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Waiting for Intel, Apple faces massive Osborne chill

Think ... discounts

Letters Did Apple make an expensive mistake by announcing a switch to Intel, and a year-long wait for the first hardware? According to a survey of Register readers, Apple faces a sales chill that could cost it billions of dollars. Hundreds of emails have poured in - one every minute over the past thirty hours - representing an impressive cross section of our more than 3 million monthly readers across the globe.

More than half of you said the Intel announcement will have a negative impact on your private or corporate purchasing decisions with the lack of Intel hardware being particularly harshly felt amongst current and potential PowerBook users. Many users who had been holding off for a G5 will wait for the juicy Pentium-M roadmap that Jon Stokes outlines at Ars Technica today, here.

It's hardly a scientific sample, we stress, but it may be even worse than it looks on the surface.

Publications requesting feedback on Mac-related issues often elicit ballot-stuffing from Mac enthusiast sites - characterized by a number of emails with an identical theme, or similar wording, arriving in quick succession. This time, the “Apple nutcase” contingent represents a remarkably small proportion of all the emails received. For example, three readers simultaneously suggested a "reverse Osborne effect" might take place, in which Apple's sales would be boosted by a rush to buy the soon-to-be obsolete PowerPC-based Macs.

"I will be buying a PowerMac soon, with more certainty than I would have before – and I'd advise many other Mac users to do the same," writes Rupert Stubbs. "This seems pretty logical to me - or am I wrong?" We'll have to see, Rupert. To be fair, the reason he cites, which is entirely rational, is that hardware transitions are painful for early adopters, so it makes sense to sit tight until well into 2007 or 2008. But this is hardly going to cheer Apple’s Financial Department: Apple’s most loyal customers are going to be sitting on their wallets for three years. We’ll do some maths, but let’s hear what you have to say first. A few themes emerge -

I have a dual G4 machine and wanted to trade up to a dual Cell. Not gonna happen.

Daniel Robinson Kirkland, WA

My pennies were going to go towards a shiny PowerMac this year, but after the recent revelations, I figure I best wait. The idea of having two hard drives, one with OSX installed and the other, Windows, actually appeals. The best of both worlds. An iMac is a safe option. I wouldn't buy anything too expensive from Apple right now - changes in store are too much to ignore. And yes, software for PPC will be supported for years, but where will the real innovation lie? PPC will turn into a ghost, just as support for Classic has.

Alex McLarty

I was planning a new Mac laptop purchase in the next 3-6 mos. After the Intel announcement, however, there is no way I will purchase. If I can't wait, I will buy a Wintel machine (which I use at work anyway). I love OSX, but I keep my Macs for 4-5 years, and don't want to be let in the desert after 3. Not only that, but you can't buy a new Mac until rev 2. First revs are notoriously buggy and whacked. That means up to a 2-year wait for me.

This just doesn't work.

Leonce Gaiter

If the transition to the new architecture is so simple then I don't know why Jobs didn't wait until they was just 3-4 months between the announcement and new product release. A whole year? I just hope Apple is still in business in a year's time! Perhaps the year timeframe is just a ruse. I'm sure once the sales drop, Apple will be quick to launch new machines.

Andy Pritchard

Will I buy a Mac this year? Yes. I am just hoping to get a much better price on a PowerMac.

Dave Barnes

I might get a final aluminum PowerBook just as a last hurrah. We'll see how the good closeout sales are.

David H Dennis

If G5 Dualies that run 10.3 drop to below $500, count me in.

Mike Albaugh

I wouldn't have been buying a PPC Mac this year and now I definitely won't be....but an Intel Mac.....or god forbid a shrink wrap OS X for any Intel box......that is a different proposition entirely.

Although having just had a moment of reflection you maybe able to buy some very cheap G5's soon. Mmmmm.

Brian Turner

Would I buy Mac? Yes, but only if they are prepared to drop the price to accommodate the fact that I now know I'm not buying the latest greatest Mac and that I have a degree of obsolescence already built in. I'm thinking 15-20% from where prices are currently would be enough to make me go for it anyway. In other words, match the cheapest iBook against the cheapest (decent) Celeron laptops at around 500 inc after educational discount.

