The move to Intel chips is a major undertaking for the Mac community, as every software title for the Mac OS will need to be recompiled (which is easier) or rewritten (which is more complicated) for the new platform and released in a Universal version, which will run on both PowerPC and Intel chips. It's similar to when Apple moved from Motorola 68K architecture to PowerPC chips in 1994, or when it asked users to upgrade to OS X in 2001. In the OS X transition, older, Classic apps ran in emulation mode, and that's what happens here, as well. The difference is that the emulation, using a built-in program called Rosetta, is much faster and smoother this time.
To help you sort through the messy software transition, Apple has created a new Universal designation, a blue yin-yang symbol that indicates that a program will run natively on both PowerPC- and Intel-based Macs. Make sure that any programs essential to you are available in a Universal version before you switch. Fortunately, the Apple software bundle included on the iMac has already been translated for the Intel chip, so it runs natively. These apps include the iLife '06
suite (iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie HD, iDVD, iWeb, and GarageBand), Mail, Address Book, Safari, and more.
Other less-demanding programs aren't ready for the Intel platform yet but run so well in emulation that you won't notice a speed decrease. Apps such as Firefox, the Microsoft Office suite, and America Online work fine with Rosetta. If these two categories include every app you run during a standard day, you can move to an Intel-based iMac or MacBook Pro now.
More processor-intensive programs don't do well under emulation. You won't want to run Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign on an Intel iMac, for example. Our benchmarks show that the nonnative versions of Adobe Photoshop and Sorenson Squeeze slowed dramatically compared to their native performance on the old iMac G5
. For any professional programs, you'll want to wait for the Universal code before even thinking about moving to an Intel-based Mac. Unfortunately, Adobe has announced (click here for PDF
) that it won't release Universal copies of its current product versions but will wait until new versions are ready. Going by Adobe's standard production cycle of 18 to 24 months between releases, that means a Universal version of Creative Suite could be up to 14 months away (Adobe Creative Suite 2 came out in April 2005). Design professionals, part of Apple's user base, will certainly want to avoid Intel Macs until this and other professional programs are available.
Finally, some programs won't run at all on the Intel chip. These include (surprisingly) Apple's Final Cut Pro and Final Cut Express
, DVD Studio Pro, Motion, Soundtrack Pro, and Remote desktop. Apparently, the move to Intel chips came so quickly that even Apple wasn't ready for it. Universal versions of those apps should be ready next month, although getting new versions of the same programs will cost you $50 per app.
Other programs that won't run in emulation include Microsoft Virtual PC
, Alsoft Disk Warrior, Micromat TechTool, and Telestream Flip4Mac. Macs no longer support Classic mode, so if you're still running OS 9 software, the Intel iMac isn't for you.
To find out if programs you require are available in Universal versions, check out Apple's list of Universal programs
, which documents available programs but doesn't offer information on when others will be ready. The Apple enthusiast Web site MacInTouch
has its own page listing Universal programs
and a useful one telling how well various major programs run in emulation