Journal: News & Comment

Wednesday, June 08, 2005
# 12:58:00 AM:

Mac users upset about Intel, but what of the future?

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My U2 iPodSome Mac users are emotionally agitated by Apple's announcement to move to Intel microprocessors starting next year. It may be a hassle for developers, but for the average Mac user, the change will make hardly any difference at all. So why the stress?

Crossing the floor

The Microsoft-Intel axis has long been seen—sometimes sensibly, usually not—as "the enemy," so much that "Wintel" is often a single term. Plus we've heard for years and years from Apple and others that the RISC-based PowerPC approach is inherently superior to Intel's post-CISC architecture, and so on. And we also learned to be dismissive of the perpetual "Mac OS on Intel" rumours—in part because of Intel's supposed technical inferiority. Yet now Apple is saying, "Well, no, not anymore."

There was a bit of a similar feeling when IBM and Apple got together with Motorola to make the PowerPC in the first place (as well as failed projects like Taligent), since back in the Apple II days, IBM had been "the enemy" too. Intel has always, until now, belonged to the other side.

Here's the mythos: Cool computers like the Apple II, the Mac, the Amiga, the TRS-80, and the Atari 400 and 800, used non-Intel processors. Boring business machines and evil Windows used Intel. Even the original Apple I kit used a Motorola, er, sorry, MOS Technology (thanks, Yo) processor. And heck, if you were going to build a white-box PC to run Linux on, AMD is the underdog, and Intel is "Chipzilla."

What you're seeing in the emotional reaction is cognitive dissonance. For me, as long as we can avoid "Intel Inside" stickeritis, I'm sure we won't even notice that there's a different chip inside our Macs—except that it will be easier to run Windows emulation. Anyone who just uses Macs, like my in-laws, wouldn't care or even bother to understand why it matters at all to anyone.

Rebirth of the cool

What really interests me is how similar, or different, the Intel-using Macs Apple first releases will be to current PowerPC models. That's hardly a technical decision at all—I'm sure Apple could put a Pentium 4 in an eMac case and most people would be none the wiser. Two of the first PowerPC Macs (6100, 8100) in 1994 had the same case designs as preceding Quadra/Centris models (660AV, 840AV) from 1993, for instance.

I'd expect IntelMacs (what are we to call these things?) will sport USB 2 and FireWire 800 ports just as current Macs do. Don't forget all those HD video cameras, after all. But, in the Jobs-Ive era, the company could also take the approach that the new architecture needs a serious design refresh as well, so it wouldn't surprise me if the first Intel-based iMacs, iBooks, and Mac minis (low end first, Jobs says) change radically in their designs, perhaps setting another new trend as when the gumdrop iMacs, G3s, and iBooks (and stealth PowerBooks) morphed into the metal-and-white-plastic scheme Apple follows today.

Black, anyone? Maybe the U2 iPod is the harbinger.


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