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TMO at Macworld - On the Floor: Switching to Intel

by , 12:50 PM EST, January 13th, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO -- When Steve Jobs introduced the new Intel Macs during his Keynote on Tuesday, he asked developers to work extra hard to release universal binaries of their software. The Mac Observer went on the show floor to get reactions from developers and users alike.

Many small developers are announcing universal binary versions on the show floor. Most of these are free upgrades from Web sites.

For instance, Panic announced Transmit 5.1 that not only supports Intel Macs, but totes improved Automator support as well. Although the new Macs were a secret to them just as much as anyone else, they wanted to be ready, just in case.

Universal binaries double the application size because they are two versions of the software in one. For companies like Panic that sell through downloads, this affects their bandwidth consumption and user base that is still on dialup.

Some companies are considering splitting up their software into separate downloads for PowerPC and an Intel. This would require users to know which chip their machine was running on. To keep things simple, Panic chose not to do this.

This kind of situation could spark the need for a program that trims down the universal binaries into chip specific apps, like Applimizer does for extra languages.

Developers with Cocoa applications built in XCode were leading the transition primarily because of Apple's built-in transitioning compilers.

SmileOnMyMac explained how easy it could be to develop browseback (a new thumbnail approach to browser history). They would first build the app for whichever chip they were working on and when it comes to publishing, it's a simple matter of selecting a couple options and recompiling (converting code into executable instructions). The recompile takes about 1.5 times longer than compiling for one chip; programmers deserve longer coffee breaks anyway.

Programs built with CodeWarrior will take longer because first the project needs to be put into XCode in order to take advantages of the dual compilers. A few companies hinted the time frame for transition would be closer to how long carbonization took and most likely would happen along with a major upgrade. Until then applications can run on Rosetta, but keep in mind these limitations: no Classic support, Velocity Engine optimization, kernel extensions, or System Preference panes.

Over in the gaming pavilion, Mac user Nathaniel had reservations about the lack of Classic support. "I don't boot into Classic much but if I do, it's to play an old game," he said. Like so many gamers, Nathaniel enjoys the classic shareware games that weren't ever ported to Mac OS X.

It's common for shareware companies to buy the rights to market a game from an independent programmer. The programmer retains the copyright on their code, so when it's time to rewrite the game, it's almost impossible if the programmer has moved on or isn't interested.

Programs such as Photoshop and Final Cut Pro that had been optimized for the Velocity Engine won't be optimal for professionals in Rosetta. On the floor, most said they didn't upgrade on whims anyway. They have a set computer rotation cycle and if anything, the cycle might lengthen until the pro apps are ready. While the new Macs didn't affect their business in the short term, people were very excited about the long-term performance boosts.

Overall, this transition is already going smoother than the switch from Mac OS 9 to X, much to the credit of developers who have been quick to get universal binaries out.

The good news for Apple is it's still the age old question of, "Do I need a new computer or not?" For most of the people we talked to on the show floor, the Intel factor is much less important to people than the age of their current machine.

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