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Myths of Snow Leopard 1: PowerPC Support

PowerPC
Myths of Snow Leopard: 1 PowerPC Support
Apple’s limited comments on Snow Leopard, the next version of Mac OS X due in about a year, have opened the playing field for rampant speculation. Here’s a look at a series of myths that have developed around the upcoming release. The first myth of Snow Leopard:

Apple is dropping support for PowerPC Universal Binaries, so software will dry up for users of PowerPC Macs.


Snow Leopard is going to be the first version of Mac OS X that only runs on Intel Macs. However, this is not going to be a real problem for PowerPC Mac users. For starters, the existing Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard will continue to be updated. It’s not even a year old today. Tiger still receives regular updates and it’s now over three years old.

The new features in Snow Leopard will also have little impact on PowerPC users. Snow Leopard’s main emphasis is on multiprocessor support. Users with needs for high end applications taking advantage of multicore, multiprocessor machines have known about the Intel transition since WWDC 2005, so the idea of a Intel-only version of the operating system being delivered four years later is not a surprise. Technologies like OpenCL, Grand Central, and the new 64-bit kernel would all have negligible benefit for most PowerPC users. Anyone trying to stay on the bleeding edge of processing power shouldn’t be trying to use Macs that will be four or more years old at the release of Snow Leopard.

The main “missing feature” for PowerPC users stuck at Leopard might be Exchange integration. However, Apple could certainly sell Universal Binaries of the new Mail, Address Book, and iCal separately at minimal cost, if there were a significant enough market of users with PowerPC machines who wanted that. Since the biggest audience for Exchange support is in education and corporate markets, there will likely be pressure upon Apple to sell a Universal Binary version of those apps for their existing PowerPC users.

 Wp-Content Uploads 2008 06 200806071515

WWDC 2008: Is Mac OS X 10.6 the Death of PowerPC?
WWDC 2008: New in Mac OS X Snow Leopard

Universal Binaries Outside Apple.
The real question for most PowerPC users is whether third party application developers will continue offering PowerPC support. While Apple’s cost-benefit ratio for delivering Snow Leopard as a Universal Binary is high in cost and low in benefit, for most developers the opposite is true. Application developers already have their PowerPC code and can continue to deliver Universal Binary software with minimal extra effort.

Apple is developing a number of low level technologies that require a lot of work to complete and test in parallel for both PowerPC and Intel architectures; app developers are writing primarily to Apple’s higher level APIs, which abstract the differences between the two platforms. There may be some applications taking advantage of new features in Snow Leopard that would render them Intel only, but PowerPC users don’t need to be excessively concerned that the market for PowerPC software will vanish anytime soon.

Apple reported that roughly 37% of the 27.5 million Mac OS X installed user base is running Leopard, 44% is running Tiger and 19% is using an earlier version. That means that despite the huge influx of new Intel Macs sold in the last couple years, there is still a large active installed base of PowerPC Mac users to sell Universal Binaries to.

 Wp-Content Uploads 2007 11 512Leopard

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The Universal Binary Solution.
Because Apple has made it quite easy to deploy Universal Binaries, developers are not stuck with the dilemma of supporting past users or scuttling legacy efforts to only support new users, as was the case when Apple migrated from the original Motorola 68000 family to PowerPC.

In those days, while 68k code could run on PowerPC in emulation, the reverse was not true. That meant developers had to choose between migrating to PowerPC and killing their 68k development, splitting their efforts across two entirely different code bases, or staying in the past to service the installed base of 68k users.

With today’s Universal Binary architecture, developers can target both Intel and PowerPC Macs with minimal extra effort. One exception is Adobe, which has the unique circumstances of not using Apple’s tools. Adobe has built its own cross platform Windows and Mac development workflow around the Intel architecture, so its latest Mac titles are Intel only. That does not reflect on the future of apps from developers using Apple’s tools however.

Universal Applications

Outside of PowerPC, some have panicked that Snow Leopard will kill support for even 32-bit Intel Macs. That is addressed in Myths of Snow Leopard 2: 32-bit Support.

