One Year Later, Mac's Intel Move Looks Pretty Smart

Rob Pegoaro
Monday, June 12, 2006; 11:14 AM

It's only been a year since Apple announced that it would move all of its Macintosh models to Intel processors, and I'm already done reviewing the first batch of Intel-based Macs.

Yesterday's column assessed the MacBook, the Intel-based successor to the iBook. (More on the new name later in this newsletter.) I tried out the Mac Mini in March, barely two months after my review of the iMac. That last machine, FWIW, stands as my overwhelming favorite among this group of machines.

(I'll be online at 2 p.m. ET today to talk about the MacBook review, and anything else you'd like to quiz me about.)

I skipped the MacBook Pro -- I just couldn't see spending a column on a laptop that costs $1,999 and up, not when an Intel-based iBook replacement was obviously coming soon. And Apple has yet to ship Intel-powered successors to the Power Mac desktop and Xserve server, but I won't be reviewing those at all, in keeping with my focus on home users. (I suppose I should now expect to hear from at least one reader who has his iTunes library hosted on an Xserve in the closet.)

A year after Steve Jobs's surprising declaration, the Intel transition looks like one of Apple's smartest moves ever. Hardware performance has dramatically improved, and more important, Mac users don't have any more "what if I need to run a Windows-only program?" worries.

I predicted that the latter would be a major advantage of the Intel switch in my initial analysis of the move. But I wasn't nearly crazy enough to forecast that you would be able to run a fully functional copy of Windows XP on an Intel-based Mac less than four months after the first such machines shipped, much less do so with point-and-click ease.

The Intel transition has had its costs, but they've been paid mainly by developers of Mac software, not users. Many shareware programs were rewritten for Intel compatibility within weeks or months, while others have taken longer. Some high-profile exceptions, such as Adobe's Photoshop software and Microsoft's Office, will take many more months of effort (one Adobe programmer explains why).

But thanks to Apple's Rosetta emulation software, these older programs haven't felt like strangers on Intel chip-based Macs (or, as some Web sites call them, ICBMs). They've run as fast, or faster than, they could on many older Macs, and they don't act or look any different.

This may not be the best time be a Mac developer, but it's a very good time to be a Mac user.

The Name Game

Apple's Intel transition has had one complication completely unrelated to the merits of competing processor architectures. When the company moved from a PowerPC chip to an Intel chip in its laptops, somebody (possibly a certain jeans-and-black-turtleneck-clad CEO) decided that the "PowerBook" name had to go, along with "iBook."

That's a real shame. "PowerBook" was one of the better monikers in computing -- and it had nothing do with PowerPC chips, as the first PowerBook debuted years before Apple shipped any machines using that family of processors.

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