The Intel way

When I started working at Macworld six-and-a-half years ago, I never dreamed I’d end up at an Intel event. They’re the enemy—after Microsoft, that is—right? But that was before Steve Jobs made his historic announcement about the switch to Intel chips at Apple’s own Worldwide Developer Conference in June. So today I found myself at the fall Intel Developer Forum at Moscone West in San Francisco—which is, coincidentally, the same place where Apple held its developer conference.

Although both conferences are places for big companies to connect with and help the people who develop hardware and software that make these companies’ products better, there was one big difference. While seated prior to the keynote by Intel CEO Paul Otellini (and sitting closer and more centered to the stage than Apple allows the press at its events, I might add), an announcement came over the PA. Not the one about turning off cell phones and pagers (that came slightly later), but one warning that future predictions are just that—predictions—and that there’s inherent risk and uncertainty in such statements.

Why was that such a big deal? Because Apple almost never talks about the future. Apple is a very secretive company—in fact, everything but the keynote at Apple’s WWDC is off limits to press and the contents of those sessions are protected by non-disclosure agreement. Apple typically announces products and partnerships only after they are signed, sealed, and ready to deliver (the one exception: OS releases, which Apple likes to parade around like the giant cats whose names they bear).

Contrast that approach to Otellini’s keynote. The Intel CEO talked about new chips scheduled for release in the second and third quarters of 2006—Apple won’t even confirm that it plans to pay its air conditioning bill from the summer.

What Otellini showed off were Merom, Conroe, and Woodcrest—new processors for mobile, desktop, and server computers, respectively. (Borrowing a page from Steve Jobs, Otellini revealed that he had been running the presentation from a laptop with a Merom processor.) All three processors are dual-core, use 65-nanometer production technology, and are 64-bit—the last part of that is welcome news to those who feared the switch to Intel’s current lineup meant sliding back to 32-bit computing once Intel chips start showing up in Macs. Otellini even mentioned that Intel has 10 quad-core (that is, four processor cores per chip) projects in the works—all of which would be great to see in future Macs.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Intel transition is going to be the conflicting styles of the two companies. Apple is tight-lipped to the point of paranoia, while Intel is the blabber mouth who wants to share everything with the world. What this means is that while Apple will continue to keep the world guessing about its Mac products, we’ll already know far in advance what Intel has in its bag of tricks—not necessarily which processors Apple will choose for which Macs and when, but enough information for some educated guesses. Intel will continue to share its roadmap, and Apple will continue to deny the existence of anything it hasn’t announced—be it animal, vegetable, or mineral. If nothing else, Intel’s candor could increase the odds of Mac rumor sites getting things right.

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