“Apple CEO Steve Jobs said this week that his company would consider moving to Intel chips, but that he would wait until at least 2003 because the transition to Mac OS X was more important. But with the speed of Power PC hardware increasingly falling behind Intel’s chips–The Pentium 4 will hit 3 GHz this year–Apple would be wise to do a bit of research. I recommend AMD’s upcoming 64-bit Opteron, which will give Apple a technological leg up on Windows and, perhaps, offer them Windows compatibility through the Opteron’s full compatibility with 32-bit x86 code. Come on, Apple: Do the right thing.” Read the blurb on WinInformant. Read more for a short commentary. Appendix 21/July/2002: Please read for a small update and more explanations at the end of the article.Our Take: Personally, I believe that OSX will jump architectures soon enough. Motorola is not interested in their PPC line of CPUs, and G5 is nothing but vaporware so far. They have clearly stated that these CPUs are too far away from their focus as a company. Where does that leave Apple?
G4s might be good machines, but the x86-based CPUs are now riding away the clockspeed horse and they only get better and faster with time. G4s are currently on 1 Ghz, while rumours want Jobs to introduce faster G4s, only at 1.2 Ghz, with the release of OSX Jaguar next month. Obviously, Apple is lagging behind in raw speed (and this has nothing to do with the “Mhz myth”). Their products are outrageously overpriced for the raw speeds they offer these days while more and more users seem to wake up from Job’s “reality distortion field”.
Apple, once upon a time, used to have more than 10% of the computer market. Latest statistics show that Apple has fallen to 2.4% of the overall desktop market for the summer 2002, while it had 2.9% last October, 2001.
Time is running by, and Apple will need to make a decision, fast. I believe they will indeed use another architecture, which it might be AMD’s 64-bit Opteron, or Itanium2 or maybe, the simple 32-bit x86. Wallet-wise, it does not matter what they will pick. Why is it so? Read on.
Because Apple is primarily a hardware company. If they leave the PPC world (and that won’t happen overnight, all their third party apps run there and all their loyal costumers are still there), their new platform of their choice will also have the same “theme” as their PPC products.
Forget the possibility that you could purchase OSX off the shelf and run it on your PC. This will never happen (except for a demo CD for promotional purposes, maybe). Apple would do the same ‘tricks’ they did for PPC to make sure that OSX only runs on exact hardware they sell. They will modify BIOSes of both cards and motherboards to make sure that OSX would only run on the specific Apple hardware (while it would be able to run other x86-based OSes like Linux and Windows (which might be a good strategy), while other x86 hardware and PCs won’t be able to run OSX).
By doing it this way, Apple wouldn’t necessarily have to clash with the Microsoft giant, as the hardware they would run on, wouldn’t be exactly what I would call “IBM PC and compatibles”.
I am not against the idea of a more “closed” x86 hardware. History taught us that no one can go against Microsoft’s OS and have a profitable company at the same time by only selling a boxed OS. Apple will have to “close” their x86 hardware and only work with a very particular set of hardware and cards. It is the only way they would survive in the x86 jungle. And this is fine with me. We see Linux distribution companies going down and only be strong in the server market because of its price per seat (free), Be died, QNX does not care about the desktop, OS/2 is history too. Apple won’t make the same mistake.
There is such large choice of hardware out there that Apple won’t be able to support all of it. Hardware support is the main problem of every OS in the x86 world. Even Windows XP does not support all the recent hardware yet. Therefore, Apple would only support a fraction of this hardware, rebrand them if necessary and possibly change… the way they look. In other words, the jump of architectures won’t look much different to an end-user, not much different as it was looking before when he/she was purchasing a PowerBook or a PowerMac. It will still be hardware controlled and modified and manufactured by Apple.
The reason I wrote this is to calm down people who would be so excited to use OSX on their current PCs, as this won’t be happening. You will still have to purchase an x86, or Opteron or Itanium or whatever machine that it is Apple-branded (and possibly on a pretty high price as the current Macs). If Apple changes architectures (to whichever architecture that might be) that won’t matter much for the consumer. It will still be branded as “Apple Hardware” and it will still cost you to get it.
Appendix: I would like to make some points more clear:
1. A possible jump to a new architecture, would NOT happen overnight. PPC computers would still be selling from Apple, in parallel to whichever new architecture Apple might choose. PPC won’t die overnight, it will take years.
2. This article is mostly to advocate the fact that Apple would still sell “closed” hardware, no matter which architecture they might choose to jump in.
3. IF (I am saying, IF) that architecture might be x86, they will possibly first try to only sell an XServe server rack product based on x86 and not a desktop/workstation machine. This way, Apple can find some good excuses for using x86 (compatibility for server software, better support from ISPs and CPU manufacturers, you name it), without making their userbase angry (because their average Mac customers do not really use rack servers…). “They only use it for the server product” the Mac users will say and they will sleep tight at night. After this “transition” in the minds of the Mac users happen, 8-10 months later Apple will be offering x86-based workstations too (in parallel to the PPC ones). People would have now used to the idea, and not all will be bad for Apple. What I am trying to say, is that whichever transition might happen, Apple will try to make it as smooth as possible in the minds of all costumers. Apple is great on marketing…
4. Binary compatibility of course will have to break. However, that is the whole point of a “transition”. API compatibility can be very strong, as history has taught us with BeOS and QNX versions of PPC/x86, and theoretically, a simple recompilation of an application can produce binaries for both platforms without much hassle. Not all applications will be ported to the new architecture, but this “transition time” will help Apple establish themselves in the new platfom overtime. Nobody said that it would be easy.
5. Is such a platform-jump the real reason behind the divorce of Microsoft and Apple, regarding Microsoft’s application ports to the Mac, that the news media is covering the past few days?
Here is a recent benchmark of latest P4s and Athlons against a dual G4, where the x86-based machines are ahead on all tests. Apple is trying to establish themselves in the digital video/imaging/3D area in the last few months with the buyout of many such multimedia software companies, but clearly, with their current G4s, they have no chance to compete with WindowsXP’s equivelant software and raw speed. In my view, a platform switch is imminent for Apple and it should be expected.