Only Apple. Only Apple could pull off five years of secret underground development for a rival processor, while its marketing arm said something entirely different. Only Apple could spin dumping its major processor vendor as good news — and only Jobs could actually get philosophical about it. (The “universal binary symbol” is yin and yang? Huh?!) And, in all likelihood, only Apple could make this all work.

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Here’s the good news:

  • Apple’s development tools should make the transition easy — and the “transition” is already five years old. Intel development apparently paralleled PPC development for the entire history of the Mac — not such a surprise, says NeXT expert and CDM contributor Lee Sherman, who notes similar capabilities were available on the old NeXT OS, which ran on Intel.
  • Apple’s pro apps should get ported. You can bet Apple’s software will run on the new chip. Heck, Logic Pro ran on Intel not so long ago.
  • The transition could be seamless. The reality of development today is cross-platform. Users may not even notice the change. And OS X will translate code for PPC to Intel seamlessly, without a performance hit, according to Jobs. (Hope he’s right!)
  • They really are better. CDM has been saying it for a long time: the Mac desktops are fabulous, but the laptops are sorely lacking in performance dollar-for-dollar versus their competitors. That matters a lot in laptop music performance for apps like Live, Reason, Max/MSP Jitter, and even Apple’s flagship Logic. Now that Apple’s saying the same thing, I guess I can trumpet this without shame.
  • Here’s the bad news:

  • Apple is admitting defeat — and sales will suffer in the short term. Even Apple is going to have a hard time spinning this one. Hey, sorry about those chips we’ve been selling you since the mid-90s. And how will they convince users to buy Macs rather than wait until the new machines come out? But this brings us to the next problem:
  • This decision is late, and we still have to wait. After all this waiting, the first machines are unlikely to show up until next year. What happens in the meantime? No details from Apple about hardware strategy. Again. The soul may be the OS, but Cupertino sure likes keeping its users in the dark about hardware.

  • Apple has too many transitions. This one had BETTER be smooth, or the platform’s in big trouble. Sure, Adobe, Microsoft, and Wolfram all say everything’s okay — just like they did before the nightmarishly slow transition to OS X.
  • So much for Velocity Engine. Software designed to take advantage of IBM’s hardware (ironically, incuding Logic Pro) will now have to rely on Intel’s chips — and their future remains uncertain, too. (On the other hand, volume in the chip business is everything. Intel has it. IBM doesn’t.)
  • Still too many questions. Will non-universal binaries be produced in parallel with the universal ones? Will some apps be compatible with Intel, while others won’t? There’s plenty about this deal we just don’t know yet.

  • So, what’s the bottom line? I’m not too worried. There’s plenty of reason to believe this transition will be more like the relatively smooth 68k – PPC transition of the 90s. Late is better than never. OS X now is fantastic for music-making, and the towers have plenty of life in them. It’s too bad for us laptop musicians that we’ll have to wait until next year for Intel machines, but you might be advised to wait even on the Windows side — 2006 should see the next-gen laptop chips from Intel.

    You’ve heard it before, but I have to say it: stay tuned.

    • kokorozashi

      Don't romaticize this too much. It's really not all that much effort you didn't already know about. You knew about Darwin for Intel, right? That was the hard part, and the portability mostly came from NeXT. Everything else is written in C and C++ and Objective C, and was basically a recompile. And even this wasn't really a secret in the developer community; it was just a matter of when Apple would pull the trigger. The only interesting bit is whether the PowerPC emulator is any good, and even it's not as impressive as the 68K emulator, because the PowerPC emulator only has to run a subset of apps, not the operating system.

    • admin

      Already knew there was Intel support, yes. Knew Apple was going to shift course of the whole Mac community like this? Nope, not me. It was never clear among the development community that Apple would do this, though of course many speculated.

      That said, I agree that the interesting question is whether the PPC emulator works well. "Impressive"? I don't know about that. I don't want to be impressed by it theoretically. I want it to run non-recompiled / non-Xcode apps fast.