[Update
: Warren Gish forwarded the following comment on PowerPC and 64-bit computing in Snow Leopard:

PowerPC is being dropped from Snow Leopard because there is no similar performance advantage with the PowerPC architecture in going 64-bit as there is in moving from x86 to x64. X64/AMD64 offers twice as many general purpose registers as x86, and that's where virtually all of the performance boost derives. The performance gain usually offsets any performance loss associated with using larger data items by ~15% but not uncommonly by as much as 25%.

Not the case with PowerPC. The number of general purpose registers is unchanged between 32-bit and 64-bit PPC, so applications are left with the performance loss of using larger datums in 64-bit mode. As a result, PowerPC apps typically run a little slower in 64-bit mode than in 32-bit mode.]

WWDC 2008: New in Mac OS X Snow Leopard
Myths of Snow Leopard 1: PowerPC Support — RoughlyDrafted Magazine
Myths of Snow Leopard 2: 32-bit Support
Myths of Snow Leopard 3: Mac Sidelined for iPhone
Myths of Snow Leopard 4: Exchange is the Only New Feature!
Myths of Snow Leopard 5: No Carbon!

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15 comments

1 Berend Schotanus { 06.16.08 at 5:05 am }

“One exception is Adobe, which has the unique circumstances of not using Apple’s tools.”

Sometimes the exception is what makes you really understand what’s going on. So apparently Adobe is doing software development in the old-fashioned way with direct processor routines. And sadly Adobe doesn’t benefit from all those nice new layers like core animation Apple provided to its developers while the competition can…

But then, when you believe that writing direct processor routines is really the way software development should be done, it’s quite obvious why to believe in the myth as described above.

2 lmasanti { 06.16.08 at 9:42 am }

quote:
“So apparently Adobe is doing software development in the old-fashioned way with direct processor routines.”

Adobe is “changing its User Interface” which could mean that they are re-writing its cross-platform code. (I’m not saying that they are using Apple’s tools.)

3 NormM { 06.16.08 at 11:03 am }

As far as I know, the only reason to think that Snow Leopard will be Intel-only is that the early seeds are. That hardly seems definitive. If there are substantial markets that want some of the features (Exchange support in Mail, resolution independence, etc.) and new API’s that some new programs will need, it might be worth doing the extra work to release SL for both architectures.

4 John Muir { 06.16.08 at 1:22 pm }

Brent Simmons – the developer behind NetNewsWire – thinks otherwise re: the general question of supporting PowerPC. Note: he wrote this before any of the Snow Leopard rumours.

http://inessential.com/?comments=1&postid=3486

“But the testing was the big thing. Even though, in the ideal case, another architecture is just a checkbox, you still have to test. And it’s time-consuming — it takes time that could be used to fix more bugs.”

It’s a good little read, but I think he’s taking Omni’s numbers too literally.

Whether the numbers are right or not doesn’t actually matter though. What matters is how many developers feel this way and cut the supply.

5 WWDC 2008: New in Mac OS X Snow Leopard — RoughlyDrafted Magazine { 06.16.08 at 1:27 pm }

[...] More New Than the Who’s-Who Knew, Too. Of course, there’s a lot more that all this going on in Snow Leopard. In fact, there’s so much that’s new that Apple’s line about “no new features” is a bit misleading. Snow Leopard pushes things ahead in a way that will confuse and befuddle tech pundits used to arranging Apple’s marketing names like refrigerator magnets. The next article will attempt to clear things up with a look at Myths of Snow Leopard. [...]

6 davebarnes { 06.16.08 at 3:24 pm }

“That means that despite the huge influx of new Intel Macs sold in the last couple years, there is still a large active installed base of PowerPC Mac users to sell Universal Binaries to.”

Maybe or maybe not.
The data that we lack is how much money people with older machines actually spend on software each year.
I suspect (I have no data) that the older the machine, the less that is spent annually on software.
But, I could be completely wrong.
But, if I am right, then developers will be quick to leave the PPC-world behind.

