% fortune -ae paul murphy

Waiting for Steve's other shoe

Apple's PR folks have been busy lately seeding articles about how wonderful the new Intel based Macs will be - complete with developer leaks and unnamed sources whispering excitedly about how fast the new development machines boot and how well they run Windows on the side - although thinksecret's picture of a 23" Apple Cinema display running XP in an 800 x 600 window is either very sad or very funny depending on your perspective.

Unfortunately, I don't believe them. What I think, instead, is that the developer community is quietly tearing itself apart as those who think the change means big bucks separate themselves from those who just want to build better software and maybe make a little money doing it.

What the money side has going for it is that Windows/XP code badly ported to the PowerPC Mac is easily ported to, and faster on, the new Intel Macs now in developer hands. Since these people have always treated the Mac market as nice place to rip off some money for minimal effort, Apple's switch to Intel looks like a good way to raise product quality while reducing porting costs - a win win if there ever was one.

On the other side are the people who see software as what they want to do and just want the best possible hardware and operating systems software combination to do it on - subject to the proviso that they still have to make a living somehow too. For them, PowerPC market growth was the ticket to Nirvana while the switch to Intel brings in louder competitors without expanding their markets - a classic lose lose for them.

So what are the people who do all the creative stuff that gives Apple it's polish and reputation going to do? In the very short term most will try to stick it out, but a lot of them are looking already and many are soon going to be finding opportunities elsewhere.

Meanwhile, what's going on at Apple? Right now the cheerleaders are doing a great job of whistling loudly in the dark, but I think it's naive to believe that Steve Jobs has forgotten what happened at NeXt when it abandoned the hardware business or hasn't learned from the train wreck formerly known as SGI. In other words, I'd make it a safe bet to assume that Apple has a second shoe to drop, somewhere, on someone, and possibly soon.

So what are the options?

I don't think going ahead with MacTel is a realistic one. One of the lesions Steve Jobs would remember from NeXt would be how trivial it turned out to be to host NeXtStep on other Unix products - both the HP-UX and Solaris ports took mere days to get to release level. That would be a good memory if he wanted in on Sun's throughput computing revolution, but it's more likely something that keeps him awake at night because the experience will have taught him that releasing MacOS on Mactel means that getting it running on any machine that can boot the open source Darwin BSD variant will be relatively easy - and that nothing, not even having Intel add custom license verification instructions to Apple's processors, will stop people running MacOS X on non qualified hardware.

So what can he do?

Do a "threat scan" from Apple's perspective and the number one issue has got be IBM's failure to deliver on G5 production and development for Apple while succeeding brilliantly for both its own use and Microsoft's. On a purely "natural justice" basis there has to be an opportunity for a massive law suit here, but of course I have neither the legal training nor the inside knowledge to even guess at the advice Apple's lawyers are giving its board. It's possible to speculate too - and that's all I'm doing here- that whatever rights Freescale still holds might have a role here too, either as a willing Apple partner or after an acquisition.

Depending on what the contracts actually say, such a move could freeze the biggest threat around - Microsoft's X360 (because that's a three way G5 derivative at a price point well below that of the miniMac); let Apple sell lots of premium priced Powerbooks based on the recently revealed low power G5, and let Jobs gradually back away from Intel while either doing Sun's thing (designing, but not fabbing, it's own chips) or just doing what he should have done years ago: adopting SPARC as Apple's processor of choice.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specialising in Unix and Unix-related management issues.