John Siracusa covers any points I’d thought of related to the logic and emotion of Apple switching to Intel and goes, as usual, quite a bit further.
The only question he doesn’t ask that others are wisely asking is, what will current customers do?
My recommendation will still be for things like the iMac G5, which is a hell of a computer for a hell of a price and it doesn’t require a more-secure OS in front of it (a firewall) to make up for its shortcomings. But that’s going to be a harder sell than it was yesterday. I really wish Apple were shipping their developer system today for the general public so anybody who was really worried about their computer being “obsolete” (never mind that I have a 9-year-old Power Computing Mac clone in operating condition beside me that can browse the Web, do email, and process words, even running Mozilla) could find something to buy.
To answer my own question, my guess is that with emulation being a slowdown-producing hack, most applications would feel sufficiently slow that it would turn off “switchers”. Fortunately the OS itself, unlike the PowerPC days, is running completely natively on Intel. Presumably Safari and Mail will be native from the get-go, and Apple-supplied products like iWork could be updated within days. But Firefox, already an unoptimized application on the Mac, would be slower still, and MS Office, a better but still crufty application on any platform, would also be slow enough for people to balk. I’d love to test it, but not enough to re-join the Apple Select Developer program for $500 and shell out another $999 for the development version. And it’s moot–Intel-based Macs won’t be available for a year, barring some really spectacular things.
It’s sad that a platform that recently produced one of the lowest-cost, highest performance supercomputers in history is having to become merely “as good as” the competition in terms of hardware, but again, most people recently have been asking me about the Mac because they’re sick of Windows problems, not because they feel there’s a speed deficit. The good news is that they don’t feel a speed deficit in the current lineup of Macs, either, and that will continue to be true.
So if you are in the market, go ahead and buy a Mac if it meets your needs now. If it doesn’t, wait until it does, and don’t worry about the processor underneath. But I realize that such a rational calculus is not necessarily made in the market, and I expect there will be a year of depressed Mac sales, and a few depressed long-time Mac aficionados.