Graeme Bell

I was considering buying a new Mac in around a year's time. I currently have a G4 466 DA (2001, so 4 years old) and it does run Tiger perfectly well. But I am getting a little tired of watching progress bars for some apps, notably the Adobe Creative Suite.

I've upgraded pretty much everything else, so rather than buying a new Mac, I'll be making a 1/5 of that investment and upgrading the processor instead. I'll wait until Apple have a decent line-up to choose from and I'm sure they've ironed out all the bugs before I go Mactel.


Buy an Apple? Surely you jest. Why? I am guaranteed inferior performance running future apps via some sort of hokey emulation. Once folks start to write for X86, they are not going to code the assembler in the inner loop for high performance on a G5. If I do not need high performance, then why bother to buy a new machine? As you say, my old G4 dual 500 runs well enough (this is being typed on a dual 2.5 G5 machine). Spend the extra bucks on a laptop to run an obsolete processor? Sorry, that one is a loser too.

I think their move here was profoundly stupid.

Dr. William Ledsham

I think that I would consider buying a low end PPC Mac ie one that would be obsolete in 18 - 24 months. I am considering a Mac Mini for family room/TV use but I wouldn't buy a PowerMac or Powerbook until the Intel versions come out. I don't think Apple can discount their existing models much and will just have to accept lower sales until they make it through the transition.

George Morris

We write custom software to make everything work in our pipeline and it would cost us too much money and time to port what we have to Mac based on Intel. This is not a personal decision but a business decision. We don't sell our software so there is no where to recoup losses. I cannot justify based on a dream. It is not cost effective. [name of well known niche application] is a very computational intensive software and so are other applications we use and from the press I read this is the most difficult type of software to transition, and we would never want to take the step backwards to run it on Pentium after leaving it behind two years ago. Xeon has worked but it looks like our future will be with AMD and the Opteron. At this point, AMD has been clear about their roadmap with us and this is where we want to go as a creative company.

[name withheld]

I'm undecided as to how I should feel with Apple now switching to Intel. It's a tragic shame that they're abandoning IBM (for at least their lower spec user machines) to go towards Intel. I only say this as I work in a midrange/mainframe area and have already seen the might of IBM's new Power5 processors in their i5's and p5 servers, not to mention the speed bumps coming and the impressive roadmap for the power6 and power7 chips.

I'm afraid that my answer to buying a new G5 tower/powerbook (if they ever appear) unfortunately will be no, as I don't want to go through a transitioning operating system, even if it appears 'flawless' to the user from the outside I can already imagine the processing strains that will be going on in the background.

Simon Casey

Yes, I'll be buying at least one, possibly two G5s (either Power PCs or iMacs) for my business/family this year. Why shouldn't I? Is there a big performance boost just around the corner? No, Intel's current chips are broadly comparable with what we have now. Will prices fall dramatically? Of course not. Apple's margins may improve, and future price increases may be flattened out, but actual falling prices, no (incidentally, the Mac I want but can't quite afford has been approximately £2000 since at least 1987 -- I never did get that IIFX...). Will I be put off by falling resale values? No, I only sell my Macs when they're no longer useful (I still have a G3 iMac that does some valuable duty and I was still running a Pismo until 18 months ago) so I only get peanuts for them (after 5 yrs + service from them it's hardly an issue).

Where I might hesitate is in the PowerBook field. My 12" is up for renewal in about 6 months. Because of slow progress by Apple, all I'd gain is a few more meghertz and a backlit keyboard (which I admit to craving!). And, more to the point, the low wattage Intel chips could make a real difference to the performance of the next generation PowerBook. But I'll probably still do it, freeing up a nice laptop for my daughter, and replace the new one with an Intel after about a year, when any bugs have been ironed out.

There is, however, one thing that will prevent me going along happily with the switch: if Jonathan Ives's work is desecrated with unremovable stickers carrying stupid marketing messages I'll use the current models until they crumble into dust!


>So will you buy a PPC Mac this year?

