History, they say, repeats itself - and the success of Apple's Intel transition looks set to be based on speedy delivery of key graphics, photography and desktop publishing applications.

In a recent online reader poll, we asked: "What software do you most want optimised for Intel?". The largest slice of the open vote (359 voters, or 39 per cent of the 912 readers who voted) demanded: "Graphics, photography, DTP".

Design and graphics key to transition

Interestingly, when Apple moved to Mac OS X the success of that transition was also determined by the speed with which such applications migrated to the new processor.

The at that time market leading DTP application, QuarkXPress was late to the OS X party, while Adobe landed early with InDesign. Quark's tardiness in making the switch gave Adobe a chance to steal market share. Now it stage seems set for that game to play out again.

Universal v. Rosetta

Adobe this month introduced its "Universal Support FAQ". This states that the company will not re-release Universal binary versions of its current applications - such as Photoshop and InDesign - until it ships full upgrades, perhaps as late as next year.

Universal versions of Mac software are optimised to run natively - and therefore faster - on Intel-powered Macs. PowerPC-based software that has not been optimised to run natively on Intel Macs works on those Macs using Apple's Rosetta emulation software - and runs slower than optimised "Universal" code.

Adobe v. Quark - war begins again

Adobe isn't any less committed to Apple's platform. It says it is making major changes to the way it builds Mac software (such as moving development to Xcode, rather than using its exisitng tools) and stresses its 20-year commitment to the Mac. But there will be no Universal binary versions of existing Mac creative products - customers will have to upgrade when the new version ships.

The new-born Quark isn't repeating its mistake. At present it is shipping a public beta version of XPress 7 (the future version of its DTP software) that will work on both PowerPC and Intel processors. The software is expected to ship very soon (after "testing is complete"), and the company's willingness to support Apple's new processors may signal a new round for the battle for desktop graphics software market share.

"Too much tax", users cry

Both companies will face some user resentment when they eventually ship Universal versions of their applications, as both upgrades will cost money. One voter complained: "It would be nice if software developers didn't see this as an opportunity to fleece us all for an upgrade fee to basically a switch to a new processor."

Another observed: "I stopped buying software upgrades as soon as the switch to Intel was announced, as otherwise I'd have paid for one upgrade followed by another upgrade to Intel."

While Mac sales may not have slackened too much, that statement indicates that analysts may benefit from examining Mac software sales to grasp the strength of the third-party software market.

"It's Adobe that has the biggest mountain to climb during this transition, seeing as the company now owns Macromedia. Illustrator and Dreamweaver run badly enough on PowerPC, so an Intel version is a must. Photoshop is also a mainstay of the Mac, so not having a native version will stall the majority of pro-end Mac sales," a reader wrote.

Apple has a road to follow

The modern Apple has a presence in a plethora of markets, but the Macworld UK poll's focus on DTP indicates that challenges remain before the company expands from its creative technology niche, one voter surmised.

"Despite a growing number of PC switchers and Apples success, DTP and associated software still seems to be high on the list. It suggests Apple has a long way to go. The day that the other categories in the software list show up higher, then i think we could say that Apple have made an impact on Windows users," they observed.

The full results of the poll follow:

"What software do you most want optimised for Intel?"

3D and video: 168, 18 per cent;
Graphics, photography, DTP: 359, 39 per cent;
Games: 141, 15 per cent;
Science: 24, 15 per cent;
Utility/virus/back-up: 18, 2 per cent;
Education: 7, 1 per cent;
Office/database: 84, 9 per cent;
Web editing: 26, 3 per cent;
Music: 64, 7 per cent;
I'll rely on Rosetta: 21, 2 per cent.

A total of 912 Macworld Online readers voted in the poll.