TV-PGJune 8, 2005: The development-class MacIntels are fast enough that we're awash in psychically-projected warm fuzzies. Meanwhile, will Virtual PC for MacIntel deep-six Mac software development, and how is it possible that the iTunes Music Store is more popular than most P2P file-sharing networks?...
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From the writer/creator of AtAT, a Pandemic Dad Joke taken WAYYYYYY too far

And Stop Picturing Us Naked (6/8/05)

Holy yikes, someone throw us a rope-- reports from anonymous WWDC psychics are flooding in from all sides! Yes, that's right, we said psychics; you don't expect actual attendees to violate their NDAs, do you? So instead, psychics the world over are channeling thoughts and feelings from all those developers at Moscone and projecting breathless second-hand impressions of specs and performance of early MacIntel development hardware directly to us here at the AtAT compound. Good news: if you're still apprehensive and you can't help feeling that this processor-migration undertaking sounds like something out of a 1960s beach movie with Elvis and Gidget getting up to wacky shenanigans at a clambake to save the local orphanage, most developers actually seem pretty darn cheerful about the whole thing.

For one thing, most people who've gotten to poke at the prototypical MacIntel hardware that comes with the $999 Developer Transition Kit project overwhelmingly positive vibes about the speed. Based on the specific wavelength and amplitude of said vibes, it seems that native apps running on the kit's 3.6 GHz Pentium 4 apparently manage to crank out performance on par with that of, say, a 2.7ish GHz G5; not bad for an early effort. We're also sensing lots of warm fuzzies about Quartz Extreme and the user interface, so they probably scream on the development hardware. Incredibly, existing PowerPC software running via the Rosetta dynamic translation layer sometimes fares almost as well; the least-positive psychically-relayed impression we received pegged performance about as good as that of maybe a dual-800 MHz G4. Since that's the hardware we happen to be using right now, we personally have little reason to complain.

So what about downsides? Well, there's all the stuff that Steve conveniently forgot to mention during his keynote, such as that, as reported by eWeek, MacIntels won't run Classic. That only makes sense, of course, because if Apple had enough spare man-hours to build a PowerPC emulator for Intel that neither runs slower than a one-legged donkey on NyQuil nor steals code from another emulator that runs slower than a one-legged donkey on NyQuil, we'd surely be running Mac OS X 10.9 Grey-Tufted Ocelot by now. Unfortunately, lots of individuals and businesses still rely on Classic (including us, actually), and finding alternatives to older PowerPC apps may be a hassle and/or expensive. Schools, in particular, may feel the pinch.

Oh, and (for now, at least) Intel-based Macs can't boot from a FireWire drive, can't run PowerPC software that's Altivec-enhanced, and don't have Open Firmware-- they have a BIOS. Eeek.

But like we said, most developers seem happy overall. (Well, at least the ones using Xcode, anyway; the ones using Codewarrior are giving off vibes so dark their heads are in danger of collapsing into teensy localized black holes.) There's still a year before the first Intel-based Macs will ship, so any of the current stumbling points may well be ironed out by then; meanwhile, the speed is great, the ease of porting (for most) is decent, and the prospect of Apple actually being able to get chips whenever it wants is, quite frankly, pants-wettingly exciting. So let's just see what happens, shall we?

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Nightmare Scenario #4,693 (6/8/05)

If hearing that developers are largely enthusiastic about the Intel switch is playing hell with your addiction to negativity and angst, don't worry; there's still plenty to fret about, and we're not just talking about those fiddly little things that have gone missing from the current Mac user experience. See, another major drawback to the existing MacIntel development hardware-- potentially a far more serious one than the lack of Classic support, Altivec, or FireWire booting-- is that it apparently runs Windows just fine. Since the chip's a Pentium 4 and everything on the motherboard is standard Intel chipset stuff, installing Windows is just a matter of downloading drivers and selling your soul to Bill Gates, and there's no particular reason to believe that shipping Macs won't retain this ability.

Why is that a problem, you ask? Well, aside from the obvious (it's freakin' Windows, duh), we've heard some alarming third-hand reports that at least a couple of developers are now relieved that soon they'll no longer have to port their Windows apps to Mac OS X at all; instead, they're just going to tell Mac users to run the Windows version. Is it ridiculous for them to assume that Mac users who want their software will be willing to buy and install Windows and then reboot their Macs every time they want to run it? Sure, probably. But there are already some developers of Windows-only software who, when asked about the possibility of a Mac version, cheerfully reply that their products work just fine in Virtual PC.