    • kokorozashi

      Well, of course, I was reading between your lines, which is always fraught with peril, and I was switching between CDM and Slashdot, which is probably never good for one's attitude. But the message I got from the repetition of "Only Apple" was a tone of reverence, so I jumped on it. I mentioned "impressive" because that was the message I was getting from the original post. Now that you've clarified, I'm getting a different message, but I still don't agree with it. I'm less shocked by this than most, probably because I read Daring Fireball, which, months ago, by listing scenarios in descending order of silliness, laid out the only way this was likely to go down, and it went down pretty much as DF described. There was a much-discussed perceived need for the switch; it was just a matter of when and how. DF didn't even try to say when, but knowing the likely how and then seeing it unfold was almost a calming experience, like hearing an expected visitor ring the doorbell.

    • admin

      I love Apple, but that was actually kind of cynicism. You're right: this shouldn't be a surprise. But after over a decade of PowerPC hype, it is a little . . . strange. And given Apple's traditional politics, it has to be at least a little surprising, more philosophically than technically. (Sans Jobs, they had the opportunity to do this a decade and a half ago and didn't.)

      That said, the more I look at it, the more I think it's probably good — especially since I know (I'll admit) precious little and Apple knows an awful lot about the future PowerPC roadmap. There are a lot of significant costs to Apple to do this. So they have to have some reason, other than just wanting to spite IBM.

      Anyway, here's what I'm hoping as a dual-platform user: I hope we get some intense CPU boosts on both platforms. And I hope Longhorn catches up with the Mac a bit on end user workflow. Because I am REALLY interested in the future of music with computers, and I think the best is still yet to come. (There, there's the NON cynical part of me talking now!)


    • kokorozashi

      From most to least recent:

      The general approach of these pieces is to pooh-pooh the entire idea of Apple moving to Intel, but along the way DF dribbles out details which pretty much outline the strategy that got announced, one that the rest of the analysts completely missed in their zeal to see Apple become a software company and Mac OS X running on a Dell.

    • admin

      People have been talking continuously about a switch to Intel processors since around 1990. (In fact, Intel-compatible MacOS was probably sunk in part by IBM negotiations on what became Taligent and the PowerPC alliance.) So this is nothing new.

      The important point is that the emulator is going to smooth the transition, the same way the 68k-PPC transition was basically seamless. (In fact, then — as will probably happen soon — developers could say, hey, upgrade to our nifty new PPC-native version.) So DF missed the important point (along with a lot of us): software doesn't have to be recompiled, after all, if you can make an efficient enough emulator and if the OS is native. People missed the boat on the latter point, too, in speculation over the last years: people were not aware Apple had ported not only the old NeXT stuff to Intel but everything new they were doing, too. So Apple was certainly smart and looking forward. And, ultimately, being tied to a single chip vendor isn't good. IBM's lower chip volume compared to the PC platform was clearly hurting Apple's price/performance ratio and overall platform performance.

      Anyway, surprised or not, the important thing is what happens next.


    • kokorozashi

      Actually, DF understood the importance of the emulator; they just didn't think it would happen.

      > The only way Apple could switch from PowerPC to Intel as seamlessly as they
      > switched from 68K to PowerPC would be if they were to implement a PowerPC
      > emulator for this hypothetical Apple-Intel platform. Not just a working
      > emulator, but a fast working emulator. I just don’t think this is possible,
      > and I’ve never seen a credible report claiming it is.

      The part DF can be said to have completely missed is that, like you say, when the OS is native, the emulator only has to run apps. And in fact Rosetta is even more limited than that; not only won't it work for audio drivers, which are kernel extensions, but it also won't work for control panels which need to talk to audio drivers. As well, Rosetta doesn't support system preference panes for reasons at which I am presently unable to guess. So, for audio folk, the ride might be a bit bumpier than for most other folk, because the work implied for driver developers may be higher than for most others. Your DAW may work fine (albeit slower) in emulation as long as your workflow doesn't require your audio interface. For that you're absolutely going to need ported software.

    • kokorozashi

      My somewhat refined understanding of the system preference pane situation is that it is a specific instance of the general category of a native app (the system preferences app) calling a non-native library (the pane). This doesn't work. It should not be a huge hairy big deal for developers to port preference panes as they tend to be small and simple.