Following weeks of industry speculation, Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs confirmed Monday that there will be Intel chips inside his company's Macintosh personal computers starting in 2006.
"Yes, it's true," Jobs told attendees at the Apple Worldwide Developer's Conference in San Francisco. Rumors of an alliance between Apple and Intel have surfaced periodically since the company began its transition to the Unix-based Mac OS X in 2001. That's because unlike earlier iterations of its Macintosh operating system, Apple's OS X was designed to run on multiple hardware platforms.
Jobs validated that speculation today. "I have a secret to tell you," he said. "Mac OS X has been leading a secret life." For the past five years, he revealed, Apple engineers have been compiling Mac OS X for Intel chips, just in case.
"Mac OS X is cross-platform by design," Jobs said. To prove his point, he demonstrated that the Macintosh computer running his on-stage demo contained an Intel Pentium 4 3.6-GHz processor.
This major strategic shift signals the end of longstanding relationships with IBM and Freescale Semiconductor, which until last year was a division of Motorola. The two companies manufacture the Power PC chips currently found in Macintosh computers.
Apple's dissatisfaction with its chip suppliers is a result of their inability to meet performance commitments. Jobs said as much when he explained the rationale for the move, noting that, in addition to processor speed, power consumption and heat are important considerations.
Jobs expressed regret at being unable to deliver a G5 PowerBook. The IBM G5 chip used in Apple's desktop and server computers runs too hot and draws too much power to be easily adapted for use in a notebook.
"We want to be able to make the best computers for our customers moving forward," Jobs said, adding, "We don't know how to build them with the future Power PC roadmap."
Paul Otellini, CEO of Intel; Bruce Chizen, CEO of Adobe; Roz Ho, general manager of Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit; and Theo Gray, co-founder of mathematic software company Wolfram Research, were on hand to voice their support for a road map based on Intel chips.
David Moody, VP of worldwide Macintosh product marketing at Apple, says emphatically that this does not mean that anyone with an Intel-based PC will be able to install the Mac OS X. However, he notes that while Apple will not sell or support other operating systems with next year's Intel-based Macs, the company has no plans to prevent users from concurrently installing a second operating system like Windows XP. The possibility of running Mac OS X and Windows on the same Intel box may make Apple hardware more appealing to enterprise customers.
Michael Gartenberg, VP and research director at JupiterResearch, called the Intel chip deal an extremely significant event. "Apple made it clear that it plans this [platform transition] not to be disruptive, neither to its developers nor its customers," he says. "And that's a really good thing. The way that Jobs demonstrated existing applications running on the Intel platform, as well as getting developers to discuss how easy it was to create native applications, will go a long way in both directions to ease both user and developer fears."
Apple's developers don't appear to be afraid. They're weathered major transitions before, reworking their applications during the shift from 68K chips to Power PC chips in the mid-'90s, and during the 2001-2003 transition from the legacy Mac OS to today's more modern Mac OS X.
"For developers who, like us, have been following Apple's recommended best practices, we expect this transition to be a smooth one," writes Rich Siegel, founder and CEO of Bare Bones Software, Inc., in an E-mail.
But some developers are scratching their heads. Matt Brown, founder and CEO of custom business software creator Waverley Software Design, says the announcement surprised him, and he's not sure why Apple would abandon its commitment to Power PC chips.
Steve Sheets, who runs Midnight Mage Software, expressed similar concerns, noting that two years ago Jobs told developers that the Power PC architecture would always be superior. However, he acknowledged the G5 chip's issues with power consumption and heat, and said that he expects the transition will be relatively easy.
There's reason to believe it will be. Jobs demonstrated software called Rosetta that will help with the hardware switch. Rosetta dynamically translates programs compiled for Power PC processors so that they run on Intel chips. So it is that Microsoft Office, for example, runs without noticeable degradation on an Intel-based Macintosh today.
Those at Apple, of course, are upbeat. "We think it's a manageable move," says Brian Croll, senior director of software product marketing.