Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The "Apple switches to Intel" thang

Well, yesterday surprised half the Apple audience and confirmed the rumors circulating among the other half. Steve Jobs announced that Apple will switch from IBM Power PC chips to Intel Pentium chips over the next two years. On the face of it, I would suggest that there will be short term problems of sales but in the long run Apple will win more market share and provide a better computing experience for it's users.

But there is a dark side. The new Intels chips will have the ability to control the copying of files. If computers are going to be digital hubs, then Hollywood is insisting that users will not be able to copy downloaded videos. The new chips will actually make computers a lot less personal, transfering controls away from the user. We can expect a lot more licensing, a lot less outright purchasing of data (which would include movies, music, programs, etc.)

Does this matter? Yes and no. Yes because the concept of the Personal Computer is to be eroded, giving control to people who have not traditionally been at the forefront of technological understanding (Hollywood). No because the rights of creative people need to be protected (yet creative people actually gain very little from copyrighted sales as the middle men actually steal much of the revenue stream).

Using music as an example, a recent interview on KCRW's Sounds Eclectic had Elvis Costello explaining that he no longer needs a record label ("They're history but they don't know it"). Of course, he has over 300 "songs" that will keep him in royalties for the rest of his life, so what does he care? Actually, he does care because he sees advantages for the Indies as well. And he may be right.

So we may have to put up with DRM (Digital Rights Management) and we may be pleased to see that the digital revolution could provide us with cheaper entertainment with the bulk of the revenue actually passing through to the creative artists. That would be good. Perhaps I'm being too optimistic but time will tell.
As for our household, we are not planning to replace our Macs for two years anyway. So we will probably be in the market for a new Intel processor Mac as they debut.

One other thought: If Apple has written an OS that works with Intel processors, could it be loaded on other PC brands, such as Dell or HP? And if so, would it start to erode Microsoft's huge Windows advantage? Some analysts are suggesting that Linux will be the big loser here. Personally I think Linux will always be marginal - in the hands of the geeks - so there is a good chance that users who want a stable platform might consider loading OS X (if it's practicable).