What it is: The PowerPC processor, designed by IBM, was the previous processor used by the Macintosh.
In the early 2000’s, the Macintosh used the PowerPC processor, which often gave superior performance over comparable Intel processors. Unfortunately as time went on, Intel processors got better and IBM spent less and less time developing and improving the PowerPC processor. Eventually it got to the point where Intel processors were clearly superior to PowerPC processors.
Since the Macintosh depended on the PowerPC processor, Apple was in a bind. If they stuck with PowerPC processors, they would fall further and further behind Windows PCs running Intel processors. So Apple did what nobody expected them to do, which was to switch to Intel processors.
Suddenly switching to a completely different processor meant that all previous Macintosh software, designed for the PowerPC processor, wouldn’t run on Intel processors. That meant OS X wouldn’t run on Intel processors.
Yet years earlier, Apple had secretly developed a version of OS X for both PowerPC and Intel processors. By the time PowerPC processors were clearly inferior to Intel processors, Apple had already developed and tested OS X for Intel processors, so switching OS X to Intel processors proved trivial.
Even more surprisingly, Apple also helped develop a PowerPC emulator called Rosetta. By using Rosetta, you could run PowerPC programs on Intel-based Macintosh computers. Amazingly, Rosetta worked flawlessly, making the transition from PowerPC processors to Intel processors seamless.
That’s only because Apple had had the foresight to plan ahead years in advance on a project that might never have been needed if IBM had simply kept improving PowerPC processors. By the time IBM had basically given up on the PowerPC processor, Apple could easily shift to Intel processors without sacrificing compatibility. Today, few people even remember that transition period because it went so smoothly.
Now compare Apple’s transition from PowerPC processors to Intel processors with Microsoft’s transition period Windows from Intel processors to ARM processors.
ARM processors are used in mobile computing devices like smartphones and tablets because they consume far less power than Intel processors. So when Microsoft decided they needed a tablet, they ported Windows from Intel to ARM processors and called this new operating system Windows RT.
Yet by the time Microsoft released Windows RT on their Surface tablets, they had relatively little software capable of running on Windows RT. Rather than make the transition seamless like Apple did with their Rosetta PowerPC emulator, Windows RT was completely incompatible with all existing Windows software.
As a result, users roundly rejected Windows RT on ARM processors and now Microsoft has basically let Windows RT die. In the mean time, because Apple planned years in advance for the possibility that they would need to shift to Intel processors, they could transition easily with no disruption to their customers.
Apple had a long-term plan. Microsoft did not and it showed in their sales results of Surface tablets running Windows RT.
Today, Macintosh sales continue to climb while PC sales decline (and Windows RT is basically dead). That’s the importance of having a backup plan for every possibility. You never know when you might need it but when you do, you’ll be glad you thought ahead. To see the results of not thinking ahead, just look at all the money and time Microsoft wasted developing Windows RT.
Would you rather be in Apple’s position with growing market share and increasing sales, or would you rather be in Microsoft’s position with shrinking market share and a soon-to-be-abandoned Windows RT operating system?
That’s the difference between thinking ahead and waiting for a crisis before reacting. Thinking ahead makes the future smooth. Reacting to a crisis does not.