7 hylas { 06.16.08 at 5:59 pm }

I’m one of those PowerPC lovers and even though we, as a business, have moved to the latest and greatest Intels, we still have a sizable stable of high end PPCs that won’t be put out to pasture soon. We *just* “lost” quite a few G4s with this last OS (10.5.x) offering, and it would be a bit of a 1 – 2 punch to lose such a chunk of workstations (combined).
I am hoping that 10.6.x will be optimized for PPC, it would be a highly desirable update and a fitting end (EOL) for these wonderful computers.

8 Avon B7 { 06.16.08 at 7:11 pm }

We also lack data on how many intel mac owners are also PowerPC mac owners. That data would put things more into perspective.

I am writing this from a Tiger based G4 desktop but I also have an intel mac here. Snow Leopard will not really represent an issue for me as the G4 machine is going to stay on Tiger anyway.

9 unscriptable { 06.16.08 at 9:36 pm }

“Snow Leopard is going to be the first version of Mac OS X that only runs on Intel Macs.”

Am I the only one that finds this odd (and also a bit disappointing)? I thought Apple was specifically attempting to make OS X processor-independent. First, with PPC and Intel support (aka “Universal”). Then, with ARM support in iPhone and Apple TV.

Furthermore, I assume that Grand Central / OpenCL will support multiple GPUs, not just NVidia’s, right? Then why not support great multi-core processors like PPC 6 and AMD 64 while we’re at it?

I know, I know. It’s all about the resources. But, man, I was hoping we’d finally be breaking out of the Intel monopoly. :-(

10 Myths of Snow Leopard 2: 32-bit Support — RoughlyDrafted Magazine { 06.17.08 at 5:18 pm }

[...] – Mac OS X Leopard – Snow Leopard WWDC 2008: Is Mac OS X 10.6 the Death of PowerPC? Myths of Snow Leopard 1: PowerPC Support Omni Software Update [...]

11 SaudiMac » Info about the next Mac OS X, Snow Leopard { 06.18.08 at 4:56 am }

[...] here are some links with information about the new cat: Apple’s official Snow Leopard site Myths of Snow Leopard 1: PowerPC Support Myths of Snow Leopard 2: 32-bit Support Snow Leopard confirmed to be Intel [...]

12 Myths of Snow Leopard 4: Exchange is the Only New Feature! — RoughlyDrafted Magazine { 06.24.08 at 9:20 am }

[...] 2008: New in Mac OS X Snow Leopard Myths of Snow Leopard 1: PowerPC Support — RoughlyDrafted Magazine Myths of Snow Leopard 2: 32-bit Support Myths of Snow Leopard 3: Mac Sidelined for iPhone Myths of [...]

13 What, Where, When, Why & How much - Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard - ThinkTeen Forums { 09.13.08 at 8:41 am }

[...] mash up of a series of ongoing articles by Daniel Eran Dilger at roughlydrafted.com Myths of Snow Leopard 1: PowerPC Support June 16th, 2008 Snow Leopard is going to be the first version of Mac OS X that only runs on Intel [...]

14 JohnSawyer { 01.10.09 at 9:13 am }

At first, I thought it odd that Apple would discontinue PPC support for the next version of OS X, since the last non-Intel Mac was made less than five years ago (Aug 2006–the last tower G5)–Apple’s stated full support period after date of manufacture, is five years (though they’ve fudged a bit now and then). But then I realized, as stated here, that OS 10.5.x will (or may) be supported and updated for PPC Macs, at least until Aug 2011.

As for the article’s statement:

“Apple could certainly sell Universal Binaries of the new Mail, Address Book, and iCal separately at minimal cost, if there were a significant enough market of users with PowerPC machines who wanted that.”

…Why wouldn’t Apple just incorporate such UBs, at no extra cost, into OS 10.5.x?

15 danieleran { 01.10.09 at 2:44 pm }

Actually the early seeds of Snow Leopard have PPC support. While including Universal Binaries for PPC wouldn’t be difficult, all the QA and testing needed to make sure that every update and delta update worked properly for the millions of different PPC Macs out there is what would make supporting PPC expensive. Given the limited benefit this would provide PPC users (who will not benefit from the move to 64-bit, but rather just slow down slightly, vs. Intel users who will benefit significantly from the 64-bit upgrade for reasons I described elsewhere), there’s no real reason to try to ship Snow Leopard for PPC users.

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