Apple Announces First Intel Macs as Microsoft Pledges Support

On Tuesday, at its annual Macworld conference in San Francisco, Apple Computer announced two new Macintosh computers based on chips from Intel, and promised to convert its entire product line to Intel-based chips by the end of the year. Meanwhile, Microsoft renewed its pledge to support the Mac with new Office versions for at least the next five years and discussed a number of Mac-oriented upgrades it will ship later in the first quarter.

For fans of Apple, Tuesday's keynote address by Apple CEO Steve Jobs didn't disappoint. Jobs revealed that iPod sales reached stellar levels in the final quarter of 2005: The company sold 14.5 million iPods and 1.25 million Mac computers in late 2005, both well ahead of analyst expectations. Additionally, the company has sold over 42 million iPods to date, and over 850 million songs at its iTunes online music store.

But the big announcements this week were all Mac-related. Apple announced the immediate availability of the new Intel-based iMac, which replaces the iMac G5 and utilizes a dual-core Intel Core Duo chip, now used in many mainstream Windows-based notebook computers. Despite using a microprocessor with a mobile heritage, the new iMac is 2-3 times faster than the iMac G5, according to Apple, but it is physically identical to the iMac G5, utilizing the form factor. Pricing hasn't changed, either: The 17-inch iMac (with a 1.83 GHz processor) is now available for $1299, while a 20-inch version with a 2.0 GHz chip retails for $1699. Both are shipping now, Apple says.

Apple also began to transition its PowerBook line of pro notebooks to Intel chips with a new model dubbed MacBook Pro. Available starting in February only in a 15-inch configuration, the MacBook Pro also utilizes Intel Core Duo chips, and physically resembles the 15-inch PowerBook it will replace. Like its predecessor, the MacBook Pro is premium-priced. A 1.67 GHz version will cost $1999, while the 1.83 GHz version is a whopping $2499.

Additionally, Apple announced a minor update to Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger," which adds new Dashboard widgets and other features, a compelling new version of its award-winning iLife digital media suite, a weak update to its iWork productivity suite, and better integration with its .Mac service, which now has over 1 million subscribers. Apple also showed off a digital photo editing package called Aperture, which was previously announced.

On Tuesday, Microsoft also made some Mac-oriented announcements. Roz Ho, the general manager of the Macintosh Business Unit (MBU) at Microsoft revealed that her company was renewing its commitment to the Mac, and announced a formal five-year agreement during which time the company will release new versions of Mac Office that support both Intel- and Power PC-based Macs. The company will also ship improvements for Entourage 2004, its Mac-based email and personal information management (PIM) application, which make the package more compatible with Tiger and add compatibility for the new Microsoft Office Open XML data formats. Finally, Microsoft is also prepping an update to Messenger for Mac, its instant messaging (IM) client.

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