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Will the Apple faithful listen?

Many Mac partisans may feel conflicted about Steve Jobs' move, but CNET's Charles Cooper explains why they'll buy Intel inside.

As Steve Jobs and Paul Otellini walked toward each other with arms outstretched, the nearly 4,000 developers in attendance clapped at the spectacle unfolding Monday morning. The CEOs of Apple Computer and Intel were doing the heretofore unthinkable onstage in San Francisco and becoming allies right before their eyes.

But it soon became apparent each man had very different ideas of how this was supposed to end up.

Jobs reached out for Otellini's hand, but Intel's emotional boss decided this was bear hug time--and in an unscripted moment the two men literally bounced off each other as they managed a fleeting embrace.

It wasn't quite up there with the famous handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat, but this very awkward display of forced public camaraderie between sworn enemies says a lot about the confusion felt by many Apple partisans after the company's decision to dump IBM as a chip supplier in favor of Intel.

This isn't the first time Apple has chosen pragmatism over ideology.

"This is kind of like if your two best friends decided to get married and you don't know what it means," said Matthew Woolrums, a technologist with the Denver Public Schools attending Apple's developer convention. "You feel sort of conflicted."

The obvious difference is that these two rivals were never friends of any type. To be sure, Intel had some early investment money in Apple, but that was overshadowed by the competition that has raged between them. Since the mid-1980s, the Mac faithful have reveled in their underdog narrative in the battle against the Wintel duopoly formed by Microsoft and Intel.

For many, Apple's decision to embrace Intel comes as too abrupt an about-face. Judged by Apple's own rhetoric, some might even despair that management is going over to the dark side. But let's get past all the sappy stuff about Apple being different. This isn't the first time the company has chosen pragmatism over ideology.

A decade ago I personally saw a Macintosh prototype running an Intel chip. Apple subsequently decided to kill the project, but many insiders were disappointed. They believed that project was just the ticket. More recently, Apple has had teams working on projects to make sure OS X code got compiled to run on Intel machines--"just in case," Jobs said. He didn't need to belabor the obvious: Apple was simply looking out for No. 1.

The same sober world view governed Apple's relationship with the other half of Wintel. In 1997, Apple surprised the industry when it announced a $150 million investment from Microsoft. Earlier that year, Jobs helped orchestrate the ouster of Gil Amelio as CEO. Now he was making a hard-headed business bet: In exchange for Apple's embrace of Internet Explorer as the Macintosh's default browser, Microsoft provided needed funding.

When Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates' face appeared on the big screen for a live transmission, some in the audience at Macworld Boston gasped. But their shock faded after they learned about Microsoft's cash infusion.

So it was when Jobs confirmed the Intel transition--a murmur went up. Jobs is such a master showman that he soon had the crowd eating out of his hand. He even acknowledged that there will be rocky patches during the two-year transition from PowerPC to Intel (mostly because of software compatibility). But if the outcome is a line of new computers with ever-more powerful chips, you don't need to be the Amazing Kreskin to figure out whether the loyalists will buy Intel Inside.