows applications running on a Windows emulation software for 68K machines.

Sounds like a particularly good reason to have users purchasing Intel-based software to replace the PowerPC ones as soon as they become available.

Actually it would be interesting to see what the true cost of upgrading to the latest machine from Apple would be — including time wasted in waiting for new software and in generating output from existing PowerPC software through Rosetta — compared to, say, staying with a Windows 98/2000/XP computer? It might well end up shocking Windows users who will probably have the last laugh.

Then again, maybe we shouldn't be surprised. Apple probably thinks anyone who owns an Apple computer must be a millionaire.

UPDATE
28 February 2006

Running Rosetta to emulate the PowerPC environment does not guarantee third-party software plug-ins designed for PowerPC applications will work. And if they do, will be very slow for tasks that require processor intensive calculations such as video-editing software. Similarly Apple may update or upgrade some if its commercial applications (e.g. iLife '06) only to make third-party plug-ins running okay on previous Apple PowerPC-native application versions suddenly misbehave or fail completely even after turning on Rosetta.

There is no indication Apple intends to improve the Rosetta emulation mode to make the plug-ins more compatible. So if this happens to you, you may need to wait for developers to update third-party plug-ins. This may not be as bad as it sounds (if you have patience) until you realise developers are likely to be charging extra for the privilege. For users who have spent considerable amounts of money on plug-ins to help with their business, this will be bad news. We definitely feel for you guys!

We strongly recommend users should stick to their PowerPC machines for as long as possible until cheap versions of the Intel-based computers and Intel-based Macintosh software are sold as second-hand products on eBay or other auction sites. Also, if your plug-ins were purchased recently, ask the developers to see if there are special discounts to upgrade to a more stable plug-in version and one which is compiled as universal binaries for full speed under the Intel processor.

Otherwise you may wish to send a thank you letter to Apple for their kind assistance to PowerPC users and explain to Mr Steve Jobs why you may not purchase another Apple computer (well, certainly not a new one!).

UPDATE
24 March 2006

Adobe has just released the Universal Binary Flash Player. Make sure the installed version of the player is 8.0.27.0. If you have version 8.0.22.0 or 8.0.24.0, this is the PowerPC version (get rid of it). Anything earlier than this definitely needs a good trashing. Hopefully this will solve the incompatibility problems for those Intel Mac users wanting to view Flash media on their internet browsers.

Macromedia has also recommended downloading the latest internet browser and installing it for the latest version.

Concerns for the end of classic environment may be realised with the move to Intel

It would appear the move to Intel-based processors would probably see the end of support for all classic environments OS7/8/9. Anyone wanting to run classic Mac software on Intel-based Macs is likely to be best served by Linux PPC YellowDog or other Mac-compatible Linux OS. When the first "Macintels" arrive in 2006, it will run in pure OSX.

Later, perhaps a few years after the sale of the first Macintels to consumers, Microsoft will save money by disbanding the Mac Business Unit and stick to PC software only while Apple will help Microsoft to provide the facility to run PC software side-by-side with Macintosh software on OSX (without needing the Windows OS).

At first Microsoft will probably continue to developed a special OSX Intel version of VirtualPC to give Macintosh users the benefit of running PC software at virtually full speed of the microprocessor. Then, one day, perhaps under OSXI or OSXII, no emulation software would be required. All Windows and Macintosh software will run under the same OS, all thanks to the Intel processor.

The transition to Intel should hopefully be very smooth for people running OSX 10.3.9 or higher. However, for those sticking to classic OS7/8/9 Mac software, they will be the hardest hit by the move.

For all those old classic diehards, you will have to investigate alternatives such as Linux to run your software. Or wait to see if a programming genius out there will provide the emulation tool to run OS9 software to your hearts content.

UPDATE
23 January 2006

Talk of several MacFixIt.com users about how to remove the Classic Environment in OSX may give ammunition for Apple to remove the feature from the next OSX release. But exactly how many users are prepared to part with their beloved OS9 applications? Apple should make it an option during OSX installation to have the Classic Environment. For now, it should not be removed altogether.

UPDATE
8 February 2006

Users have discovered the Intel-based Macs no longer runs the Classic Environment. Why? Is it because the Intel processors can't handle it? No. We have received news that SheepShaver 2.2 can emulate the classic MacOS from versions 7.5.2 to 9.0.2 on an Intel-based Mac without any problems (although it will be running at around 25 per cent of the speed of your latest aluminium PowerBook running at 1.67GHz — not that this would concern those Apple users owning a 400MHz computer), proving Apple chose to drop Classic Environment altogether to save money and force people to stick to OSX. So now it is up to the user to download a copy of the ROM contents from a PowerPC computer and load up MacOS9.0.2 to run SheepShaver.

NOTE: It should be easier to set up than installing Linux if this is of any consolation for all the classic OS9 diehards.

Intel releases the Core 2 Duo

Intel announced the release of the Core 2 Duo microprocessor in August 2006. The predecessor, known as Core Duo, had one major flaw: it was too hot to operate. Now, for the first time, Intel engineers were given the freedom to completely start from scratch and redesign the chip using the latest technology. And what they have done is create an almost revolutionary superchip. The most powerful chip in Intel's 38-year history, the Core 2 Duo finally solves the overheating problem by drawing 30 per cent less power. And remarkably, for the less power it requires, the chip can now deliver performance improvements of up to 60 per cent compared to the best chips built on previous technology.

Kate Burleigh, Intel's national marketing manager: said:

"It's a complete redesign from the ground up. The first time I saw the benchmark figures for the Core 2 Duo I just didn't believe it — I thought our engineers were kidding around with us! What's really great is that the improvements are so readily apparent. It's very easy for consumers to see the benefits right away." (Flynn, David. Tasty chip cool and fast: The Sydney Morning Herald (Icon Supplement). 12-13 August 2006, p.3.)

The implications for PC manufacturers is clear; Much smaller and thinner laptops and desktop machines. For Apple with already thin laptops, it means the possibility that its overheating problems with the Core Duo could be solved with the latest chip.

Will a new processor really save Apple?

Despite all the fanfare over a new processor for Apple computers, the move is not going to save Apple Computer, Inc in the long term. The company has yet to go through a major overhaul of its customer service policy, especially when customers discover Apple computers have manufacturing defects or are not able to handle new hard disks recommended by Apple resellers etc.

As it currently stands, Apple and some selected Apple resellers are prepared to blame the customers for faults or damage on Apple computers on the grounds of "deliberately mistreating the equipment" to avoid responsibility, to let customers live with their damaged computer, and making excuses that it needs something which it doesn't to repair the computer and customers are not legally required to do so (e.g. the hard disk).

This attitude has to change very quickly and permanently or the company will not survive for very long.