Switching to x86

Now that Apple has announced to start transitioning to Intel’s x86-64 chips over the next two years many people are trying to figure out what exactly this means for Apple’s future. Personally, I’m cautiously optimistic. My friend Soini is very happy. I think he peed his pants when he heard the news. He’s been saying for years that he’d switch to OS X in a heartbeat if it ran on PC hardware. For a long time, Apple has been struggling to try to stay an even level with PC hardware. The G5 does even the playing field for some tasks but not for others (like video games), but IBM’s inability to make a low heat G5 chip that could be used in laptops significantly hampered the progress of Apple’s otherwise outstanding laptop lineup. This switch to Intel hardware will definitely eliminate much of the hardware deficiency that Apple was suffering. My loyalty to Apple lies not really with the hardware but with the OS. I really don’t care what’s in the box, but I do care about the software that allows me to interact with that box.

The other thing that makes me optimistic is the possibility that porting games from the PC to the Mac will probably be easier. I’m an avid video gamer — but not a l33t one! — so I’m keenly aware of the “lack” of games available for the Mac platform. Now, with the new Intel chips coming, we should see a lot more games get ported and get ported quicker. We might even see the Holy Grail of Mac gaming: Half-life 1, 2, or 3. Inside Mac Games has a feature article containing the reactions of several top game coders/developers/porters in the Mac world that is pretty interesting. The reactions vary from “this is totally sweet” (a rough paraphrase) to “this is the death of the platform” (not a paraphrase). Apparently some game developers are going to lose out and some are going to benefit. Fortunately, the guy who is largely responsible for bringing the best game franchise ever (Unreal Tournament) to OS X likes the switch. Also, Blizzard, the best game company ever, seems positive about the switch too. So, as a gamer, I think this move will do nothing but good.

Macrumors also has some nice tidbits about the switch too. It points to some benchmarks of the Pentium 4 3.6 Ghz running Rosetta, the emulation environment that allows PPC programs to run without any changes. They aren’t too great, running at about at fifth of the performance of the current top of the line G5 system. Of course, they have a long ways to go to optimize Rosetta and get the kinks worked out, but it’d be nicer if those benchmarks were higher. Also Macrumors has a few other tidbits about the switch that might be interesting to some.

If I were to indulge in a bit of business philosophizing, I think this switch also reflects Apple’s shift to the commodization of its products and away from the high-end niche market it has so long had. With the roaring success of the iPod, the iTunes Music Store, and the Mac mini, Steve Jobs has tasted the tempting Apple of making more affordable products that everybody wants. Of course, this is assuming that the IntellliMacs will be cheaper than the current systems . . . they better be.

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