Nope, if Mac OS X was as good as Mac OS I might have. But now, certainly not.

This all seems rather reminiscent of Next. Will it end the same way?

David Hall

I am a long time user since 1989 with machines dating back to the SE. I was about to purchase a G5 to do some engineering numerical modelling on. I have just purchased a new g4 PowerBook. I will be waiting 3 months to see what happens. I had plans to order at least 5 iMac G5's as well for a medical clinic I support, but I have told them to wait, the old G3's can soldier on another 12 months.

If it looks like Apple is going down the tubes or is just going to become a OS supplier of slightly nicer Intel boxes I might just get a Linux workstation.

James Nicolson

Ahh, would I buy a PPC Mac now? It was certainly my plan to purchase a new G5 desktop this year, but now I am not so sure.

While it is true that the dualie G5's are a technical marvel and certainly powerful enough to last a number of years and I don't doubt Apple's commitment to supporting it for a good long time, like you said the manufacturers won't likely be writing drivers for the hardware for all that long.


Joe McGuire

I sincerely doubt Apple will have an x86 Mac, much less a PowerBook, ready by August 2005. So perhaps one last PowerPC machine for me, then.

Jason Haas

I most likely will not be buying an Apple before they start shipping PowerMacs with Intel processors. I started testing the water about 4 years ago with a 500mhz PowerBook G4; to this day I've purchased every OS X update for it and have really enjoyed using it. Originally I was planning on replacing my Pentium 3 1.2ghz computer, with a dual PowerMac G5 - I just wanted to wait until after WWDC to order "just in case" any thing "really big" was going to be announced.

However the coming processor switch combined with my habbit of holding onto systems for quite a while made it seem like I'd be better off waiting. As it stands now my P3 is old enough that people tend to laugh at me when I ask if they have any PC-133 SDRAM in stock; but at least I can still run current software if it has features that I need - albeit more slowly than everyone else. I'm a bit leary of how well developers are going to be able to support Universal Binaries 6 or 7 years down the road. I can obviously deal with "slow", I just don't want to be caught in the situation where I need new feature Z but its not avaliable/possible to do with my architecture.


I most likely *will* buy another PowerPC based Mac this year.

Why? well I bought my current G5 back in September 2003...its a Single processor 1.6GHz system, which has suited my every need, and sitll does without effort. However, I'm creature of habit, I will want to purchase a replacement by the time its two years old.

I'm not opposed to the Apple/Intel switch, but believe that a well specced dual 2.7GHz or similar G5 will be sufficident to carry out my needs for a further two years - which will give 18 months or so for any initial teething/porting issues for the x86-64 based PowerMacs to be ironed out.

Andrew Mulholland

Therefore I prefer to have the longest-lasting Mac I can now, which will tide me over the 2-3 years of transition without any side-effects. Before the announcement, I had no idea what would be coming in the future (MP, Cell, whatever) or in what timeframe. Now there is a certain roadmap that I can time my purchase against.

It's unlikely that there will be a dramatic boost to the PowerMac line in the intervening year or so, though MP Macs may well be introduced (but I don't see those being of huge benefit to my design based work). So if I buy a Dual 2.7GHz PM now, it should be as good as it gets for quite a while. Sure the price may come down to encourage buyers, but as I said earlier, that's not the dealbreaker.

This seems pretty logical to me - or am I wrong?

Rupert Stubbs

So buy or wait? I think if you need/want a Mac now, get the best you can. A 2GHz iMac G5 will last more than 3 years and with 99% of the userbase on PowerPC for a long while, developers will carry on developing for it. By the time the iMac needs replacing, universal binaries will be the norm, making the change fairly transparent. In reality, it's the new architecture which won't be fully supported for a while, PowerPC will keep going for a while yet.

I was shocked and concerned on Monday, now I think it will be okay.


James Savage

2007 is a long time from now, and I use the Mac for audio and video production. I need something that does what I need it to do, and does it now.

Music/audio/MIDI/studio Macs tend to stick around a lot longer than their PC counterparts, as something that 'just works' day in and day out is more important than having the latest model of something; middle-aged G4 towers are still very common in high-end studios that could afford to upgrade if they wanted to.

