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Details on Intel's beta Mac development tools

Developers can now get compiler and library previews optimized for Apple's Intel-based machines.

Intel has released betas of its software development tools for Mac OS X running on the Intel architecture.

The tools were announced in August of last year, with the beta release coming immediately after Apple's launch last week of iMac and MacBook Intel computers.

The tools consist of a Fortran and C++ compilers, a math kernel library and a performance primitives library. The tools are specifically designed to support Intel's Core Duo dual-core processor, as found in all the new Macs. The toolchain integrates into Apple's Xcode IDE, meaning the Intel compilers can be used in the production of Universal Binaries--applications packaged with code for both Power and Intel architecture machines.

James Reinders, Intel's director of marketing and business development, told Builder UK that the company expects its compilers to be drop-in replacements for the existing ones used in Xcode. "We are using our GNU toolchain compatibility to work in the Xcode environment, so we would expect it would fully work with GNU tools. Our compilers have been used very successfully on Linux platform with GNU tools such as gcc, gdb and gcc-compiled binaries for some years now" he said.

Support for multithreaded and multiprocessor applications is provided through OpenMP, a cross-platform API already used by the Linux versions of Intel's compilers. Intel produced 64-bit versions of its tools for Linux in October 2004. The company aims to keep the tools in step with their equivalents for other operating systems.

"We expect to release OS X, Windows and Linux versions at roughly the same time" said Reinders. "Our product development work occurs off a common code base, and we prefer to introduce our products across all the operating systems we support, at the same time. Of course, we may choose to make individual updates which are needed for one particular operating system--but in general we will release them together and with equivalent features."

One drawback of using the new tools may be that they don't support Objective C, which many Mac applications will be written in. Objective C is considered to be the native language for Mac OS X, and before version 1.5 there was little support for C++ in Xcode. Intel has no plans to support Objective C, so existing developers will almost certainly have to modify their applications to take advantage of Intel's dual-core processors.

Mac developers also face different vector instruction sets in the two architectures: Altivec in the PowerPC and MMX/SSE in the Intel architecture. While the two instruction sets perform the same operations in general, the precise instructions are different. Reinders said that unless you've written directly to the hardware, the transition should be straightforward.

"In general the compiler and libraries hide that, except for the developers who coded to Altivec directly. For those developers, there is some work to do to recode for SSE. In general, we would encourage them to fall back to C++ and Fortran code, or use one of our libraries, and let the compiler and libraries do the work for them. We have found that to be very effective and the best to maintain," he commented.

The release versions of the tools are expected in the summer, priced at $399 for the C++ compiler, $499 for the Fortran compiler, $199 for the performance primitives library and $399 for the math kernel library.

Jonathan Bennett of Builder UK reported from London.