Apple interest in Intel switch led to purchase of NeXT, return of Steve Jobs

Posted:
in General Discussion edited January 2014
Apple's initial unsuccessful attempt to build a modern operating system in preparation for the switch to Intel processors led to the company's realization that it needed to purchase NeXT, a move that led to Steve Jobs' return to the company he co-founded.



During a panel entitled "Steve Jobs: A Legacy of Vision and Leadership" hosted by the Churchhill Club last week, several former employees from Apple's early days offered an inside look at the process behind the move to Intel chips, as noted by Forbes.



Panelists included Bill Atkinson, the creator of MacPaint and HyperCard; Jean-Louis Gassée, former head of Macintosh product development; Andy Hertzfeld, who served as a developer on the original Macintosh team and now works for Google; Regis McKenna, former marketing veteran for the company and Larry Tesler, former VP of Advanced Technology and Chief Scientist at Apple. Deborah Stapleton, Pixar's former head of investor and public relations, also participated in the panel.



According to Tesler, the need to transition away from Motorola's PowerPC processors in favor of Intel's chips led to the company's decision to acquire NeXT.



"We had actually tried a few years before to port the MacOS to Intel, but there was so much machine code still there, that to make it be able to run both, it was just really really hard," he said. "And so a number of the senior engineers and I got together and we recommended that first we modernize the operating system, and then we try to get it to run on Intel, initially by developing our own in-house operating system which turned out to be one of these projects that just grew and grew and never finished."







As the team realized the project wouldn't work, Apple eventually decided to purchase an operation. The company considered both BeOS and NeXT, both of which would make the switch to Intel possible. Of course, Apple eventually went with the company that Jobs had founded, a critical decision that led to his impressive comeback.



Even so, it took Jobs several years to eventually make the switch. He first focused on modernizing Mac OS, releasing Mac OS X in 2001. Then, after years of rumors that a switch was coming, he announced in June 2005 that Apple would move away from the PowerPC architecture to Intel.



Jobs had wanted to go with Intel at least five years earlier. He said during his 2005 keynote that Mac OS X had been leading "a secret double life" with parallel in-house Intel versions developed alongside each public PowerPC release.



To ease the transition, Apple developed a "Rosetta" emulator that allowed legacy PowerPC code to be run on Intel-based Macs. The company quietly retired Rosetta earlier this year with the release of Mac OS X Lion.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 68
    I wonder why this wasn't in the book.
  • Reply 2 of 68
    chris_cachris_ca Posts: 2,543member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by 8CoreWhore View Post


    I wonder why this wasn't in the book.



    Likely because Steve Jobs was not involved until after the fact.
  • Reply 3 of 68
    tylerk36tylerk36 Posts: 1,037member
    Steve + NeXT + Apple = Good.



    Steve + Cancer + Limited time on earth = sadness.



    Steve + Apple + intense desire and drive = happy Apple Lovers.
  • Reply 4 of 68
    Did they discuss why Rosetta was retired?
  • Reply 5 of 68
    I remember the "bad old days" when Apple's stock was pathetic and it was a lost company in search of direction. They had licensed clones and were getting their butts kicked by PowerComputing on price and performance, but not quality. Apple didn't know which way was up and had sat on its laurels too long.
  • Reply 6 of 68
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by EWTHeckman View Post


    Did they discuss why Rosetta was retired?



    Why would they? It's really not that important in context.
  • Reply 7 of 68
    sheffsheff Posts: 1,407member
    Going with next was the best decision apple of the time made. It turned out to be quite a flexible platform for both desktop, phone and even tablet os. I wonder if they could have scaled beos the same way.
  • Reply 8 of 68
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by EWTHeckman View Post


    Did they discuss why Rosetta was retired?



    "If you refuse to update your software for six years, you obviously don't care about your customers and you deserve to be artificially obsoleted."



    Something like that, perhaps?
  • Reply 9 of 68
    tylerk36tylerk36 Posts: 1,037member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by EWTHeckman View Post


    Did they discuss why Rosetta was retired?



    Not to sound rude but why did OS 9 support get removed. One would know that the wheels of progress eventually have to run over the old antiquated tech. Rosetta is such. But Snow Leopard is still a good OS and will last for quite a while.
  • Reply 10 of 68
    I really think there is more to it than 'we needed an OS that could run on Intel'. Apple spent years trying to develop a modern OS, to replace the original MacOS and failed! At that point, their ONLY option was to acquire an OS and put their UI on it. In addition to NeXT and Be, Apple was looking at other Unix variants such as Sun Solaris which ran on SPARC, Intel, and PowerPC. They ultimately chose NeXT, but other than the fact that NeXTStep (renamed 'OpenStep') was being de-emphasized in favor of NetObjects, Tesler's comments do NOT tell the whole story...
  • Reply 11 of 68
    nagrommenagromme Posts: 2,834member
    I agree, the need to be able to run on Intel can?t have been the whole story. But it?s interesting to know how early on it was even PART of the story!



    (In fact, if Intel had never gotten their act together post-Pentium-4, and if IBM and Motorola hadn?t abandoned personal computer processor development, it may well never have made sense to switch to Intel at all. The option to be ABLE to was certainly important, though, and was an option Apple had long been working on.)



