Changes, Part I – 2005

Apple was and is a great place. I had a rough patch (previously detailed here), but I was hitting my stride. I no longer felt I needed to leave in order to advance my career. I was a manager of a small QA team, and in charge of some crucial, but not code-based, content in the Developer Tools space.

One day, my boss pulled me into a room, and told me that I was being asked to join a secret project. They could not tell me anything about it; I had to sign the non-disclosure form to continue. The upside was working on something potentially important and strategic; the downside was I had to get permission to buy and sell Apple stock (and I might be turned down depending on what was going on). Also, I couldn’t tell anybody what the secret was.

I can tell it now because it became public. Apple was moving from Power PC G4 (produced by Motorola) to the Power PC G5 (produced by IBM) for desktops, potentially moving laptops as well. This actually did not affect my day-to-day work terribly much; the compiler, debugger, and Xcode teams were directly affected. But, in my role coordinating everything, I had to know.

Apple announced this at a World Wide Developer’s Conference, the annual pilgrimage of all of the developers to hear what Apple (and Steve Jobs) had to say about the state of the world.

Alas, it did leak; Apple accidentally published a premature version of the online store catalog (here is one article on geek.com talking about it). And one publication, and I can’t find the article, talked about the whole deal the Friday before.

My favorite is Steve Jobs at the announcement:

“I am here to tell you right now, that is was a mistake, and it’s true.”

It was big and powerful and fast, and one of my favorite Macs for the time it was released that I have ever owned.

A little while after the G5 was released (1-2 years later?), I was once again summoned to conference room by my boss, and asked to sign a piece of paper.

This was when I was brought into the big Intel secret.

My speculation is that the reason the Apple board agreed to buy NeXT was that Jobs promised he could deliver an Intel-based OS that could power Macs. After all, NeXTStep ran on a variety of hardware platforms by that point. I have no evidence of this, but it just makes sense.

When I got there, there was a team who was known to be working on Intel stuff, but they were in a badge-only set of offices, and we could not see the work they were doing. We were building Mac OS X for both Power PC, and Intel Xcode x86 architectures, although none of us could run the Intel versions of anything.

Sometime after I joined Apple in 2002, this article about the secret Intel project was published. This was a big deal. This leak caused more internally visible scrambling that anything else I saw when I was there. A few days after this article was published, Apple announced to its employees that Project Marklar was being shut down, and the engineers were being reassigned to work elsewhere. So, that was that, then.

We were still building Intel binaries in the build train, however. Every once in a while I asked about that, and was told to shut up and just accept it, despite the fact it really slowed down our builds, and caused problems for some of our compiler and build system features.

A while later, the former core Marklar team was made available to the Developer Tools team to help with the hard work of moving Mac OS X to code built on a new compiler. This is work I had done for Jaguar and Panther. Somebody else was doing the work for Tiger, but that person could certainly use the help of a handful of senior engineers.

After I signed the paper, I was informed that Marklar had not actually been shut down; the team now helping with compiler porting had been working on it the entire time, and they were helping with the compiler because it was the first compiler capable of building everything for an Intel release.

It was really cloak-and-dagger stuff. If I needed to talk to somebody about my work, I had to ask my boss, who had to ask her boss. If the person was already disclosed, it took a few minutes, and I would be in touch. If, however, the person was not disclosed, I had to make a case as to why they needed to be. If management agreed, I would get a phone call some time later from a very shocked person, and I would have to bring them up to speed.

One afternoon, my boss came by my cube, and asked if I could stay late. I asked how late, and she said that I would be out of here by 9:00. Meet her in the lobby of Infinite Loop 1 at 8:00 PM. And bring the cart from the lab.

At 8:00, outside of Building 1, there were about 20-25 people all nervously chatting and talking. Some of them had carts as well.

A rental moving truck drove up, and one of the program managers got out of the driver’s seat. She was laughing and happy. She had us line up behind the truck. When she opened the back, there were several dozen old G5 computer boxes. She started passing them out. Developer Tools got 10. She told us that these were the Intel developer prototype machines. They looked just like G5 towers, so they could be visible. But they had to be behind locked doors. As I was loading our machines onto the cart, my boss informed me that I was moving to an office with a door. The program manager also told us that she went to pick them up at a warehouse that Apple had not used for a while. Apparently, Steve Jobs, some of his staff, and some of the most senior managers had built these machines, with sixties music blaring on a stereo, and food and beer. She said these people were acting 20 years younger as they put these things together. There were even soldering irons in use! These things were very expensive computers, that’s for sure.

Right before WWDC 2005, my first child was born. I took a few hours out of my parental leave, and attended the keynote at Moscone West. Well, I was shuffled into the Apple employee viewing room, anyway; you had to be pretty special to be in the hall mostly reserved for paying developers.

And we watched the announcement. It was probably the proudest moment of my career as people who I worked with every day realized I had been working on this transition in plain sight.

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3 thoughts on “Changes, Part I – 2005

  1. Ken Arora

    Glad to hear you’re doing well! Actually, I can probably talk about this now, but, during my time at Intel (1990-2000), I saw at least 2 prototypes — one before 1995 — of MacOS running on Intel x86 hardware. I suspect there were more instances that I just didn’t hear about or see.

    My personal belief is that there was always an ongoing dialog between Apple and Intel, and there was at least one project doing a prototype or proof of concept at any given moment, at least by the early 1990’s.

    –ken

    Like

  2. Pingback: Changes II – 2006 – Recruited by Tech

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