Now since, on a MacIntel, Virtual PC becomes a lot less virtual, performance ought to be almost indistinguishable from that of running Windows natively on the same hardware, but without the hassle of a dual-boot system, and therefore even more developers are likely to weigh the costs of a Mac port against the size of the Mac market and decide that they're far better off just telling Mac users to shell out the cash for Virtual PC. We're thinking about games developers in particular, since a lot of games rely on processor-specific machine code to eke every last bit of available performance in hopes of making that headless torso spiral through the air while spraying blood as realistically as possible. That's made games extremely difficult to port to the Mac, and while it's certainly true to porting to MacIntel will be loads easier and less expensive, it'll be easier and cheaper still just to tell Mac users to buy Virtual PC; yes, on a MacIntel it'll actually be plenty fast enough to play games, provided Microsoft doesn't totally drop the ball.

"But AtAT," you ask, "what's to say that Microsoft will even bother shipping Virtual PC for MacIntel?" Oh, come on, folks-- you know that Microsoft just has to be licking its chops over the prospect of Virtual PC for MacIntel; it's money in the bank. Think about it: it'll run Windows apps at full speed, it'll sell more copies of Windows (which is all Microsoft cares about-- what do they care if you run it on a Mac?), and perhaps best of all for the Redmond Menace, it'll contribute to the eventual total irrelevance of the Mac platform. Consider the cycle, okay? Some MacIntel owners who want to run the latest Windows games buy Virtual PC. Windows games developers see this and decide that porting their games to the Mac is a pointless expense. Fewer and fewer hot games are ported to the Mac, so more and more gamers buy Virtual PC. Eventually Virtual PC is on enough Macs that developers of other software titles decide to eliminate their Mac ports. And then even developers of Mac-only software figure, hey, why not develop only for Windows, instead, since then everyone can buy it?

So eventually, Virtual PC on MacIntel kills off Mac software development completely. Want nightmares? Imagine the worst case scenario, in which Macs are eventually just pretty computers used to run nothing but the Finder and native Windows apps. It's Bill Gates's fondest dream come true. You're guaranteed to wake up screaming.

Do we actually think this will happen? Nah, not to that extent. But we do think that at least some Windows developers are going to be far less likely to port their software to the Mac once Intel-based Macs are plentiful and Virtual PC is available; the games market will probably be affected the most. And if you need something to get upset about, well, we're always happy to oblige. Fret away!

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Good Karma On The Rise (6/8/05)

Wait-- didn't Apple also have something to do with digital music, or something like that? Man, we'll say one thing about this whole MacIntel brouhaha: it's certainly put the spotlight back on the Mac, hasn't it? For ages everything we ever heard about Apple was iPod this, iTunes that, yadda yadda FairPlay; people almost forgot that Apple made Macs, too. But we sure remember now, boy howdy, and all it took was Apple dropping the chip architecture it's been praising to the skies for over a decade and jumping into bed with the very manufacturer whose processors it represented with snails in TV ads. Go figure.

Anyway, at least Steve saw fit to remind us that the music thing is still going strong; during the Stevenote he mentioned that, as summarized by MacMinute, the iTunes Music Store has now sold a whopping 430 million songs, and its market share last month was still way up at the 82 percent mark. Meanwhile, despite recent reports of iPod sales finally slowing down, Apple had still sold over 16 million units as of the end of last quarter, at which time iPods enjoyed a 76 percent market share among all players sold-- including flash-based models. Evidently releasing the iPod shuffle wasn't a mistake after all.

And the good news keeps on coming. Remember back when Steve used to say that the iTMS isn't really competing with other legal download services (and it doesn't look like much of a competition, given the market share numbers), but rather with illegal free MP3 trading via P2P networks? Well, faithful viewer Shane Burgess alerted us to a CNET article which reports that, incredibly, iTunes is indeed holding its own against the file-sharing networks: according to market research firm NPD Group, while WinMX was the most popular method of downloading music last March, iTunes tied for second place with LimeWire, leading NPD to announce that "iTunes is more popular than nearly any P2P service" and that Apple has "created a compelling and economically viable alternative to illegal file sharing."

Now, before you get too excited, it's important to note that these results are based on the number of households who used each of the services to download at least one song; it doesn't take into account the total number of songs downloaded. Which is actually pretty fair, when you think about it, because anyone who uses a P2P service to download one free song illegally probably will have no qualms about downloading a hundred more, whereas people who use iTunes actually pay for their music and are limited by how deep into debt they can reasonably slide. Odds are, illegally-downloaded songs still dwarf the number of ones purchased via iTunes, and we doubt that's going to change anytime soon; still, we're stunned and impressed that, according to NPD, iTunes was used to download music in more households than KaZaA was; a year ago we'd never have thought it possible.

People paying to download music? What's next, pedestrians only crossing in crosswalks? Shoppers getting into express checkout lanes with fewer than ten items? People refraining from cat flinging? The mind reels.

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