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The Devil's Advocate - Steve Meets Osborne, Again!
by - June 6th, 2005

Let me preface all of this with the following caveat:  A lot remains to be seen with regard to Apple's move to Intel. Perhaps there is some secret, long and well thought out strategy that is beyond my ability to foretell--an easily likely scenario as Steve Jobs has far more information on which to base a decision than do I.

Let's Hope for the Best

All that being said, Apple's decision to move to Intel seems like fundamentally one of the stupidest moves ever made by Steve Jobs--and that's saying quite a lot. 

Let me explain all that.  My reasons are not the same as many other's.  First, OS X will run fine on Intel.  Back in the NeXT Computer days, Steve had NeXTSTEP (the precursor to OS X) running on Intel (as well as SUN, HP and Motorola platforms).  OS X and its MACH kernel are rather processor agnostic and the system ran well on Intel processors; actually it ran faster on Intel than it did on the Motorola processors of the day.  And second, Cocoa makes porting most software a matter of hitting the "Build" button in Xcode with an extra check-box, a build for "Intel" button, and presto, you're done. 

The Carbon apps will be more difficult, and we can hope Apple's announced Rosetta translation software will perform well.  We should also hope that Rosetta is capable of helping OS X for Intel to run classic OS 9 applications. Let's assume it all does.  Let's ignore the specter of Apple's boxes being compared to other Intel based boxes and how they would fare. Let's also overlook the fact that IBM has a far more promising processor road map because multi-core is where it's at.  OS X will perform far better with multiple cores than a few extra MHz in speed would provide.  OS X and MACH  are really good at exploiting multiple cores, and the Cell and multicore PowerPC products coming from IBM seem a heck of a lot more promising than what Intel has been talking about.  Although who knows, in a year to year-and-a-half all that could change.  Which brings me to the stupidity part.

MacOsborne

Something smells really really bad about how this was announced, and that waft may well be from the "Osborne effect." Apple will not start offering Intel based products until next year!   For those not familiar with the history of Osborne computer or the "Osborne effect," please read up on it at the Wikepedia and The Register UK.  What's worse is Steve Jobs made this very same mistake before as Don Yacktman commented on long ago.

Back when NeXT stopped making hardware, it announced a NeXTSTEP for Intel product only to not release it for months!  So NeXT had a substantially reduced (and some would argue, non-existant) revenue stream until the unproven Intel product was released!  No machines to sell, and no Intel software to sell!  Steve pulled a total "Osborne" and it certainly didn't bode well for NeXT or it's bottom line.  So here we are years later, and regardless of the processor technology merits and implementations, Steve Jobs manages to repeat the very same mistake.

And for those that say "nah, Steve's not the type to repeat his mistakes" let me remind you of some history.  Back in the day at Apple, Steve Jobs and Co. brought out a computer called the Lisa.  A nice machine, ahead of it's time, which failed miserably in large part due to it's cost of $10,000. 

Fast forward a few years later when Steve supposedly got much smarter and more savvy.  Then at NeXT Computer, Steve Jobs releases a black cube computer, ahead of it's time, which failed miserably in large part due to its cost of $10,000.  For bonus points, he marketed this machine to academia--yes that little known bastion of high-rollers. 

Fast forward a few more years when Steve supposedly got much smarter and more savvy.  Then at Apple, Steve Jobs releases a cube computer, ahead of its time, which failed miserably in large part due to its cost.  Yes, Steve is quite capable of repeating his mistakes.

Future Mac Purchases Might Be Hurt

I cannot overstate just how bad a gaffe this "pre-announcement/roadmap" appears to be, at least on the surface.  There were already significant numbers of users that were holding off on purchasing Macs in anticipation of major upgrades to the line.  Now, not only does there seem to be a treacherous dearth of upgrade announcements from Apple (the Keynote was relatively short--no "one more thing"), it has introduced incredible uncertainty regarding future purchases. 

What Intel chips will be used?  Will they be much faster than what is in current Macs?  Will they be able to compete with the highly multi-core offerings from IBM? Will software vendors charge upgrade fees for Intel versions of software or for maintaining PPC versions?  Heck, I'll just hold off on all purchases until they release the new platform and see what pans out. I bet a lot of other actual and potential Mac users hold off too.

This is astounding.  To be sure, there may be a great many positives that could come from such a move.  Fast Windows emulation layers like WINE or VirtualPC may be integrated into OS X.  Dual boot possibilities.  A chance to sell OS X to a wider audience and to take on Microsoft.  A lot of exciting possibilities abound, but it's the execution that is questionable.  That Apple does not have an Intel based Mac available immediately for the general public, that may end up being an incredibly damaging decision with regard to the platform's vitality for the next year. 

And one wonders, what brought all this on? Was it that IBM was going to suspend support for the G5 in favor of server and video game console style PPC chips?

My personal bet is on pure hubris.  IBM's designs really do seem to have a better future roadmap with regard to multiprocessing, while Intel in particular seems to be stalling in their ability to ramp up performance--AMD is generally spanking Intel in the x86 arena.  This really smells of Steve Jobs throwing a hissy fit that IBM has not kissed his ring nearly enough while they were off creating multicore designs for Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo.  The strange thing is that one suspects that all these multicore advances for game consoles could have benefited Apple and OS X's MACH far more than Intel's designs.

Only time will tell if Steve Jobs has just pulled another Osborne blunder and how damaging that effect may be to Apple.  One thing for sure; the next year will be an interesting one.

is an attorney. Please don't hold that against him. This work does not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of The Mac Observer, any third parties, or even John for that matter. No assertions of fact are being made, but rather the reader is simply asked to consider the possibilities.

You can send your comments directly to me, or you can also post your comments below.

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