It was a bright cold day in June, and the clocks were striking thirteen… Apple’s dramatic announcement that it’s to dump its old PowerPC pals Motorola and IBM in favour of arch-enemy Intel was dampened by some sneaky PR leaking prior to the keynote at the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference. Even Apple knows that some news is too hard to swallow suddenly, and was keen to avoid spontaneous vomiting in the aisles of San Francisco’s Moscone Center.
This news takes us back to the launch of the Mac in 1984. Apple announced Macintosh to the world via a groundbreaking TV ad during that year’s Super Bowl. The advert showed a crowd of brainwashed proles lectured by Big Brother until they’re saved by a hammer-wielding athlete who smashes the screen on which the dictator drones. The point behind all this Orwellian metaphor was that Apple’s Macintosh would free us all from the rigid strictures of a monopolistic IBM.
Big Brother is the key emblem of George Orwell’s 1984. In 1997, on the return of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs to the Apple helm, attendees at his Macworld Expo Boston keynote (myself included) were genuinely surprised when Steve introduced his supposed arch-nemesis Bill Gates to speak to the audience. In a suitably pantomime reaction, many in the crowd booed and hissed as Bill’s giant face loomed behind Steve in an uncanny reminder of that famous ad.
Jobs appeared to be both upset and quietly pleased at the reaction. In Orwellian terms, Steve’s speeches have always included what Orwell termed the ‘Two-Minute Hate’. Indeed, Macworld Expo itself fits neatly into 1984’s idea of ‘Hate Week’ – a period in which Oceanian citizens attended rallies and paraded to inflame hatred of Party enemies.
If Big Brother was 1984’s main man, the novel had plenty of other menacing metaphors – one of which was the perpetual war for perpetual peace. Throughout the novel Orwell describes the changing alliances between Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia, and the organized incitement to hatred that kept the populace on the side of Big Brother against whatever geopolitical state was the enemy at the time.
Apple has often played the ‘perpetual war’ card to keep its public in check. It has demonized Microsoft and its processor-plying partner Intel through a hate-fueled campaign against the Wintel empire via TV ads that literally burned the corporate symbols of Intel and a witch-hunt against the lying, bullying thieves of Gates and co. Hate, hate, hate.
In 1991 Apple’s then CEO John Sculley was seen arm-in-arm with IBM president Jack Kuehler presenting plans to cooperate on the next-generation PowerPC processor. A joke at the time asked “What do you get when you cross Apple and IBM?”, with the salutary punch line, “IBM”. In 1997, with its back against the wall, Apple switched PR tactics to ally with its now great buddy Microsoft – which even bought into Apple with a bunch of symbolic (non-voting) shares.
During his WWDC keynote Apple CEO Steve Jobs welcomed Intel president and CEO Paul Otellini to the stage, greeting him with a warm embrace. Otellini launched into a story tracing the history of his company and Apple as two high-tech firms that have blossomed over the decades in Silicon Valley.
“This brings the skills and the opportunities and the engineering excellence of two great companies,” said Otellini. “They combine our strengths and play on our respective strengths,” he added in classic Orwellian doublespeak. Just as Bill Gates was portrayed as 1984’s Emmanuel Goldstein turned Big Brother turned old pal, Intel’s past as the purveyor of the megahertz maniac Pentium processor is being written out of Apple’s PR newspeak. Workers at Apple’s Ministry of Truth are busy removing such ‘oldthink’ from the archives.
Steve has never been a fan of oldthink – in 1984-speak, the holding on to old ideas and patterns of thought not consistent with current policy, despite the fact that it was normal just a few years prior. That’s why he holds a particular disregard for the Mac media, which he deems is often guilty of what Orwell would dub ‘malreporting’. In the novel, this is how The Times corrected itself when it reported a fact that the government later deemed untrue. The government was never “wrong” – the paper had merely reported the facts incorrectly.
For all these perceived parallels with the story that created the enduring Myth of Macintosh at its launch, and Apple’s neat tricks of turning ancient enemies into old friends, there’s no doubt that the Apple/Intel alliance is a major turning point in the Mac story. It’s as big a deal as the Apple-IBM-Motorola alliance that brought us the PowerPC – the Mac’s engine for over a decade. Then, as now, the burden of transition fell on software developers who had to recompile code so that their programs ran ‘native’ on the new architecture.
The developers were hit again when Apple began the process of moving to its next-generation operating system Rhapsody (later to become Mac OS X) from 1998 onwards.
By all accounts, the move to Intel chips won’t be as tough for software developers as the switch to PowerPC or OS X. After all, OS X is built on a multiple-processor foundation. And if you’re worried about developers fleeing the Mac, take note that both Microsoft and Adobe have committed to Macintel. So alongside OS X, iLife and Final Cut a huge proportion of everyday key Mac apps are guaranteed from day one.
That said, there’s sure to be a lot of hurt along the way – not least in Apple’s hardware sales as we await the next big thing, Intel-based Macs. Thank goodness for the prole-favoured iPod, sweat the Apple accountants.
It’s clear that IBM is keener on chasing the giant games-console market than it is developing ever-faster PowerPC chips for Apple’s niche market. Intel is doing a great job producing speedy and efficient processors for the rest of the PC market, and has a much more desirable roadmap for future products.
For all the willy-waving PowerPC vs Pentium comparisons claimed by Apple in the past, Motorola and IBM simply haven’t delivered the goods. No 3GHz G5, and more importantly no sign of a Power Mac G5 smaller than a suitcase. By moving to the industry standard, Apple gains access to the leading edge of hardware development. Remember SCSI vs FireWire, or ADB vs USB. Every time Apple has moved towards convergence with the hardware mainstream it’s been a winning idea.
The notion of Apple and Intel working together does initially make one’s skin crawl. But that feeling’s there only because of the barrage of anti-Intel hate that we’ve been fed by Apple’s Ministry of Truth all these years. It’s time for us goodthinkers to forget all that oldthink and get with the newspeak. Recite after me “Pentium is doubleplusgood. We hate PowerPC”. All hail Big Brother!
A good omen?
Apple has promised to deliver Macs using Intel processors by “this time next year” . To the day, that means by 6/6/6. The price of Apple’s first computer, the imaginately named Apple I, was priced at $666.