Apple’s Switch Campaign

Any kind of commentary I can offer on Apple’s decision to switch to Intel will hardly be as original or insightful as what you can readily find elsewhere on the Web. But it’s a significant enough event that, as someone who can’t shut the heck up about Macs, I would feel remiss in not commenting on — even in the midst of my crazy-ass work schedule.

Interfaces, Not Chips

Basically: I’ve been begging for this decision for years, because it has never made sense to me that Apple should challenge not only Microsoft but Intel as well. Consumers don’t really care about the CPU at the heart of their boxes — whether they bear a stamp from IBM, Motorola, Intel or even AMD — only about the experience offered by the user interface to their software applications. It’s the interface, stupid.

While it’s true that a lackluster technical platform will limit the flexibility of the user interface, I don’t think there’s a sufficiently significant disparity between PowerPC and Intel architectures to realistically expect anything to substantially change after the switch. That assumes, however, that a majority of software developers are able to smoothly make the platform transition for their Macintosh products; I believe they will.

And finally, given the possibility of an Apple box that not only runs the best operating system in the world but Windows too… where do I enter my credit card number? And where do hundreds or thousands of new Apple customers, suddenly presented with an irresistible new value proposition in top shelf hardware, enter theirs? It’s going to be a hit.



  1. Very true on the CPU recognition, but I think this is a blow to Linux. I have servers running FreeBSD at work and have tried relentlessly getting Linux to work on my notebook. I gave up and bought an ibook. Now I love the freebsd core system and will never look back. I still have a PC to do my bookkeeping in Quickbooks! My accountant has a PC.

  2. I’ve seen the “this’ll hurt Linux” comment before, but I doubt that it will do serious damage. Sure, some folks will switch, but those are the folks that are switching today already — from what I’ve heard, lots of people are flocking towards Macs, just like you have done, and mostly for the same reason: it just works, and the interface makes sense. Yes, I know there has been significant improvements, but Linux still isn’t MacOS (or even Windows).

    But the die-hard Linux fans will stick with Linux no matter what. First and foremost because MacOS isn’t Open Source (mostly), and it’s not very likely that that’ll ever change.
    Then there’s the difference between desktops and servers. The former will see some switching, the latter less so — I, for one, will stick with Debian, even though I’ve been a Machead for over a decade.

    So there’s going to be a lot of boxes running Linux, and there’ll be plenty of interest for the project to stay alive.

    Now, as for Windows…. 🙂

  3. Linux is going nowhere and I know the diehard Linux users aren’t going to switch anytime soon. I did read an article stating that this may actually help Linux. Now that one has an option other than Windows on an x86 system, people might be more incline to try Linux if not a Mac.

    My iBook just works out of the box. iTunes actually runs faster on my iBook rather than my Sempron desktop system. There are plenty of quality applications on the iBook that I couldnt find for my PC. Thank god for my iBook or else I’ll be dual booting my laptop to get a Unix platform.

  4. I think this was a grave error on the part of Apple, considering the huge potential of the Cell processor that Sony, Toshiba and IBM are cranking out for the PS3. In it, Blachford writes this:

    “The Cell could be Apple’s nemesis or their saviour, they are the obvious candidate company to use the Cell. It’s perfect for them as it will accelerate all the applications their primary customer base uses and whatever core it uses the the PU will be PowerPC compatible. Cells will not accelerate everything so they could use them as co-processors in their own machines beside a standard G5 / G6 [G6] getting the best of both worlds.”

    There’s a possibility that Sony/Toshiba/IBM could start building blazing fast and cheap computers running Cell processors packaged with Linux. And they have enough collective brand power to sell Linux to the masses far better than Red Hat or even Dell ever could.

  5. I agree, Dan. I think the Cell has tremendous potential, and Apple is disregarding it. At the very least, I think Apple should have gone with AMD, since their 64bits and Dualcores actually work.

  6. One reason Apple went with Intel over AMD, is that Apple looked at their Roadmap.

    And that’s it. AMD may have a ‘roadmap’ but in reality they’re flying by the seat of their pants. That’s why big IT people hard such a hard time going to them when they have nilch idea what the upgrade path will be. I know Intel have also had problems, they are are slightly more honest about them than AMD and have more cash to sort them out too.

    Good article about the processor decisions of apple can be found: here.

  7. Only what’s known in the trade as a “foaming-at-the-mouth Apple fanboy” could think that Apple’s move to Intel threatens Linux in any way. And I say that as regular user of OS X.

    Linux is darn good.

    SuSe Linux is up to *five* times faster than OS X on the same hardware:

    And Apple have got a bad slack period coming, during which the Linux distros will continue to improve and make inroads into Microsoft’s markets. Put it this way: think that the Mac mini looks a good bargain? That’s hype. I had a leaflet through the post from Dell the other day. They’re offering a reasonably powerful and pretty compact-looking desktop _with_ a 15″ flat screen for around Б450. I guess with luck one might find a comparable screen at around Б150 – if its end-of-range and on special offer.

