Apple Announces Switch to Intel Chips

Apple CEO Steve Jobs took the stage Monday morning at the company's Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) and confirmed what was once unthinkable: Apple will be switching from IBM PowerPC chips to Intel's x86 processor line.

The next release of Mac OS X, called Leopard, will usher in the new generation of Apple computers. Jobs said the primary reason for the change was that Apple wants the best computers for end users, and Intel's roadmap "is exceptional" while PowerPC products have lagged.

The transition will not happen overnight, Jobs explained, saying it will take two years comprised of two major challenges. The first will be making Mac OS X work on Intel-based x86 processors, but Jobs wowed WWDC attendees by announcing all of the demos he had performed were actually on an Intel machine.

Apple has been compiling Mac OS X on x86 processors for 5 years Jobs said, adding that by this time next year, Apple hopes to ship the first Macs with Intel chips.

Developers will not have too tough a time, Jobs promised. Those applications based on Apple's latest Cocoa architecture will require only minor tweaks and can be ready for Intel machines in a few days. Carbon-based applications will take a bit longer to convert, but Apple has released an updated version of the Xcode development platform to ease the transition.

Apple has created a "universal binary" structure that works on both PowerPC and x86 to additionally make things easier for developers. The universal binaries will enable both processors to be supported for a long time to come, Jobs said.

A technology to translate PowerPC binaries into Intel-compatible code, known as "Rosetta," will also be available. The feature will be transparent to end users, who can open applications that have not been migrated to Intel.

Partners such as Adobe have already pledged support for the move. "We think this is a really smart move on Apple’s part and plan to create future versions of our Creative Suite for Macintosh that support both PowerPC and Intel processors," said Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen.

Representatives from Microsoft's Mac Business Unit also joined Jobs on stage to announce support for the switch.

Developers can purchase the Transition Kit for $999 USD, which includes an Intel-based Mac system, from Apple's Developer Connection network. The machine will include a Power Mac G5 case with Intel motherboard inside, along with Mac OS X 10.4.1 built for Intel.

Intel plans to release developer tools for Mac OS X later this year, including Intel C/C++ Compiler for Apple, Intel Fortran Compiler for Apple, Intel Math Kernel Libraries for Apple and Intel Integrated Performance Primitives for Apple.

Aside from major Intel switch announcement, Jobs reiterated Apple's plans to build podcasting support into iTunes 4.9, which will include a Podcast Directory featuring thousands of podcasts. Podcasts are the equivalent to amateur radio shows usually recorded in MP3 and distributed via RSS feeds.

Users can subscribe to a podcast feed directly within iTunes and receive automatic downloads of new shows. "We see it as the hottest thing going in radio," Jobs said, citing over 8,000 podcasts currently available.

Jobs also announced QuickTime 7 for Windows would be available Monday afternoon. The Mac release has been available since the debut of Tiger, and a 7.0.1 security update was issued last week.

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