intel Transition Review (Part 1)
(From time to time, I'll now post updates to this article.) From the very beginning, I was both happy with Apple's move to intel and skeptical.
Skeptical not because I thought Apple should stay with the PowerPC architecture, but because it's the third transition of the Mac and because both earlier transitions had proven more difficult for the professional Mac user than it originally seemed (or Apple made
it seem, that is). Now that Apple has announced-slash-released the first intel Macs, it's time to take a look at where we stand and what the current short- and longterm outlook is.
In June 2005, Apple announced that within a year, Apple would move the first Macs to intel's forthcoming processors. So actually, Apple is a bit early with the MacBook Pro and the new iMac. However: That does in no way mean that the transition has been advanced.
By no means are the professional applications ready for the MacBook Pro (and I'm looking at this transition mainly from a pro's perspective)! Not only does Apple only deliver their Pro applications in March, but the current versions don't run in Rosetta emulation
, showing off a particularly critical thing about the transition: While Rosetta now also emulates a G4 processor and can translate AltiVec code, there's still that thing in my head that says "my apps might
run on an intel Mac, but they probably won't
". We had similar "easy transition" promises with the two earlier transitions. From 68K to the PowerPC, it was that the PowerPC emulated an 68020 processor without FPU, which enabled not only apps to run at all, but also enabled parts of the System (then not called Mac OS until Mac OS 7.5.1) to run, which resulted in slow performance.
Similarly, "Classic" enabled some OS 8.x/9.x applications to run within OS X, but that certainly wasn't a good enough experience for many professionals. Most pros simply didn't switch to OS X until MS Office, Adobe's and Macromedia's suites were ported. Quark was very
late to the OS X game, resulting in more sales for Adobe's InDesign. Quark now
already has a beta of XPress running on intel Macs, so this is a good
sign. Adobe (incl. Macromedia now) and Microsoft, however, have nothing but promise to show currently.So while the MacBook Pro might offer 4-5 times the (processor/bus) performance of its predecessors, this simply can't be the time for a pro to buy such a MacBook, since looking at an application failing to run at 4-5 times the speed that it actually runs on a PowerBook is not gonna be any good.
It's clear to me that Apple announced the MacBook Pro to show confidence in their move to users and to show developers that it's time they made their apps compatible with the new platform. I certainly hope that the major software vendors are ready soon enough. Apple doesn't give them much time: They want all
product lines to run on intel hardware by the end of the year. But when you get
your new intel Mac and try to work with it and your main applications have been ported, there might still be the odd application that is no longer developped. It would probably have run just fine on a G5, G6 or G7 system for years to come, but the move to intel might kill it, if it doesn't run in Rosetta emulation. Or it'll have limited performance running on emulation, which can be a drag and annoyance, to say the least. Sure: It'll run faster on a 3 GHz intel Mac (sometime in 2006 or 2007?) than your old 2 GHz PowerPC, but compared to the other apps you're using, it'll feel like moving through jelly instead of air. Let's just hope this transition will be quicker than the earlier two. Those took 5 years each (not for every user, of course, it depends on what your specific needs are). That's too long.
On a personal note: I intend to test the waters with the iBook's replacement, which will probably be released in the coming two months (Apple strategically changed the idea of moving the iBooks to intel before the PowerBooks, but the iBooks are still ready!). I intend to mainly use that for writing, should the pro apps refuse to run or run unacceptably slow – and keep my PowerBook G4 for the time being.