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.
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.