It's been rumored for years, but at this morning's WWDC conference, Steve Jobs dropped the bombshell-starting next year, Apple will begin producing machines with Intel chips. Some highlights:
"I stood up here two years ago and promised you 3.0 GHz. I think a lot of you would like a G5 in your PowerBook, and we haven't been able to deliver that to you," said Jobs. "But as we look ahead, and though we've got great products now, and great PowerPC products still to come, we can envision great products we want to build, and we can't envision how to build them with the current PowerPC roadmap," said Jobs.
"Starting next year, we will introduce Macs with Intel processors," said Jobs. "This time next year, we plan to ship Macs with Intel processors. In two years, our plan is that the transition will be mostly complete, and will be complete by end of 2007."
Jobs then confirmed a long-held belief that Apple was working on an Intel-compatible version of Mac OS X that some have termed "Marklar."
Mac OS X has been "leading a secret double life" for the past five years, said Jobs. "So today for the first time, I can confirm the rumors that every release of Mac OS X has been compiled for PowerPC and Intel. This has been going on for the last five years."
Jobs demonstrated a version of Mac OS X running on a 3.6GHz Pentium 4-processor equipped system, running a build of Mac OS X v10.4.1. He showed Dashboard widgets, Spotlight, iCal, Apple's Mail, Safari and iPhoto all working on the Intel-based system. The system itself was not revealed.
Many developers reading this news may be thinking that they'll have to go through the same woes they had to in order to get their Mac OS 9 applications "Carbonized" to run on Mac OS X. Jobs assured the crowd that this isn't like that at all. To demonstrated, he brought on stage Theo Gray, co founder of Mathematica maker Wolfram Research.
Gray said that Mathematica is encumbered by "ancient code that hasn't been changed since the Reagan administration," but despite that, it only took about two hours to get Mathematica's Mac OS X code running on an Intel-bsaed Mac. "We're talking about twenty lines of source code out of millions, from a dead cold start. This is nothing like Carbonizing. It's prety good when the biggest problem from your port is to figure out what to do with the rest of your weekend."
Jobs also discussed a new technology called Rosetta, that he described as "a dynamic binary translator." It runs existing PowerPC applications on the Intel platform, he said. Jobs described Rosetta as "lightweight," and said "it's nothing like Classic."
Jobs demonstrated Rosetta by running Microsoft Office applications, Quicken and Photoshop CS 2 -- all unmodified PowerPC-binary versions, unlike Mathematica -- on the new Intel-based hardware.
"So that is Rosetta, Jobs concluded. "These PowerPC apps just run. And that's what we're going to have for our users, because every app isn't going to be there for our users on day one."
To me the REAL bombshell was that Apple has been parallel building all of its software for Intel for the last 5 years. Like, OMGWTFOBGYN.
I don't know whether to expect OSX to require a "special" chipset that keeps people from putting OSX on existing PC hardware or not. If they've been building for x86 for 5 years, something tells me it's not "required" but they'll do it anyway. At first. I do really hope that we see a proper firmware on the Apple machines and that we see them "lead the way" away from the horrible PC-BIOS architecture we're currently stuck with. Nobody else seems to have made much headway despite the best of purported intentions.
As for Adobe, they announced quite some time ago that they were switching to x86 as their primary platform for development and that Mac versions would be ported from Intel versions instead of vice versa. The old saw of "Adobe software runs better on Mac" has pretty much been a myth for a while anyway. Visiting my grad-student fiancee at her art school for the last couple years I was always surprised at how many design students weren't using Mac. Most of the PC users were in the, "I'd use a Mac if I could afford it" or the "the Mac's not fast enough for what I do" camps.
I've been saying to my Dad since the Mini came out that Apple has survived long enough to get to the point that hardware doesn't matter. Today's announcement pretty much makes it official. I still believe the PowerPC is generally a better chip and architecture (RISC vs. CISC). But sometimes what is technically "better" doesn't necessarily translate into real life--technical superiority doesn't necessarily sell (see VHS vs. Betamax; Gamecube vs. PlayStation; etc.)
If Apple comes out with an Intel-based Mini and/or iMac, look the fuck out. I'm sure Dell execs are crying right now; or at least doing some serious teeth-gnashing.
Apple is once again showing that they have learned some lessons along the way, but they're going to pick their spots and do things on their own timetable.