It’s Called a What-Book? (Steve, WTF?)

January 11, 2006 / This means that if the applications you use every day (for design professionals these would be apps such as MS Office, Adobe CS, Macromedia Studio) do not yet ship in universal binary form (they don't) then your new MacBook would have to rely on Rosetta (the translation software) to run them; even if the MacBook is faster on paper, it could be much, much slower in reality, at least for now.

Here’s what the experts are saying about the new “MacBook Pro.”

A MacBook by Any Other Name Would Sound Much Better

The name sucks, and performance is a big unknown as of right now (because of the universal binary problem). As John Gruber writes:

“MWSF ’06 Predictions”

MacBook Pros (which name is terrible — I mean just horrible, like some crappy Mac accounting software from 1987) are being sold alongside the PowerPC models, not replacing them. Not yet, of course. My guess is that this means Rosetta is fairly slow, and that anyone who still depends on non-universal-binary apps is going to want a PowerPC machine for the time being. We’ll find out soon enough what real-world Rosetta performance is like.


This means that if the applications you use every day (for design professionals these would be apps such as MS Office, Adobe CS, Macromedia Studio) do not yet ship in universal binary form (they don’t) then your new MacBook would have to rely on Rosetta (the translation software) to run them; even if the MacBook is faster on paper, it could be much, much slower in reality (at least until Adobe, Microsoft and Macrodobia release universal binaries—I don’t know when this will happen or whether it will cost the user money when it does). From Tom Yager:

“New Apple Products Exceed Expectations, Put Pros First”

Issues I have with the Intel move, including the dearth of Intel-native OS X applications, remain.

Steve Jobs demonstrated the PowerPC-based Photoshop running the only way it can on an Intel-based iMac, slow as hell under Apple’s PowerPC emulator, Rosetta. As it happens, the emulator is also the only way to run Microsoft Office for Mac, which Microsoft is wisely discounting by 50 percent for new Mac customers because its performance in PowerPC emulation will fall by at least that much.

Addendum (Jan. 14)

Neil Duffin’s six-month-old comment on Jeff Schewe’s post to is worth consideration in terms of the performance question. (I should mention that I’m not worried about the long-run implications of the Intel move, simply the ramifications for design professionals faced with the question of purchasing now.)

Reply to “Intel Inside: What Does it Mean for Photoshop?”

Also (and I know I’m going to get flamed for this but stay with me) Intel chips are faster. No, I’m not saying Windows PCs are faster – they 2.7GHz dual Power PC seems to be faster than the high-end PC running Windows. However, Windows is not a very efficient OS. I’ve run BeOS and Linux on a PC box and it’s *MUCH* faster then Windows on the same machine. OS X is a much more efficient OS. I suspect that translating it to an Intel chip will give a significant performance increase, perhaps enough to overcome most if not all of the performance lost from emulation. Particularly if only 10% of the time for most applications will be under emulation.


But… the benchmarking on which the claim of “4x faster” is based is biased and unreliable: the reasons are that (1) the MacBook has a twin-core processor (called the “Core Duo”, another naming disaster) and the comparison units were single-core PowerPCs; and (2) the benchmarks used in Apple’s test are designed specifically for multi-processor computers—they issue tons of instructions that any single-core processor would have trouble with because they cannot multi-thread with the same efficacy (under these conditions, two slower cores might easily perform better than a single faster one—so even if the faster single-core computer “felt” like the fastest machine it would still be likely to lose the test). I got all this from Tom Yager again (via John Gruber):

“The Mac Performance Shell Game”

Well, yeah. A dual-core anything outperforms a single-core anything else by a factor of 2 to 5 in benchmark tests that make use of multiple threads or processes, tests crafted specifically for the purpose of stressing SMP-based systems. It’s murky marketing, and the sad part is that Apple didn’t have to resort to it to make Apple’s PowerPC-to-Intel switch look like a smart one.


Apple currently provides no information about battery performance on the new MacBook, which may mean nothing, or may mean it’s really bad; what we do know is that the power supply is rated higher for the new machine (85W versus 65W) and the the battery technology is newer (lithium-polymer versus lithium-ion); and we know that Apple has had trouble with new batteries in the past. From Paul Thurrott (via John Gruber):

“Comparing the MacBook Pro to the PowerBook G4”

Apple’s new MacBook Pro looks great, but raises some serious questions. The most obvious is battery life: Though PC makers using the Intel Core Duo chip were quick to point out how much better both performance and battery life are with the new chip, Apple declined to provide any batter life information on its Web site. This is most curious.

Who Should Buy?

There seems to be only one compelling reason for most users to get this machine right now, and that’s if those users want to develop the new Intel-native software on it. Tom Yager:

“New Apple Products Exceed Expectations, Put Pros First”

MacBook Pro is due out in February and I’m sure it’s meant to co-exist with PowerBook for a while to come. But I’ll suffer with slow Office for one reason: I want to use and develop for the architecture that Apple is taking into the future, not the architecture that will be dead by the end of 2006. I want to use this venue and others to pressure ISVs (independent software vendors) to ship Universal Binaries of their apps and to provide users with inexpensive, preferably free, upgrades from PowerPC to Universal editions of their software.

Good, Bad or Neutral?

