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Week in review: Apple's changing core

After more than a decade of using IBM chips to power its Macs, Apple Computer gives Big Blue the big boot.

After more than a decade of using IBM chips to power its Macs, Apple Computer gave Big Blue the big boot this week, opting instead to have Intel inside.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs said during a keynote speech at a developers conference that Apple will gradually shift its Mac line to Intel-based chips during the next two years, confirming a timetable first reported by CNET

In his speech, Jobs revealed that Apple has been developing all versions of OS X since its inception to run on Intel and PowerPC chips. "Mac OS X has been leading a secret double life the past five years," he said.

The move to Intel marks a tectonic shift for Apple, which has used processors from IBM and Motorola (now Freescale Semiconductor) throughout the life of the Mac. However, the company has changed architectures before, shifting in the 1990s from Motorola's 68000 family of chips to the PowerPC architecture jointly developed by IBM and Motorola.

The move appears to spell the eventual end of support for older, pre-Mac OS X programs. Current versions of Mac OS X support the running of Mac OS 9 programs in a "Classic" environment. However, documentation for Apple's Rosetta technology says the transcoding software will not support programs written for Mac OS 8 or Mac OS 9.

Rosetta is the translation software technology intended to help ease Apple's planned transition to Intel-based chips. Rosetta will allow most Mac OS X programs to run on Intel-based Macs even if the software has not been compiled to run natively on Intel chips.

A Silicon Valley start-up called Transitive is supplying the crucial bridge to enable the move to Intel-based computers, but skeptics worry about potential performance problems. Success has been elusive for computer makers trying to support one chip's software on a machine with a different chip.

On the heels of Apple's move, IBM is taking new measures to spread its Power processors and make them a stronger competitor to Intel chips. IBM announced that 11 new members have joined a consortium of Power processor users. It also released specifications and software to make it easier to build computers using the forthcoming Power-based Cell processor that IBM, Toshiba and Sony developed.

Rallying the IT troops
Steve Ballmer wants technology managers to know that Microsoft feels their pain. That was the Microsoft CEO's message at the company's TechEd customer conference in Orlando, Fla. In his pitch--part call to action, part career affirmation for IT workers--Ballmer said IT enthusiasm is in a "growth phase."

"There has never been a more interesting time to be in the information technology industry than right now," Ballmer said, in an attempt to assure attendees that they made the right career move. "I guarantee that the impact of the IT industry will be (greater) in the next 10 years than over the last 10."

Ballmer's message highlighted productivity and potential over product features. He touted the company's latest tools for making developers and administrators more effective.

He also announced that new services for automatically updating patches for several Microsoft products will be available in July. The two services, called Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) and Microsoft Update, will use a single "update catalog" to provide regular updates for both consumer and business customers.

WSUS was originally slated for release in the first half of last year. Microsoft Update, which replaces Windows Update, was also supposed to launch at that time. Microsoft has blamed the delays in part on work it had to do on Windows XP Service Pack 2, a mammoth security-focused update for Windows XP that was released last August.

For more than 20 years, Ballmer has been Microsoft's chief salesman, promoting his company's products with a mixture of over-the-top enthusiasm, street-fighter brashness and market savvy. He hasn't mellowed.

During the course of a 30-minute sit-down at TechEd with editors from CNET, Ballmer was his vintage self, variously pounding on the table or bellowing answers to drive home sundry points with, ahem, extra emphasis.

Changing their tunes
With Apple's dominance over the digital music business continuing to grow, Microsoft is planning to bolster its own online song store with a new subscription service later this year, sources familiar with the plans say. The software giant launched its song download store, similar to Apple's iTunes store, last September. But the Microsoft MSN-branded service did not include a subscription plan.

Now Microsoft is working with record labels and copyright holders in preparation for launching its subscription-based component, sources familiar with the talks said. The tentative features of the new service--which is still under development--include advanced community aspects and playlist-sharing. Microsoft is also working to give subscribers a new, Microsoft-formatted version of any song they've purchased from the iTunes store so those songs can be played on devices other than an iPod.

Digital media company Roxio is also taking a shot at Apple's market with the announcement of a software suite designed to let iPod owners fine-tune their song collections and other audio files. Boom Box comprises five applications, including some geared for people who want to tinker with more than just music. It's priced at $49.95.

For those who want to delve into the trendy area of podcasting, Roxio's iPodderX application directs podcast subscriptions to a desktop from which those audio files can be transferred to Apple's digital music device. In a similar vein, Roxio's Audio Hijack application lets people schedule the recording of Internet radio broadcasts.

Meanwhile, Apple's iTunes online music store is as popular as most music-swapping networks. A survey by market researcher NPD Group found that approximately 1.7 million U.S. households downloaded a song from iTunes in March. That was good enough to earn the store a second-place rank, tying with peer-to-peer downloading service LimeWire.

According to NPD, about 4 percent of Internet-enabled households in the nation used a paid music download store in March. Most of those who prefer legal music download sites are over 30 years of age. Many younger consumers are still sharing files over peer-to-peer services, NPD said.

Also of note
Seagate Technologies unveiled 10 new hard drives, including its first hard drive to use next-generation perpendicular-recording technology...Microsoft took part of its MSN Web site offline last weekend, after it learned of a flaw that could let an attacker gain access to Hotmail accounts...America Online launched free Web-based e-mail with 2GB of storage for AOL Instant Messenger users.