    But even _with_ the luck the Dell is coming in at around Б30 cheaper – Б55 if you add in keyboard and mouse. But that’s not all: the Dell comes with a free printer, too.

    So I might want “Unix” – so what? I can download Ubuntu (which is a very nice and friendly Linux distro) for nothing:

    The Mac mini or the Dell? A month ago I would have said the former; now I’d have to say the latter. At the moment, it’s no contest – specially when I remember Steve wants more for OS upgrades every year or so – and more for office software, too. Even worse, if I get hardware problems on the Mac, I have to take it to an Apple dealer and pay through the nose.

    Why buy a PPC Mac when the hardware’s on the way out, and I can get all that for less money?

    It’s not just I who think that. The Apple executives think the same way – or why were they unloading their stock?

    This from David Sobotta a former Apple exec. himself:

    “[Apple] executives unloaded boat loads of stock back earlier in the year. Check out “Hard to Believe,” one of my earlier posts. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the execs knew this was coming and knew the stock might tank because of the inevitable sales drop in legacy systems?”

    OS X is nice, but it’s not _that_ nice. Anything with that wonderful NeXT pedigree ought to be good, but no one should forget that Apple took 8 wasted years shoehorning in as much of that awful old Mac OS as they could and corrupted the integrity of the OS in the process. Any long-term user will have come up against some of these disagreeable aspects:,00.html

    Sure, the Daring Fireball guy doen’t see the problem, but let’s not forget that, nice guy as he is, he’s promoting horrible old legacy Mac stuff like BBEdit on his site. They corrupted the OS in order to shoehorn in all this stuff. It’s a mess underneath. Even John Siracusa, who is anti-NeXT and pro-Apple had to admit that:

    “HFS must be used to support legacy Mac files. Hard links, permission bits, symlinks, and other things which previously ‘just worked’ must be grafted onto this file system. It’s generally an affront to anyone who cares about elegant technical design.”

    For a broader perspective on these things, try looking at what Sobotta says: he knows Apple from the _inside_. In his view, Apple may have already missed the boat:

  8. The PowerPC core in the Cell is actually only comparable in performance to the G4. The Cell is revolutionary because on the same die, in addition to the PowerPC core there will be several independent processing units called SPUs each capable of processing single precision vector computations independently of each other or of the core unit. This means that for certain computing algorithms (most notably real-time 3D rendering) it would be like having several computers working in parallel. And this is better than having a dual or quad CPU because these processors are all on the same chip.

    However, single precision is good enough for games, but really wouldn’t work for scientific applications. These would then have to rely on the FPU of the PowerPC core, which has been described as pretty bare bones. In addition, to leverage the parallel processing power of the Cell, software would have to be written specifically for it. For game consoles, where each game is pretty much a closed system, this might be justifiable. For general purpose computing — not so.

    The main complaint Apple had about the original Pentiums was power consumption, and the PowerPC architecture did offer a good power/performance ratio. But Intel seems to be catching up. Besides, I suspect one other reason for the Apple/Intel collaboration is WiMAX. USB came first to Apple. Bluetooth came first to Apple. WiMAX? WiNOT?

  9. I’m sorry but I feel this is a stupid move for Apple. While there are many people that feel that this switch won’t be that bad there are plenty of Macheads that see this as terrible. I for one rather like the PPC architecture and I’m not much of an Intel fan.

    Announcing this now is also going to completely negate computer sales for anyone that pays attention. Of course I should be happy, I’ll be able to find a cheap dual G5 2.5GHz system eventually.

    Basically no matter how fast old programs can be translated (I saw a figure of 80% efficiency) it’s not going to be worth it. So in all reality everything we had is useless.

    I also don’t like how everything is shaping up for IBM. They sell off their computer business and now Apple shuns them. I’d rather wait three years for a new G5 processor than take any x86 Mac. I just left that platform and I don’t feel like going back anytime soon. I guess I’ll just be sticking with my PowerBook for the next few years.

    Personally, I think this move is going to kill Apple, either literally or figuratively. If current mac users didn’t go WTF!? as I did then they might be ok. Hell, they might gain converts who could run Windows on it or whatever. Of course then Apple dies figuratively. People aren’t going to care for the things that make Apple Apple—design and user interface. All they’re going to care about is that it can run Windows.

    I had other reasons why I thought this was stupid the other day, but I just got home from a 3700 mile journey so I’m not really remembering it right now 🙂

  10. Most of you are talking as though Apple plans on porting OS X over to wintel boxes. In fact they are talking about switching processors. You won’t even notice the switch, except the price of Macs might go down a bit.

    The point of doing this has nothing to do with the reliability of suppy from IBM or even the roadmap for the PPC chip. It has to do with *aligning* Macintosh with Linux. When OS X runs on Intel chips, porting over Linux applications to run on OS X will be a relatively trivial matter. This is a strategy to grease the skids of , relevance, utility and applicability of the platform to the future of computing.

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