Business

Opinion: Dude, you're getting a Mac!

One reason that Dell didn’t make my short list of companies with vision is its lousy business decision to remain the lone first-tier player not to add AMD’s processors to its server lineup. Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Sun Microsystems, among others, like Dell’s decision fine. They know Dell’s missing out on AMD’s secret sauce. AMD’s CPU line is so very manufacturer-friendly — meaning that it’s also profit-friendly, as system vendors evolve from model to model and reach into new markets, especially the higher-density value server market that AMD is certain to own.

Dell wants no part of this, choosing instead to cleave only unto Intel, and by gum, to stick to the idea even though competitors and their customers have proved the folly of it. Standing out like a Southern belle in a biker bar must make Dell a little squirmy. Even I must empathize with the pain of sharing a fishbowl with a bad decision. I suppose I should be glad that Dell has found a friend in Apple.

Dell has welcomed Apple into its exclusive club by cracking a joke about adding OS X to its list of preinstalled software options. Cold day in hell, says Apple — but Apple has certainly taught us never to say never. Dell, the butt of Steve Jobs’ jokes and scathing “2GHz G5 kicks 3GHz Xeon’s ass” demo at the Power Mac G5 launch, Dell, the epitome of the good Intel soldier, now has a seat next to Apple’s at Intel’s quarterly issuance of marching orders.

Hence the title of this column. Hence my loss of appetite for the lunch on my desk.

I have run hot and cold about Apple’s move to Intel. Apple’s got world-class software, tools, and docs. As long as it keeps these assets polished, it’ll stay on my leaderboard. But I do have real concerns. Readers wrote to point out that the comfort I drew from Apple’s sure selection of the Pentium 4 was false. Intel is transitioning Pentium 4 out of its lineup, choosing Pentium M, the mathematically challenged, non-Hyper-Thread Centrino CPU, as the base for desktop designs. My first reaction to the Intel announcement was to say aloud and in polite company, “A (bleep)ing Centrino PowerBook? I can’t even imagine a (bleep)ing Centrino Power Mac.”

Readers wrote me to ask whether Apple was quietly keeping the AMD option open. Good question. I wouldn’t expect to see the word “Intel” used where any company with its options open would write “x86.” All of Apple’s press releases and developer documentation refer to Intel-based, not x86-based, Macs. Xcode 2.1, Apple’s latest IDE — which has filled out beautifully, by the way — puts up only two checkboxes for target architectures: PowerPC and Intel. I think we’re stuck.

I can’t help but wonder how this move will affect Apple’s server business. More than any other sector Apple has attacked, Apple has gotten its server hardware and software right. A one-page catalog of Unix servers and FC (Fibre Channel) arrays covers everything an SMB or cluster needs. Steve Jobs said zip about servers at the 2005 Worldwide Developers Conference, a fact that I found unsettling. The unofficial word from Apple people I respect is that servers are business as usual, which gives me hope that Xserve is not transitioning from PowerPC to PowerEdge.

Seriously, I wish that Apple would exempt Xserve and Power Mac from this improvement program. I’d like to be reassured that something better than what Intel is selling to Dell today will replace G5.

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