As expected, Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs announced yesterday during his keynote address at the Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) 2005 trade show that his company is migrating to Intel microprocessors. The transition will take more than 2 years, Jobs noted, with the first Intel-based Macs appearing in mid-2006.
"Our goal is to provide our customers with the best personal computers in the world, and looking ahead Intel has the strongest processor roadmap by far," said Jobs. "It's been 10 years since our transition to the PowerPC, and we think Intel's technology will help us create the best personal computers for the next 10 years."
Apple's move to Intel chips is complex because the company has been using PowerPC microprocessors for the past 10 years. But Jobs said that Apple has been "secretly" maintaining versions of Mac OS X that run on Intel chips. This news isn't difficult to believe: Mac OS X is really just the latest version of NextStep and OpenStep, the latter of which Apple ported to Intel chips more than a decade ago.
To ease the transition, Apple is taking a slow approach. First, Apple will seed developers with a $999 loaner machine that uses the Intel-compatible version of Mac OS X Tiger. The company says that most major software products will require days or weeks to convert to the Intel chips and that a software-emulation environment called Rosetta (named after the Rosetta Stone) will let PowerPC-based Mac software run on Intel-based Macs. The first Intel-based Macs will ship in mid-2006, accompanied by Mac OS X 10.5 (code-named Leopard). Apple will convert its entire lineup of Mac hardware to the Intel platform by the end of 2007.
Although Jobs did answer many questions about the Intel migration, some questions remain. Will Intel-based Macs be able to run Windows? Will standard PCs be able to run future versions of Mac OS X? And what about Leopard? Is it PowerPC only? Intel only? Or both? And how will the company maintain sales momentum, over the next year especially, while Apple preps a coming generation of Intel-based Macs?
Whatever happens, it's an interesting time for the industry. No surprise, then, that Apple is right in the middle of the latest news. On a personal note, I'd like to thank the many kind Apple fans who took time today to drop me a note congratulating me on getting the scoop on this story. I appreciate it.