On top of this, hardware and software development for DAW/sequencer users is a teensy-weensy market segment of computer users, and the companies involved are comparatively small operations - it's not at all unusual for the 'team' in charge of updating drivers or plugins to be one or two people - so music/studio users are often a development cycle or two behind out of necessity. After waiting to replace your NuBus ProTools and Sample Cell hardware with PCI, waiting for FireWire and USB audio and MIDI hardware to actually ship so you can finally migrate to a G-whatever, waiting for MOTU and Universal Audio to come up with updated drivers so you can finally switch to Tiger, etc., enough times, people get the hint: being an 'early adopter' musician often means that you'll be sitting with a shiny, fast computer for a few months, but your MIDI and audio interfaces don't work on it yet, and the new version of Logic / ProTools / Nuendo / SX / whatever won't be out and stable (read: not on a "point-oh" whole-number version) for a little bit longer. UA only very recently announced that they're going to be discontinuing updates to OS 9 support for their UAD-1 'powered plugins' card/software.

So add another six months to a year for the hardware and software goodies to catch up to the point where it's worth switching to the new Intel-based Macs, at least from a semi-serious muso perspective. And if it's a "by the way, we're not going to have serial ports anymore, and the PCI card part of your audio hardware won't work in our new PCI-X slots" kind of upgrade, it can mean you'll have to shell out as more for peripherals and a fresh copy of that fancy-ass $999 "Pro" music software (and attendant plugins and other shiny, tempting goodies) than the actual computer costs.

So by the time those two or three years have passed, it'll be high time to replace the whole shebang again anyway. No big whoop, we're used to it.

I just hope the switch offers some sort of 'in the long run' improvement to the "well, I know we said there would be dual-3-gig G5 towers and G5 Powerbooks a while ago, and, err...." trap they've been in for a while with Motorola and IBM, and not just "we're using the same, or nearly the same, hardware platform, as the Windows and Linux folks, but you should buy our stuff because...umm...our desktop is prettier?"

Chris Roy

Suppose he stuck with IBM and its fancy new "Cell" processor? Thats as good as a switch to Intel as far as implementation effort and its effects on software and hardware support.

"The issue is that developers and device manufacturers need to support a diminishing base of users. In 2010, the case for cranking out a legacy driver for long-dead hardware will be hard to make."

Again, same issues with a switch to the Cell as opposed to Intel.

The sad part is that even though a switch had to happen the Osbourne Effect will be just as merciless anyway. If I ran Apple I would have put off the announcement till I had products in the box.


David Bashaw


So how brittle is this sentiment? Real or not, many Apple regulars are clearly anticipating the Osbourne Effect to force the company into discounting its PowerPC models heavily in the coming months. When this perception takes hold, sales dry up even faster, and shifting the inventory based on the troublesome and obsolete G5 becomes even harder.

A comforting thought for Apple is that two years ago it was selling near-obsolete pro hardware at a discount price in decent quantities. In spring 2003 with the G5 Mac imminent, Apple still sold well over 100,000 dual-G5 PowerMacs a quarter.

However, the PowerBook has gradually been cannibalizing this market and the PowerBook looks the most particularly vulnerable segment.

While a substantial part of the Apple market will continue impervious to the news, a remarkable number will balk at the idea of buying a machine which boasts a poor shelf life.

Given that the 970 chip (the G5) became a museum piece on Monday, neither Apple nor IBM will want to support it for a second longer than they need to. IBM launched its POWER5-based systems over a year ago.

The message is pretty clear: when you promise a rosy future, don't be surprised if your users save their pennies while they wait for it to arrive. We expect Intel Macs to arrive sooner rather than later, although this depends on exactly how quickly PPC sales evaporate. This is not "if", but "by how much". ®


Thanks to Charles Eicher for pointing out that the "Osborne Effect", as dutifully recorded in Wikipedia, is misnamed, and had very little to do with Adam Osbourne pre-announcing a computer. But this historical correction is so delicious, we'll save it for tomorrow.

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