Apple Made Plans to Switch to Intel Before Jobs Returned

Apple was planning to switch from PowerPC to Intel processors even before Steve Jobs returned to Apple, according to a technology panel hosted Wednesday evening by The Churchill Club, a Silicon Valley business and technology forum. The discussion, entitled “Steve Jobs: A Legacy of Vision and Leadership,” included an amazing group of former Apple employees and those close to Mr. Jobs, including Bill Atkinson, Jean-Louis Gassée, Andy Hertzfeld, Regis McKenna, Deborah Stapleton, and Larry Tesler.

Churchill Club Steve Jobs Speakers

The Churchill Club’s Guest Speakers

As Forbes notes, one of the interesting things mentioned by the group was that Apple was already thinking about moving from PowerPC to Intel processors even before Steve Jobs re-joined the company during Apple’s acquisition of NeXT in late 1996. As Larry Tesler, Apple’s former VP of Advanced Technology and Chief Scientist, explained:

It was actually one of the reasons that the company decided to acquire NeXT… We had actually tried a few years before to port the MacOS to Intel, but there was so much machine code still there, that to make it be able to run both, it was just really really hard. And so a number of the senior engineers and I got together and we recommended that first we modernize the operating system, and then we try to get it to run on Intel, initially by developing our own in-house operating system which turned out to be one of these projects that just grew and grew and never finished. And when we realized that wouldn’t work we realized we had to acquire an operating system, either BeOS or NeXT and one of the plusses was once we had that we could have the option of making an Intel machine.

The project Mr. Tesler is talking about was known by two names within Apple, Copland and OS 8, and it had its own roots in a project originally codenamed “Pink” within Apple. Pink eventually morphed into a joint project with IBM called Taligent, and when Apple pulled out of Taligent, the portion of the technology it owned turned into Copland.

OK, do you have all that straight? Copland was supposed to be released as Mac OS 8, the successor to Mac OS 7.x, but since it was out of control, then-CEO Gil Amelio killed Copland and bought NeXT, which is what the Churchill Club panel was talking about.

Once Steve Jobs came back, one of his first orders of business was to kill the Mac clone business, and to do so, he pulled a switcheroo on the name of Mac OS 7’s family line. At the time, Apple was working on Mac OS 7.7, and Mr. Jobs (or his team), realized that if Apple released it as “Mac OS 8” instead of “Mac OS 7.7,” the company would be able to slip out from under its licensing agreements with the Mac cloners in one fell swoop, because all of them except Power Computing had a license for “Mac OS 7.x.” So what was shipped as Mac OS 8 was not the same Mac OS 8 that had been planned at Apple for several years under the code name of Copland.

Going back to the processor issue, after the NeXT acquisition, Apple continued to use PowerPC processors, releasing five major versions of the system on the AIM platform. The switch eventually came, however, when Apple announced the transition to Intel at WWDC 2005.

Bryan Chaffin contributed to this article.