The UK's Manchester University gave birth to the technology behind Rosetta, Apple's emulation solution that will allow new Intel-based Macs to run unaltered PowerPC code.

According to reports, Rosetta is heavily based on software developed by Transitive Technologies a Silicon Valley start-up whose founder and CTO Alasdair Rawsthorne developed the technology in 1995 at the University of Manchester.

Transitive's software allows applications to run on multiple processors and operating systems without source code or binary changes.

Though the company's head office is in California, all engineering staff are based in Manchester, England.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs confirmed Transitive's role in the Rosetta technology in a New York Times interview, although he refused to clarify further. Nor would Apple's senior VP Phil Schiller admit how much of Rosetta was developed in-house when pressed by Cnet. "I'm not going to talk about details, but it's Apple technology," Schiller said.

Slowed down

If Rosetta lives up to its promise, consumers won't need to replace their old software when they buy a Mac with Intel chips. However, while Jobs' Rosetta demonstration to developers at Apple's WWDC went smoothly, it is expected that both Apple and Transitive face performance challenges.

Reports note that when HP inherited operating systems from Tandem and Digital Equipment it faced a challenge adapting that software to run on Intel's Itanium chips.

Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff told Cnet: "History says that binary translation basically doesn't work. The day may come when someone can do a good enough job with it, but that concept has been thrown out there many times in the computer industry, and it's always fallen flat on its face."

"If someone could wave a magic wand and say any software can run on any kind of hardware, that would change the game in the computer industry,'' Insight 64 analyst Nathan Brookwood told Mercury News.

Transitive CEO Bob Wiederhold admitted to The Inquirer that some performance will be lost. "With more computationally intense tasks, the performance of translated software is between 60 per cent and 80 per cent of native software," he said.

Apple also admits there will be a speed decrease: "Applications that run translated will never run as fast as they run as a native binary because the translation process itself incurs a processing cost," it says in developer material.

RIP OS 8 – 9

Apple's move to Intel chips is also expected to spell the end to support of older, pre-Mac OS X programs.

Reports indicate that the emulation solution only works with programs developed for Mac X OS, not OS 8 or OS 9.

Apple's developer material states: "Many, but not all, applications can run translated. Rosetta is designed to translate currently shipping applications that run on a PowerPC with a G3 processor and that are built for Mac OS X."

In an interview with Silicon, Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller suggested future Classic support was: "Certainly not very high on the priority list."

He said: "In recent versions of Mac OS X, we actually stopped installing Classic by default because very few - if any - people use it anymore. We've done research to determine who buying new products from us is using Classic. You really can't find hardly anyone who does anymore."

Apple's developer material states: "How compatible your application is with Rosetta depends on the type of application it is. Applications that have a lot of user interaction and low computational needs, such as a word processor, are quite compatible. Those that have a moderate amount of user interaction and some high computational needs or that use OpenGL are, in most cases, also quite compatible. Those that have intense computing needs aren't compatible."