How Apple got its Intel back

How Apple got its Intel back

Summary: When Apple brought Steve Jobs and NeXT OpenStep to Cupertino back in 1997, it stopped work on NeXT's Intel code and focused on creating Rhapsody, a new Unix OS with a more Mac-like face that would run on Macs with PowerPC processors. This became Mac OS X. However, one Mac engineer decided to bring Apple and Intel back together again.

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When Apple brought Steve Jobs and NeXT OpenStep to Cupertino back in 1997, the company stopped work on NeXT's Intel code and focused on creating Rhapsody, a new Unix OS with a more Mac-like face that would run on Macs with PowerPC processors. This became Mac OS X. However, one Mac engineer decided to bring Apple and Intel back together again.

A recent post Quora by Kim Scheinberg offers some memos and backstory of Marklar, the secret project that made Mac OS X to run on Intel processors, rather than on the PowerPC processors that Apple had used for more than a decade. Scheinberg's husband is John Kullmann, who back in 2000 wanted to revive the Intel support for Rhapsody/Mac OS X at Apple. But it was a solo effort. He was forced to buy some custom-built PCs since Apple's purchasing department didn't permit the purchase of PCs.

About two years later, he shows off the work to his boss who excitedly brings in Bertrand Serlet, who at the time I believe was Apple's Mac OS X engineering director.

Max (our 1-year-old) and I were in the office when this happened because I was picking JK up from work. Bertrand walks in, watches the PC boot up, and says to JK, "How long would it take you to get this running on a (Sony) Vaio?" JK replies, "Not long" and Bertrand says, "Two weeks? Three?"

JK said more like two *hours*. Three hours, tops.

The rest is history ... It's an amazing piece. And there are so many fun ironies in this history. In 1997, when Jobs and the returning NeXT crew addressed Mac developers at WWDC (then held in San Jose, Calif.), most assumed that Apple would continue NeXT's Intel products and make the Rhapsody OS run on Intel.

Check Out: Recalling a summer when Steve Jobs saved Apple and the Mac

For example, Jobs told developers at a off-the-cuff chat at the conference that Apple had to get away from "expensive, proprietary technologies." If most of the market — meaning the hated PC market — wasn’t going to use a technology, “so why should Apple do it?” he asked at the time. Many of us thought that this could mean Intel. The NeXT OS could run on multiple platforms, including PPC and Intel.

In one of MacWEEK's special WWDC reports in May, 1997, I wrote about how Mac developers were upbeat about how Rhapsody would work on Intel and PowerPC. Here's the story:

San Jose, Calif. - Mac developers at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference today sounded upbeat after hearing Apple brass talk up the company's Rhapsody strategy and seeing the next-generation in action. Bertrand Serlet, Rhapsody engineering manager, this afternoon gave a standing-room-only crowd a demonstration of OpenStep and its cross-platform capabilities.

"The cross-platform stuff is a Godsend," said Adam Treist, president of Tree Star Inc. of San Carlos, Calif., which develops the e-mail client Mailstrom. "I've stuck in there as a Mac-only developer since the beginning, but this gives me a road to Windows."

Treist said he has been considering learning either Windows NT or OpenStep. Now, he said, "I can do both."

However, many developers said their future support for Apple's OS efforts hinges on the company's willingness to offer a free license to bundle the Windows run-time for Rhapsody. "If I had to take an extra $90 and give it to Apple, then Rhapsody's a no-show," said Jorg Brown, lead development engineer at Connectix Corp. of San Mateo, Calif. The fact that Apple will offer the code for free "shows Apple is not only listening but acting," Brown said.

The Yellow Box for Macintosh announced today also appealed to developers. "Now I don't have to maintain separate Yellow and Mac products," said Leonard Rosenthol, director of advanced technology with Aladdin Systems Inc. of Watsonville, Calif.

Rosenthol also praised OpenStep's "obese binaries," single executibles that contain code for any of Rhapsody's platforms. Mac developers already offer "fat binaries" for PowerPC and 680x0 versions of Mac applications.

Rosenthol said the new scheme will let developers put a cross-platform application on a single CD-ROM, including support for localized versions.

Instead, what happened was that Rhapsody, later to be named Mac OS X, only ran on PowerPC Macs. The Intel support went fallow. The first version of Mac OS X, called Cheetah was released in the spring of 2001 (although I really count 10.1, Puma, as the first usable version, which was released later that year in the fall).  Intel support didn't arrive until 2005 with the release of Mac OS X 10.4, Tiger.

(Note: Brown now works at Google and Rosenthol at Adobe. I haven't kept up with Treist.)

Topics: Apple, Intel, Operating Systems, Software Development

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  • This is not quite correct story; NS kernel, which is OS X kernel, too, ...

    ... never stopped to be (also) compiled for Intel.
    DDERSSS
    • no.

      the OSX MACH kernel was originally developed in the Darwin branch of the BSD family. apple even supported OpenDarwin and permitted OSX binaries to run on OpenDarwin until fairly recently. They seem to have removed all the OpenDarwin source code from their site (which was afaik the only real way to install it since the ISO's are/were so horribly out of date). however, when you compile something yourself, cross-compiling for other architectures isn't really a difficult thing to do. technically open darwin, and by extension OSX could have run on literally anything - and already runs on x86, x86_64, ARM, and probably will still (with some work) compile for PowerPC.
      crabbypup