Apple developers sanguine about switch to Intel

Move is not without risk, but many expect it to be worthwhile

The declaration that Apple computer will transition its microprocessor platform from the PowerPC to the Intel architecture has analysts, pundits, and prognosticators predicting doom and gloom for the company. One group seems unruffled, however: the Apple developers who have to write the programs for the new platform.

Apple developers have long been frustrated by the Mac, which performs slower than the PC. Developers always want the fastest box they can get so they can develop programs quickly.

“The [Mac OS] is very resource-intensive, so it is a major blessing to have the fastest chip possible,” said Tony Meadow, president of Bear River Associates, an Apple ISV. Meadow said most developers work with high-level languages nowadays, so the move to Intel “is just not that big a deal.”

Anthony Su, an account executive at Agere Systems, a manufacturer of semiconductors for storage and wireless, agreed. He said he does not foresee a problem on the hardware side.

Existing applications should run on the Intel-based Macs, thanks to Apple’s Rosetta package, said Obul Kambham, CEO of Effigent, a Mac software developer of PowerEasy Enterprise, an ERP application for SMBs. Apple also has a Mac kernel technology that abstracts the underlying system with a set of APIs. And the company is providing the ability to have a single binary that works on either the PowerPC or Intel.

Of course, the move to a new platform always carries consequences even technical visionaries cannot foresee, and some analysts expressed doubt that everything will be as smooth as Apple claims.

“One group who may see a few bumps in the road is the ones who write device drivers that need low-level code,” Meadow said.

Apple, however, has proven that it can make a major transition successfully. The company moved from the Motorola 68000 processor to IBM’s PowerPC and later from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X.

But the first real choice for developers should emerge in late 2006 when Apple delivers its 64-bit Mac OS 10.5, code-named Leopard, at the same time Microsoft ships the 64-bit version of Longhorn. Both OSes will run on 64-bit Intel chips.

“Apple machines will compete side-by-side with Windows running on identical processors. Any speed penalties in Apple system designs or software — and there will surely be some as Apple optimizes for Intel processors — will be laid bare,” said Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis at The NPD Group.

One analyst predicted the move will not spur developers to choose Mac OS over Windows. “We anticipate that when the dust settles, Apple’s market share will be lower than it is today, ending up between one and one-and-a-half percent,” said Nathan Brookwood, senior analyst at Insight 64.