January 12, 2006

Apple has begun using Intel microprocessors in their computers instead of the PowerPC ones they’d used for years. Aside from the rich irony that they once spent millions of marketing dollars convincing everyone of the inferiority of Intel’s offerings, what’s the big deal? It’s kind of like fussing over the engine in a car. Who cares if it is made by Mitsubishi or by Ford? All that matters is what happens when you get in and drive it. No horsepower or foot-pounds of torque spec is going to tell you more than that. Apple reports making the switch for reasons of work-per-watt ratios: the PowerPC G5 uses too much electrical power to be put into a notebook computer while Intel’s new offerings are more efficient in this regard. I buy that for a nickel, I guess.

But there are a few intriguing issues. First, one wonders what would prevent someone from installing Windows on one of these Intel-equippped Macintoshes (“Macintel,” for good or ill). Would there be a lot of technological hurdles to overcome? It seems not. Apple puts of off-the-shelf components into their computers, and with the addition of a PC-type microprocessor it should be fairly easy to get Windows running. But would Apple go out of their way to throw up additional roadblocks? I’m not sure that they would care. After all, nobody is going to buy a Mac just to run Windows. And even if they did what skin is it off Apple’s nose? They make their money selling the hardware. Meanwhile, the idea that one could boot Windows in a pinch might make the jump a bit easier for those eyeing a switch to the fairer platform. Apple wouldn’t even have to officially support it.

Having got our minds around that, let’s consider the reverse scenario: could someone run the new Intel-compliled Mac OS on a non-Apple PC? This is where things get dicey. I say no. In principle it’s a similar challenge, but this time Apple is working against you. They do not want you to run their Operating system on someone else’s box. Apple writes that shiny OS precisely so you’ll buy their hardware to run it on. The advent of Mac “clones” would rob them of their only real revenue source and take the wind from the sails of the good ship Innovation. Lacking the resources to invest in R&D, they would lose their edge and become a mini Microsoft. Even more important, they would lose control of the end-to-end product: hardware, OS and key applications. This, after all, is one of the cornerstones of their unmatched user experience. Without this they would cease to stand out. They would cease to be Apple. The company would wither.

Mac OS on a Dell? Could happen. But not easily. A few nerds might get their kicks off it, but with Apple against them it would never work correctly or reliably and it would never catch on enough to threaten the company. Maybe it would work just well enough to tempt those nerds into buying Apple hardware next time.

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  1. Turns out, you will be able to run Vista on the new intel Macs. XP won’t run because it is looking for a BIOS, which the new Macs don’t use.

    Great post on it here: http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20060112-5962.html

  2. Good call. I wouldn’t rule out such hacks to map BIOS calls to EFI ones, though. On the other hand maybe the nerd collective will not bother making XP work, seeing how this problem will solve itself when Vista arrives.

  3. Maybe XP will boot as well?


    This could be interesting. I’d love to have a dual boot intel powered Mac and not have to wate for Vista.

  4. I think I’m one of the few who’re still expecting an announcement one of these days that Apple is in fact going to relase OSX to the general population. I mean, they wouldn’t have gone through all the trouble of saying they weren’t planning on it if they didn’t have something up their sleve, would they?

    Btw.. Do you remember the clones? Most of those machines were BETTER than the Apple hardware out at the time and most were CHEAPER too. Hell, i worked on a project in high school with a couple of friends… We had a small budget to build a network for an office and they wanted macs… We were able to get 3 new Mac clones. We probably could have only bought 1 apple mac for what we got the clones for.


  5. The problem for Apple with clones is that they do not make enough cash from the operating system. Therefore, I doubt we will see clones. Jobs has been adamant against them as Apple makes their cash from the hardware.

  6. I think you can make a pretty compelling case that hardware clones would be the death of Apple. If not the outright death, then at least the death of everything that enables them to be extra-innnovative and unique.

  7. so how, exactly, will this affect us Commodore 64 users?

  8. Because of the Mac -> Intel transition, all C-64 users will be able to run Timex-Sinclair programs natively :/

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