The amazing origin of Apple on Intel


Apple began began its transition to Intel-based processors for Macs in January 2006. Over the next five years, Macs – especially laptops – would see massive user growth and become one of most important drivers of Apple’s revenue explosion and huge stock run.

Kim Scheinberg is the wife of the Apple engineer who first successfully modified Apple’s OS X to run on Intel chips. On Quora, Scheinberg shares the amazing story of how this came to be:

* * *

How does Apple keep secrets so well?

Fear? I’ve been meaning to tell this story for a while.

The year is 2000. My husband (JK) has been working at Apple for 13 years. Our son is a year old, and we want to move back to the East Coast to live near our parents. To do this, my husband will need to be granted permission to telecommute. This means he can’t be working on a team project and needs to find something independent to do.

The plan to move is a long-range plan. JK lays the groundwork early to start splitting his time between his Apple office and his home office. [By 2002, he is working at home full-time in California.]

He sends mail to his boss who, coincidentally, was my husband’s first hire when he started at Apple in 1987:

Date: Tue, 20 Jun 2000 10:31:04 -0700 (PDT)
From: John Kullmann <jk@apple.com>
To: Joe Sokol
Subject: intel

i’d like to discuss the possibility of me becoming
responsible for an intel version of MacOS X.

whether that’s just as an engineer, or as a project/
technical lead with another person – whatever.

i’ve been working on the intel platform for the last
week getting continuations working, i’ve found it
interesting and enjoyable, and, if this (an intel
version) is something that could be important to us i’d
like to discuss working on it full-time.

jk

* * *

Eighteen months go by. In December 2001, Joe tells JK, “I need to justify your salary in my budget. Show me what you’re working on.”

At this point, JK has three PCs in his office at Apple, and another three in the office at home, all sold to him by a friend who sells custom built PCs (can’t order them through the usual Apple channels because no one in the company knows what he’s working on). All are running the Mac OS.

In JK’s office, Joe watches in amazement as JK boots up an Intel PC and up on the screen comes the familiar ‘Welcome to Macintosh’.

Joe pauses, silent for a moment, then says, “I’ll be right back.”

He comes back a few minutes later with Bertrand Serlet.

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.

Bertrand tells JK to go to Fry’s (the famous West Coast computer chain) and buy the top of the line, most expensive Vaio they have. So off JK, Max and I go to Frys. We return to Apple less than an hour later. By 7:30 that evening, the Vaio is running the Mac OS. [My husband disputes my memory of this and says that Matt Watson bought the Vaio. Maybe Matt will chime in.]

The next morning, Steve Jobs is on a plane to Japan to meet with the President of Sony.

* * *

They would assign two more engineers to the project in January 2002. In August 2002, another dozen started working on it. That’s when the first rumors started to appear. But for 18 months, only six people had any idea that the project even existed.

The best part? After Steve goes to Japan, Bertrand sits JK down and has a talk with him about how no one can know about this. No one. Suddenly, the home office has to be reconfigured to meet Apple security standards.

JK points out to Bertrand that I know about the project. In fact, not only do I know about it, I am the person who named it.

Bertrand tells JK that I am to forget everything I know, and he will not be allowed to speak to me about it again until it is publicly announced.

I guess he had some kind of ‘Total Recall’ memory wipe in mind.

* * *

I’ve lost track of the many reasons that have been given for the switch to Intel, but this I know for sure:

No one has ever reported that, for 18 months, Project Marklar existed only because a self-demoted engineer wanted his son Max to be able to live closer to Max’s grandparents.

Image: kengz

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