Late last night (UK time) I set about contacting a number of OS X developers, asking them for their initial thoughts on the switch to Intel chips.
Because I wanted them to be honest and speak from the heart, I offered them the chance to be quoted anonymously if they wished. Not one who has responded so far has taken up that offer; to their credit, all the individuals who responded were happy to be quoted by name.
Broadly speaking, the response is positive, although several respondents had concerns about the future.
First up, here’s what Eric Boehnisch-Volkmann of Devon Technologies had to say:
For us and our users it means basically — nothing much. We will have to update a few parts of our applications that are optimized to take advantage of byte orders, but this will take no longer than a week or two when the new compilers work as promised. For most of our smaller applications such as EasyFind, it will most supposedly be just a click on a switch in Xcode.
[The switch to Intel is] a logical step when IBM is not a reliable partner any more. We think that the switch to x86 processor — and so basically PC hardware — is a great move towards competitive Macs but also brings extremely high risks. What happens if some hackers develop a patch to make Mac OS X run on standard PC hardware? Apple depends on its hardware sales and this could drop into nothing when people buy standard PCs to run Mac OS X.
Personally, we don’t like the x86 architecture and believe that the PowerPC platform is/was the superior processor architecture. On the other hand, using standard hardware will bring a series of advantages: cheaper Macs, better compatibility to third party extensions from the PC market, Virtual PC running at full speed (important for all of us who have to work with one or two Windows-only applications) and a common PC platform for all operating systems, to name just a few. But, to be honest, we are completely unsure if this is a sunrise or sunset for Apple and the Mac platform. It could even be both.
David Watanabe, creator of NewsFire, said he’s happy with Apple’s decision, not least because his apps should be pretty simple to re-compile for Intel:
I’m entirely supportive of the move. I’m exclusively a Cocoa developer and have zero PowerPC dependent code, so all I need to do is recompile my apps. I imagine life will be harder for those who have legacy code to deal with, and I can understand how they might be upset by this. For me, though, anything that helps move the platform forward and expand the user base (which I presume is behind this strategic shift) is great news for me. I’m delighted with the news.
Here’s what Brent Simmons of Ranchero said:
My first thought that was that this is a Very Good Thing for selling
Macs. When the average person compares an Intel machine to a Mac, he or
she notes that the Intel machine runs at 3 Ghz and the Mac runs at 2
Ghz. So the “faster” machines wins. Never mind all the marketing about
how it’s like comparing apples and oranges, never mind the explanations
about how the PowerPC is a superior processor and so clock speed doesn’t
matter — that stuff doesn’t really penetrate.
My second thought was to be glad I’m a Cocoa programmer. Doing a
universal binary that works on Intel shouldn’t be much trouble. Sure, it
adds a little to testing, but it’s probably not as big an issue as
supporting multiple versions of OS X (which we do).
My third thought is that I have some questions. Could I buy a Dell and
run OS X on it? Could I buy a Mac and dual-boot with Windows?
My final (for now) thought is this: I’m glad I don’t have to hear
Mac-on-Intel rumors ever again!
Gus Mueller, developer of VooDooPad at Flying Meat made a good point; that Apple needs to communicate with customers and developers better and clearer than ever before:
My very first reaction was: oh crap. But after watchings some demos, I think it will be ok, and probably good in the long run. They are also a lot further along with it than I figured they would be. Quicktime, the Finder — everything in the the keynote today just worked. That’s amazing to me. Rosetta will be a godsend as well.
The only thing that worries me is that people/customers will get scared. Apple has to do some marketing magic here, and get their reps out there showing people these new boxes with Intel inside. If everyone could see what I’ve seen today, with how easy it is to port cocoa applications, I think everything will be ok.
Nobody I’ve really talked to seems freaked out - which is a good thing. But most everyone I know uses Cocoa, and nobody uses Metrowerks.
Steven Frank, of Panic, was pleased to see a way out of the IBM “dead-end”:
I’m not really worried about it from a technical standpoint. We’ve lived through the 68K to PowerPC transition, and the Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X transition. We’ve already migrated all our apps to Xcode, and all but one to Cocoa, so I don’t expect a lot of work to be required on our part. It should be substantially easier than the OS 9 to OS X transition.
It does feel like we (the Mac community) were at a bit of a dead-end with the IBM chips. The G5 gave performance a nice boost, but then things started lagging again. My gut feeling is this is a plan that’s good for the long term, although it’s going to cause a little pain up front. I think that’s as true for this transition as the last two.
If the net result is it moves more Macintoshes, that’s good for our business, and I’m all for it. I don’t really care what’s in the box as long as it runs Mac OS X well, and I think for the most part that will be the opinion of the casual end-user as well.
Personally, my top two concerns at this time are:
Is this announcement going to create an “Osborne effect” where Apple sales halt in anticipation of the new Intel-based Macs? Even if it does happen, Apple has a lot of cash, so I expect they should be able to ride it out.
How does Apple prevent Mac OS X from being hacked into running on budget PCs? Do they intend to try? Apple is primarily in the business of moving hardware, so this seems to me like the biggest threat to their bottom-line, yet also seems inevitable.
OmniGroup CEO Ken Case said the company’s history of developing for various processor types would come in useful:
We’re looking forward to the Intel switch: we already have experience with developing our applications for multiple CPU architectures (from our experience on the NeXT platform, where we simultaneously supported NeXT, Intel, HP, and SPARC processors) and it adds the benefit of more hardware options with only a little additional mental discipline.
By the way, our open source application frameworks still include support for the Intel processor, and may work without any changes at all.
The last word (for now, because this is by no means the last we shall hear on this subject) goes to Rich Siegel, founder of BareBones:
For developers who, like us, have been following Apple’s recommended best practices, we expect this transition to be a smooth one. If you’re building using Xcode and writing software using supported and documented APIs, we expect that the conversion and continued development of software to run on Intel-powered Macs to be a straightforward task.
By using Apple’s tool chain and adhering to the recommended best practices, we don’t anticipate any serious difficulty. We have every confidence that Apple will provide what we need, including answers to any technical questions that may arise, in order to ensure the smoothest possible transition.
Apple’s efforts are clearly intended to provide customers with the best personal computing experience, and from the business viewpoint they are clearly focused on growing the Mac market. As a longtime Mac-only developer, we consider this a very good thing, and we certainly don’t feel let down by this transition.
It’s natural to be cautious on the cusp of a transition as big as this one, but we’ve successfully led the way in making big transitions in the past (such as 680×0 to PowerPC, and of course Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X), so there’s not much in the way of angst.
These are just the responses I’ve had so far; I hope more developers will be in touch soon with their thoughts.
And you have any thoughts you’d like to add, you can add them here.