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Articles: What does Apple's announcement about the move to Intel processors mean?

With Apple's announcement that they will be switching from the IBM PowerPC chip to Intel at the Worldwide Developers Conference last week, many people have been wondering what impact this change will have on the Mac.

From our point of view, there is a lot of good news in regards to this announcement.

First of all, this move reinforces Apple's commitment to remaining a market leader in all aspects of the Mac platform. It had become abundantly clear that IBM was not able to keep up with the performance increases users have come to demand. On laptops, for instance, Intel simply has much better technology when it comes to low-heat processors; IBM simply wasn't able to produce the G5 chip in a form factor that would work in a portable computer.

In addition, this is a marriage that really helps both Apple and Intel. Intel has been wedged between two 800 pound gorillas: Microsoft and Dell, and none of them are particularly fond of any of the others. So Intel's ability to innovate has been hampered by the fact that they've got to get two other companies to write software and make hardware to accommodate whatever they come up with. In Apple's case, they control the entire thing, so when Intel comes up with something Apple's response can be in a matter of days or weeks vs. the months or longer it could take Microsoft and Dell to figure things out.

So not only does this make the GHz wars (which were always a bit of erroneous customer perception) a thing of the past, but the competition will be based on Windows vs. Mac and Apple's innovative and quality hardware design vs. the complete lack of innovation and R and D on the PC side, so Apple's two core strengths will be what is used in comparisons, and Apple will be the clear winner for anyone smart enough to weigh them properly.

And in fact, it's Apple's belief that they'll even be able to be ahead of the curve, in other words when Intel introduces the next great speed demon, Apple will be able to bring that to market before the Windows people.

And really, its only a chip in the computer, so the end result isn't much different than if they announced a different video card for the G5.

There is some question as to whether the Intel-based Macs will be able to boot Windows, but right now the answer is "they should, but we're not sure how that will work." Certainly few will buy the fancy Apple hardware to run Windows, but it could be interesting that it's possible, giving customers a "cake and eat it too" experience if they so choose.

Some people may be thinking "I'm going to wait to buy a new Mac until they switch to Intel" or "I better not buy a PowerPC-based Mac because in a year or two there won't be any support for it." But what you have to understand is that essentially, in the end, the whole thing will really be transparent anyway. Steve Jobs ran the whole keynote demo on a Pentium-based Mac and didn't even tell us until partway through. No difference. And the bottom line has ALWAYS been that there will be faster and cheaper Macs within 1 or 3 or 6 months of when you buy a Mac anyway. If you keep waiting for the Next Great Thing, well, you could have said that when the 128k Mac first shipped, and you'd still be waiting today, having saved all that money on Mac Plusses and Mac IIs and Quadras and so on. They'll always get better. So this is just knowing what we already know but for a slightly different reason. People should always buy a Mac when they need it, and none of this Intel stuff even remotely changes that.

Apple fully understands that it needs to continue to make compelling and innovative products up to and through the Intel changeover. And the support for anything PowerPC will continue long beyond the complete changeover, which is several years away in any case. Even a bigger change, the one from OS 9 to OS X, is still not complete and many OS 9 based Macs are churning happily away for their users. So any idea of not wanting to buy something you need today because changes are afoot is, as it has always been, silly.

By the way, Apple has no plans to make the Mac OS run on Windows machines, they're not about to give up 8 billion dollars in hardware sales as well as losing their competitive advantage of true plug and play and control over the whole experience to become an OS vendor.

Even though Apple probably didn't set out to do this (although they were very wise to program their apps to work with both sets of chips for the last four years) it is actually something that would have been brilliant to engineer even if IBM had kept up like they should have. There are so many advantages, in marketing, perception and performance, that will be gained in the coming years as a result of this move.

And besides, all those Intel ads (hear the tones?) now won't only be for Windows, but for Mac as well.

Apple continues to be amazingly innovative and nimble for a big company. Sales increases of the Mac itself are far outpacing Windows-based machines. They will achieve their highest sales number in history this fiscal year. In the end, this change may be one of the best things that has happened to the Mac since we first saw a color screen on a Mac II.
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