March 31, 2006
Written By Daniel Drew Turner
On the eve of its 30th anniversary, Apple Computer is in the middle of a major transition—moving its Mac hardware and operating system over to the Intel chip. But Apple isn’t alone: this transition affects every developer of Mac software, including Apple itself.
As Apple moves from IBM’s and Freescale’s PowerPC RISC architecture to Intel processors, developers must rebuild their products to support both platforms, into what Apple calls a UB (Universal Binary). And while Apple lists over 1,000 UB applications currently available, this process is challenging developers, especially those of some of the largest and most critical applications for the platform.
Apple first revealed its plan to switch processor architectures at its June 2005 Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, Calif. At the time, Apple CEO Steve Jobs noted that some developers would have a relatively easy time of it—those who completely built their applications in Cocoa, the Mac OS X-native set of APIs that is closely related to the OpenStep operating system from which Mac OS X was created. These developers, using Apple’s own Xcode development tool, should be able to produce Intel-native versions of their applications with only “small tweaks” and a recompile, Jobs said.
In addition, developers who work in Java should find the transition an easy one, Jobs said. This seems to be the case with Zimbra, a maker of open-source server and client products for enterprise messaging and collaboration based in San Mateo, Calif.
“Because we went the Java route, porting has not been much of an issue,” said John Robb, the company’s vice president of product management. He noted that Zimbra had an advantage in the porting race due to the “relatively OS neutral” design of the company’s products.
There were a few issues, he said, but they were resolved within two days.
Robb said the company has tested its server-side software on PowerPC- and Intel-based Macs. “We’re very happy with our initial testing,” he said. He added that Zimbra’s tests showed up to a fivefold performance increase on both client and server.
Other developers may use Xcode but rely on Carbon, another set of Mac OS X APIs derived from previous versions of the operating system. These developers, Jobs said at the time, would face more challenges.
Facing even greater challenges, Jobs said, would be companies that used other development tools, such as Metrowerks CodeWarrior. Developers using CodeWarrior would, Jobs said, first need to migrate their application code to Xcode.
One example of such a developer is Adobe Systems and its recent acquisition, Macromedia. In fact, Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen recently stated that Creative Suite CS3, the next version of the company’s industry-standard graphics suite, will not be available before April 2007, pushing the limits of Adobe’s 18- to 24-month development cycle. Although an Adobe spokesperson declined to comment, directing all questions to a PDF policy statement posted on the company’s Web site, Adobe engineer Scott Byer posted a blog entry expounding on the issue.