I go to England and Apple launches the switch campaign to end all such campaigns: moving from IBM’s PowerPC chip to Intel architecture. Coincidence?
Pretty much, yeah.
I know that a zillion electrons have been spilled on this topic, and I’m going to add my own thoughts without the benefit of having actually read what anyone else has said about it. So if everything I say here is a duplication of everyone else’s writing, it’s at least an original duplication, if you see what I mean.
At the core (Ha! I kill me!), it shouldn’t really matter what chip sits at the heart of a Macintosh. Did it bother me when Apple switched from Motorola’s chips to the PowerPC? No. I’ve historically been far more bothered by changes in interface, like the jump from OS 9 to OS X. I have made that transition, but it took me a long time and I still sometimes pine for the old days.
Regardless, it does seem to bother me at some level that I could be running an Intel-based system in the semi-near future. Maybe it’s all those old jeering comments I made about fundamental addition bugs and excessive heat production coming home to roost. Maybe it’s that the hipper-than-thou, apart-from-the-crowd semi-cultishness of the Mac extends down to the hardware layer: now instead of having l33t hardware that I paid good money to get, I’m merely going to have a different OS on the same basic computer as all those boxes out there running Windows, pardon my French.
These are emotional reactions, and I admit that freely. But emotion is bound up in anything we take seriously, and given that it’s the tool with which I create personal wealth, I take my computer very, very seriously.
I’ll step back from that, however, and look at this with a larger field of view. Apple has apparently been maintaining Intel versions of OS X for years now, so it isn’t as though they still have to undertake that conversion. There’s a PowerPC chip emulator called Rosetta that should smooth the transition of software to the new architecture. Sure, the stuff running on the emulation layer won’t be as efficient as software written natively for Intel architectures, but it’s a whole lot better than nothing. (And also makes me wonder why it’s been such a long, hard trip getting a Mac emulator for the PC.)
Here’s the thing, though: this potentially brings the ability to run OS X to the ninety-plus percent of the computing world that has an Intel machine, of which ninety-plus percent are running Windows. The success of iTunes for Windows has demonstrated that Windows users don’t give a flip who wrote their software, as long as it gives them something they want and is easy to use.
So the move has the distinct potential to play to Apple’s strengths as a software developer. It could put the whole iLife suite on desktops everywhere through Intel-compatible OS X or even some other route. It could make it easier for Apple to create a Windows-compatible version of iLife. It might (though I can’t be sure, not being a developer) make it easier for Windows applications to be ported to OS X, thus making switches between Windows and Mac OS a lot less painful. It might even make it possible to have Windows running on Apple hardware, and it’s darned sure going to make VirtualPC a lot less virtual.
I freely acknowledge that most users, even given a choice, will pick the classic Wintel combination—how many buy Linux-driven Intel machines these days? (Yes, it’s more than before, but still not that many.) How many more would buy non-Apple OSXtel machines, even assuming such a thing to be possible? Not many. A lot of the cachet of being a Mac user is having the super-fine hardware, all sleek and well-designed and a heck of a lot sexier than the guy running a Dell Latitude or whatever. (Yes, some PC makers do go sexy, but they’re usually either trampy ripoffs of Apple’s designs, tricked-out Alienware gamer boxes, or Sony Vaios.)
As I said at the outset, intellectually I don’t care whose chip drives my Mac, so long as my programs still run and the performance isn’t slower than I’d have gotten with the PowerPC chip. Emotionally, though, I’ll be breaking my long-standing rule against decorating my computers. After all, I’ll need something to put over the “Intel Inside” sticker.