Mac Notes

By Jeffrey Allen

A Time for Every Purpose

Apple’s decision to terminate the continued acquisition of its processors from IBM and buy them from Intel has the people in AppleLand buzzing. As a result of the announcement of that decision, many have asked what they should do about buying a new computer. Should they buy now, or wait for the Intel Macs to come out?

We know that Apple based its decision on several factors. For one, the fact that although the G5 processors actually process faster than equivalent processors in the Windows world, they do not satisfy the psychological need to claim the higher megahertz numbers of some of the more recent Intel processors. Additionally, the G5 processors run hot, and IBM has not figured out a way to make a G5 processor run cool enough that it could work in a laptop.

Interestingly, Apple announced that it has been planning to convert to Intel for some time and that the last several iterations of the Mac OS have had versions that were designed for Intel processors. Apple has attempted to facilitate the conversion by making conversion utilities available to developers. Apple has announced that it believes that most software will require only minor modifications to run on an Intel-based Mac running a compatible version of OS X, but it has also acknowledged that some existing OS X software will not run on the Intel-based Macs. Apple has announced that it will ship the new version with a program called Rosetta designed to run in an emulation mode. Imagine that—Virtual Mac running on a Mac. Rosetta supposedly will allow incompatible OS X programs to run on the Intel Mac. It is most likely that the incompatible software, running in emulation mode, will run slower on the Intel-based Macs than it does in native mode on existing hardware.

Because OS X has now evolved over several years, it makes some sense to consider the possibility that the new versions of the software will not accommodate classic programs. Apple stopped making hardware that would boot to OS 9 some time ago. It does not make sense that Apple will continue to support OS 9 in perpetuity. This seems like a good time and a good reason for the end of Apple’s support of the classic environment.

From the moment Apple announced the conversion to Intel processors, Mac aficionados started salivating over the possibilities of a single piece of hardware that would boot into the Mac OS as well as directly into Windows. Apple has announced that it will not sell the Windows OS; but has also said that it will not do anything that will disable the hardware so that it cannot run Windows software. The bottom line: Apple will produce hardware with Intel processors and sell it with the Mac OS. Third parties will undoubtedly create a hack that makes it work. Some rumors have circulated that external hard disk drives with Windows preinstalled may solve the riddle of how to have a dual booting Macintosh.

As for the question of buying now or later, my answer is that if you need a computer now, get one of the Macs currently available. Waiting a year does not make sense if you need the computer now. Besides, you may find yourself waiting for more than a year.

First of all, the recent announcement does not mean that the local Apple stores will have Intel-based Macs any time in the near future. The announced game plan calls for the first Intel-based Macs to come out in mid-2006, almost a year from now. Apple has only provided a time frame, not the exact date on which it will make the Intel-based computers available. Many things could result in delay of the actual release. Additionally, we have no information about the real availability of the computers in quantity as of the release date. Despite all that Apple tries to do about easing the software conversion, we won’t know the software situation with any certainty until the release of the computers creates the opportunity to test software on them.

Although Apple has recently released some updated versions of its PowerBook and iBook line, the models reflect only minor improvements over earlier versions. Apple has not had the ability to produce the major upgrade that everyone wanted: a G5 PowerBook. The lack of availability of a G5 processor for the PowerBook has restricted Apple’s ability to improve both the PowerBook and the iBook (which Apple keeps a step or so behind the PowerBook to justify the price differential). The evolution of the desktop Macs has not suffered as much as that of the laptops.

In the last year or so, Intel has pushed the evolution of its laptop processors along significantly. Recent iterations have shown significant improvements in speed, efficiency, and power drain. Those facts, in combination with the fact that Apple appears strongly oriented toward the laptop, suggest that the first release of the Intel-based Macs may include a PowerBook (or may simply be a PowerBook). Most likely, Apple will produce Intel-based PowerBooks and PowerMacs (assuming they do not change those designations with the use of the Intel processors) before producing Intel-based iMacs and iBooks (again, assuming no name change). (Note that these “predictions” represent my own educated guesses and do not reflect announcements from Apple.)

The bottom line remains that we do not know what processor or processors will appear in the first Intel-based Macs. We don’t know what will come out first or when it will actually appear. Remember also that Apple has announced that the conversion will start around June 2006 and that it will take about a year for the completion of the conversion of the Mac computer lines to Intel-based processors. Finally, we do not know what software will work and what will not with the first Intel-based Macs. We also do not know how long the first release of the Intel-based Macs will go without further upgrade. It may well end up that by the time of the resolution of most of the software issues, the original release of Intel-based Macs sees modification in some form.

The current line of both desktop and laptop Macs offers a good selection of configurations at reasonable prices. The current lineup of Mac desktop and laptop computers provide considerable power and have a well-developed list of software packages that work well with them. Additionally, because Apple has already announced the switch to the Intel-produced processors, it appears unlikely that Apple will invest much, if anything, in making any significant improvements in the existing line of desktop or laptop computers. It may be that we will not see any changes in the models prior to the release of the Intel-based Macs.

We must look at the next 12–18 months as a transitional period for the Mac. As a result, if you have need for a new Mac now or anticipate having that need within the next year, I would go ahead and get it. It does not make sense to wait for the Intel-based Mac. As additional impetus, the closer we get to the release of the Intel-based Mac, the more likely that we will see price reductions in the current line to get them out of inventory.

Jeffrey Allen (jallenlawtek@aol.com) has a general practice in Oakland, California. His firm, Graves & Allen, emphasizes real estate and business transactions and litigation. He is a frequent speaker and author on technology topics and the Editor-in-Chief of the GPSolo Technology & Practice Guide and the Technology eReport.

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