What the…?!

Pundits downplayed the rumors, but it’s official: Apple has announced a transition to Intel hardware.

I’ll be honest. My first reaction was disappointment. I (still) have a lot of faith in the potential of the PowerPC family of processors. I’ve seen my trusty G4 Cube outperform – no, let’s make that crush – an Intel system running at twice its clock rate while performing certain calculation-intensive operations. I can edit video on it, something that is a struggle for Windows PCs running hardware that’s even a year or two newer. And of course, I still get decent frame rates when playing BZFlag.

Then, as the shock started to wear off, I thought about it a little, and chatted with some friends. Let’s face it: Intel has made great strides in the last couple of years. A friend of mine pointed out that SSE3 extensions closed much of the gap that AltiVec opened up, and that the Pentium-M has made fast, relatively cool laptops a reality. In fact, his only complaint was that Apple had chosen Intel’s Xeon processors over AMD’s Opteron. (Thanks for getting my head on a little straighter, Matt.)

And here’s where I need to inject a sidebar. While digging for more information about the switch – I didn’t check any Mac news source all day – I decided to get it straight from the hors… er, from our Fearless Leader’s mouth. I loaded up the WWDC 2005 keynote, hooked up the laptop to my TV, braced myself, and dove in. What I’m trying to say here is that this was my first experience with a full-rate, 28 frame per second, 640×360 pixel movie streamed using QuickTime’s new H.264 codec. In a word: WOW. Those software engineers in Cupertino are simply amazing. Hat’s off to you, folks.

This all ended up in an epiphany.

The best hardware and software design savvy in the business has paired up with a state of the art chip maker who can actually deliver on promises of performance and volume, I thought. Microsoft has got to be shaking in their boots.

Make no mistake here. Apple will not compete directly with Microsoft. Mac OS X will only run on Apple hardware. On the other hand and by their own admission, Windows may well run on the Apple hardware. This amusing irony could well be the easy (though unofficial and certainly not explicit) out for Apple: try Mac OS X, and if you don’t like it, well, just install Windows. You’ll still have the coolest looking laptop on the block…

UPDATE: I rarely agree with John C. Dvorak about things Macintosh, but this time I think he’s nailed it.

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