VARs Say Apple-To-Intel Road Not Without Some Bumps

VARs said most developers and Mac customers will find the conversion relatively painless, but some Mac customers likely will hold off on new purchases until they find out which products Apple will first move to Intel, what they cost and how well they work.

That probably won't be a big number of users, said George Swords, marketing manager at PowerMacPac, a Portland, Ore.-based Apple VAR. "There isn't any reason to wait on a purchase if you need it because [the Intel Mac release] is far enough down the road that the standard computer life cycle won't really change that much," he said.

Still, Apple's PowerPC Mac sales stand to take at least a short-term hit during the transition, according to Nathan Brookwood, founder of IT market-research firm Insight 64. "Most Mac users will defer system purchases until the new x86 platforms arrive," he said in a report. "Nobody wants to buy the last PowerPC-based system."

Mac customers also may shudder at having to go through yet another platform change, which could squeeze Apple's U.S. computer market share, now hovering around 3 percent, analysts said. "We anticipate that when the dust settles on the PowerPC to x86 transition, Apple's market share will be lower than it is today, ending up somewhere between 1 percent and 1.5 percent," Brookwood wrote.

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However, solution providers and analysts agreed that over the long haul, Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple will boost its market share significantly because Intel's abundant supply and breadth of processors promise more Mac models at lower prices, as well as greater flexibility to craft new products.

"I think it's a huge move. I'm all for it," said Ed Crelin, president and CEO of MacInsight, a Wallingford, Vt.-based IT consultancy. "I think [Apple] will gain a lot of market share."

Apple also will have Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel's production and co-marketing muscle behind it when the Leopard OS makes its debut, which would be in the same time frame as the Longhorn version of Microsoft Windows. That would put Apple in its strongest position in years vs. the dominant Windows platform, VARs said.

"In the long run, [the switch to Intel] is going to make Apple more competitive," said Gary Dailey, president of Daystar Technology, an Apple VAR in Atlanta.

Still, analysts said third-party software and peripheral vendors won't find the switch as easy as Apple will.

At the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference last week, CEO Steve Jobs said the first Intel-based Mac computers will come out in mid-2006, and all new Macs will run on Intel processors by the end of 2007.

He also revealed that over the past five years, every iteration of Unix-based OS X has "led a secret double life" by being compiled for both PowerPC and Intel processors. That strategy should go a long way toward helping OS X and other Mac software migrate to the Intel platform, though "it's not going to happen overnight," he said.

To further help developers, Apple's new Xcode 2.1 development system will allow developers to create universal binaries of their applications that can run on PowerPC and Intel chips, Jobs said. This month, Apple plans to release a $999 developer transition kit that includes a 3.6GHz Pentium 4 Power Mac desktop, OS X 10.4.1, Xcode 2.1 and a universal binary porting guide. Intel Macs also will carry translation technology called Rosetta so they can run PowerPC apps.

Michael Oh, president of Tech Superpowers, a Boston-based Apple specialist, said the migration should be smooth for developers, given what Apple has done so far to pave the way. "It's going to be much easier than the OS 9 to OS X transition and certainly the [Motorola] 68040 to PowerPC transition. I think the development tools and all the various other pieces have been put in place," Oh said.

But Forrester Research analyst Simon Yates said the software conversion won't be a cakewalk. "The big challenge is going to be for Apple developers, who built their applications around the PowerPC and now have to devote resources to developing a port for the Intel platform," he said. "So it's not going to be as smooth as Apple wants everyone to believe."

Apple also will need to keep VARs in the loop for the Intel transition to succeed, Yates said.

"Apple has to come out with some more clarity about what the road map is, which products are going to be affected first and why they chose those products. They're going to have to do a lot to help their resellers figure out how to tell this story to customers."