  • MacBook Pro is slightly slimmer and wider than the 15″ PowerBook
  • it has a built-in iSight camera in the top-side bezel (with no physical cover)
  • it’s native screen resolution is ever so slightly lower (1440 x 900 versus 1440 x 960 pixels) than the 15″ PB, despite it’s screen being half an inch bigger on the diagonal (15.4″ versus 15″)—this may mean a better viewing experience on the new one since the pixels must be larger and therefore a bit easier on the eyes
  • in the promo photos it looks like a darker shade of “brushed metal”


So there you have it. I wouldn’t rush out and get one right away unless you’re quite sanguine about the performance issues, and willing to take your chances on the battery.

I have to admit that although I didn’t get too heated about the switch-to-Intel debate, I felt a twinge or two of regret seeing that logo on the Apple web site. Silliness, perhaps. It will probably matter a lot less once good information about performance begins to circulate, and once the developer community catches up and starts leveraging the power of the new instruction set architecture.

Hammer it Home

One final thing: the new Intel ad blows the big one. I think that the genius behind the Eminem iPod commercial could have been brought in to consult on this one, but it looks like they’ve gone back to that horrible big brother hammer-throwing æsthetic from 1984 to squeeze as much out of the old Mac/PC rivalry thing as they can. How droll.

4 responses

  1. Michael

    Is Adobe Reader also not universal binary? If so, I can’t imagine how a single soul on the planet could use one of these NewFangled MacBooks. For god’s sake, Reader’s deathly slow *already.*

    As for the Intel commercial, it just crashed the browser on my Windows machine not once but twice. Can’t get more Mac/PC rivalrous than that.

    (Though the slavish interest of Mac evangelists in every detail of Apple marketing only encourages them, you know… ;-) )

    January 11th, 2006 at 1:57 pm #

  2. AJC

    Very good point about Adobe Reader. I imagine that Apple’s announcement yesterday will spur many developers into action—they proabably already are in most cases but it will probably speed things up. As for Intel marketing, imagine a deep voiceover preaching unkind musings on “dull little PC boxes” while white-coated “doctors” transplant a big disc into some nameless repository. Can one be agnostic and still be offended by this? I would like to think so!

    January 11th, 2006 at 3:03 pm #

  3. dan

    1. Who uses Adobe Reader for Mac anyway? Preview is more than suitable, and there are open source alternatives [].

    I think the pundits are taking themselves too seriously. Most of the compaints about the new MacBook Pro are silly.
    – Most digital cameras do not have covered lenses.
    – Lithium Polymer batteries have a higher charge density [+20%] that Lithium Ion and they are much less likely to burst into flames. []

    – Rosetta is not too slow to be useful. All Apple SoftwareProducts are to be released as Universal Binaries and all Apple Pro products are due out as UB before the end of March. The phrase ‘cross-grade’ has been coined and the dollar amount of USD$79 has been bandied about. At least they have told us to expect slower performance…

    – The comment about MS Office being sold for half price because that is the expected level of preformance is ignorant. Who has paid full price for a single or family licence of MS Office in the last 12 months? Not me. We are due for an upgrade now anyway, now we’ll wait a little longer and get a UB version. Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit has committed to developing MS Office for the next 5 years.

    – The MacBook Pro is a transistion machine. They probably have been produced in a very low quantity. Don’t expect it to be around in this specification for long. This machine will sell and to the same kinds of people who went and purchased OS X 10.1 – fanboys and developers. This is a good thing – especially people who used code from small and/or part-time developers.

    – Why does owning an Apple Product give a licence to criticise every single decision the business makes? The transistion to Intel CPUs is a huge positive step for this platform. Performance is going to significantly increase and costs should decrease. This will let Apple innovate in the Design and Software fields. This is not a strategy to increase sales or reduce costs this month – it is the first step in a long term plan.

    Angry Dan Out!

    January 13th, 2006 at 6:39 pm #

  4. AJC

    You’re right about Adobe Reader vs. Preview Dan. I was thinking about Michael’s comment in terms of what it meant for Adobe’s readiness to start producing universal binaries, but it’s probably not the best example because it’s probably widely under-used.

    Pundits do take themselves too seriously! It’s the whole point of publishing opinions on the World of Mac in the first place. The lens thing, I think, is just begging for exploitation—the biggest difference with the new built-in cameras is that you cannot point them in a different direction and still see the screen. I can imagine the next installment of Yet Another Not Another Teen Movie featuring the iSight camera stalker who knows how to hack the indicator light so that the camera comes on without the warning signal…

    I agree with the pundits that users should not have to pay for the cross-grade, not because I think it won’t cost Apple (and other large software vendors) a lot of money, but because I think they stand to gain so much in the long run that they are scooping the pool at both ends this way—you shouldn’t have to pay twice for the same software. I suspect that Adobe will end up delivering a new product along with their universal binary, or not charge for it at all. The former seems like the smarter option.

    As for criticising Apple, I think they can take it. You don’t need a licence, just a blog! You’re right that the Intel move will be good in the long run, but that doesn’t mean we have to swallow the most proposterous of Apple’s claims in the meantime. I agree with Yager that they didn’t need to fix the results the way they did with the benchmarking tests (assuming his multi-proc explanation is correct, I’m relying on that since I wouldn’t otherwise know the first thing about it).

    I think they’re scared that people will be reticent about performance because of Rosetta (whether it actually feels slow or not). Fair enough, but come on, let’s get some accurate comparisons here, not just the same Intel vs. Freescale/IBM propaganda in reverse. Real performance gains will be the best way to wins hearts and minds out there! (Just because we criticise the President doesn’t mean we don’t support the troops Mr. Speaker.)

    January 14th, 2006 at 12:28 pm #

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