    If this contributed to the NeXT choice and the return of Steve, then it contributed to OS X, iPod, iOS, iCloud, every Apple product line sold today, AND therefore, the shape of the computer AND phone AND music industries today, as well as the entire touch-computing paradigm that has begun slowly replacing the mouse for everyday computing! It made Android possible (as more than the Blackberry clone it was pre-iPhone). Even Windows Phone 7: it?s not an iPhone-mimic like Android, but without iPhone, and without iPhone causing the rise of Android, it?s likely Microsoft would never have developed Windows Phone 7 as we know it.
  • Reply 12 of 68
    mr. memr. me Posts: 3,219member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by 8CoreWhore View Post


    I wonder why this wasn't in the book.



    Probably because it didn't happen that way. These guys are talking about events that happened in the 1996 timeframe. In 1996, the PowerPC had a bright future. Apple had transitioned to PowerPC just a couple of years prior. The G3 was still two years off. Intel was still looking for a graceful way to dump IA-32 in favor of a more modern processor architecture.



    Intel processors of that era were HOT! Apple did not switch to Intel until a decade later. One major reason was the Intel processors of the mid-2000s were a lot cooler than the PowerPCs of the era. The other major reason was that IBM refused to design cooler versions of the PowerPC. Among other things, this meant that a PowerBook G4 was hot and that the PowerBook G5 was impossible to build.



    I have no doubt that Apple had many serious discussions and studies of many contingencies. The fact that Apple switched to Intel ten years after Steve Jobs returned to the company is strong evidence that switching processors was not a high priority for most of that time.
  • Reply 13 of 68
    What a great tribute to Steve.
  • Reply 14 of 68
    tylerk36tylerk36 Posts: 1,037member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by nagromme View Post


    I agree, the need to be able to run on Intel can?t have been the whole story. But it?s interesting to know how early on it was even PART of the story!



    (In fact, if Intel had never gotten their act together post-Pentium-4, and if IBM and Motorola hadn?t abandoned personal computer processor development, it may well never have made sense to switch to Intel at all. The option to be ABLE to was certainly important, though, and was an option Apple had long been working on.)



    If this contributed to the NeXT choice and the return of Steve, then it contributed to OS X, iPod, iOS, iCloud, every Apple product line sold today, AND therefore, the shape of the computer AND phone AND music industries today, as well as the entire touch-computing paradigm that has begun slowly replacing the mouse for everyday computing! It made Android possible (as more than the Blackberry clone it was pre-iPhone). Even Windows Phone 7: it?s not an iPhone-mimic like Android, but without iPhone, and without iPhone causing the rise of Android, it?s likely Microsoft would never have developed Windows Phone 7 as we know it.



    I remember Apple having trouble getting enough Power PC supplied for their Computers. I remember Apple turning to Intel to supply them because they had the resources.
  • Reply 15 of 68
    jd_in_sbjd_in_sb Posts: 1,483member
    How much of NeXT-created software actually made it into the Mac? I read somewhere that the Mach kernel was the main thing ported over, but that wasn't made by NeXT.
  • Reply 16 of 68
    I think a BIG part of why Apple bought NeXT was Steve Jobs. Gil Amelio, then Apple CEO, was obviously seduced by Steve and felt that brining him on-board as an 'advisor' would be greatly beneficial to Apple. Little did he know



    Intel performance actually lagged behind the first few generations of PowerPC. However, by the early 00's it became clear that Intel performance was going to surpass PowerPC and that IBM/Motorola's commitment to their joint-venture was waning. IBM needed to focus on getting their Power Architecture (not PowerPC) competitive with Sun and HP while Motorola was focusing their resources on mobile phones, set-top boxes, and cellular switching gear. It was inevitable that Apple would switch at some point which is why they compiled ALL versions of MacOS X for Intel Architecture.



    Steve Jobs, and his team at Apple, recognized that Macintosh was a mature business and that the future depended on brining a new class of devices to consumers hence the iPod, iPhone, iPad, etc.
  • Reply 17 of 68
    I can actually remember hearing Steve let the word "Intel" slip during a keynote that he gave, sometime between 2001-2005, I can't remember the year. I wonder if this was just an accident on Steve's part, or if his mind actually did have some attention on Intel at that time, making it a Freudian slip. Does anyone else remember hearing what I am talking about?
  • Reply 18 of 68
    I remember there being a debate at the time about the merits of PowerPC's RISC processor architecture vs. Intel's CISC architecture.



    Some in the pro-PowerPC camp liked that Apple used an exotic CPU, and that it added to the appeal of Macs being different (meaning, better). And the pro-CISC camp hoping a move to Intel would make CPUs cheaper for Apple.



    In hindsight, it's pretty clear the move to Intel CPUs made Macs much more appealing for PC switchers, being able to dual-boot and also having access to more easily ported Windows games. From a marketing standpoint, it also let Macs go apples-to-apples with Windows machines, and helped people see that eventhough they have the same CPU inside, Macs performed better than Windows machines.



    I'm glad they made the change. Although I'm still computing on a G5 machine, I look forward to my next upgrade to an Intel iMac, which will let me have the advantages mentioned above.
  • Reply 19 of 68
    cpsrocpsro Posts: 2,439member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by 8CoreWhore View Post


    I wonder why this wasn't in the book.



    As Chris_CA mentioned, this happened before NeXT and Jobs were brought on board in 1997. Otherwise, Apple's switch to Intel is covered in the book. But Isaacson isn't much of a techie, so those parts of Jobs' life story get kinda glossed over throughout. (Isaacson even made significant misstatements about Xerox technology on NPR's Fresh Air that he doesn't make in the book.)
  • Reply 20 of 68
    tsatsa Posts: 129member
    If they hadn't made the change I would never have bought a Mac because then I needed a separate computer just to play games on. I guess many people had that problem.
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