But I don’t think I’d buy one right now.
OK, sure, the politically correct thing to say is that “if you need a computer now, go get one”, “all products are vapor until they ship”, etc. But given the Intel transition, is that really a good idea?
The key is probably: how soon will it be until new stuff that you want won’t run on your PowerPC Mac? Here’s how I’m teasing out this logic: at WWDC 2005, we were promised a look at Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5) at WWDC 2006, which is next Spring or Summer. There’s usually a lag between unveiling an OS to developers and shipping it, so the developers can learn and use the new features. Add 6-12 months to the Leopard preview and we probably don’t expect Leopard until, what, late 2006 or (more likely) sometime in 2007. Intel Macs are supposed to ship in mid 2006, so clearly some future version of Tiger will support them, as will Leopard.
Apple said with the release of Tiger that the timeframe between major OS releases would slow down, so when do we expect to see Leopard’s successor? If Tiger shipped in 2004 and Leopard is in 2007, then maybe Mac OS X 10.6 ships around 2010 or so. That’s four years after the Intel switch.
And therein is the big question: will the PowerPC’s be sufficiently old by that point to justify not supporting them in OS X 10.6? There’s a big cost to having dual-platform code: everything has to be compiled for and tested on two different architectures. At an Apple BoF at JavaOne 2005, the Apple guys said they were a little concerned about how they’d now need to support six Java runtimes: Java 1.3.1, 1.4.2 and 5.0 for PowerPC, and 1.4.2, and two different HotSpot VM’s for 5.0 on Intel. Oh, and Mustang (Java 6.0) ships in Summer 2006, so add two more, one each for PowerPC and Intel. Multiply this line of thinking across all the major libraries and frameworks — Quartz, OpenGL, QuickTime, Core *, Cocoa, Carbon, AppKit, etc. — and supporting those four-year-old boxes may start to look like something of a luxury.
So, I suspect that Leopard is the end of the line for PowerPC, and that 10.6 will be Intel-only. That means you are buying into a four-year dead-end on PowerPC. Is that OK? A lot of professionals and business types figure that computers have a three- to four-year expectancy of usefulness, so maybe that’s OK. In the home realm, I think people are more careful with their money and expect their computers to last longer (even if they do upgrade this frequently, I’m not sure people really realize that they do).
My brother asked me recently if he should upgrade his ancient iBook now. Knowing the terrible performance of the Apple laptop line — notice that the new PowerBooks didn’t get any faster in the latest rev — I said he’d be much better off toughing it out until the laptops go Intel. The crazy fast desktops may be a different story, but I still think you have to admit to yourself that you’re buying four years of Mac, and amortize appropriately.
This is where you flame me for telling people that they shouldn’t buy Macs now.