Apple Switching Back to PowerPC?

by James R. Stoup Jun 13, 2005

Plan A: Lisa, Plan B: Mac, Plan C: Motorola, Plan D: IBM, Plan E: OS 9, Plan F: OS X, Plan G: Intel, Plan I: ????

It has been a great time lately to be Mac news freak. The net is awash in stories, recaps, speculation, rumors, gossip, guesses, lies, truths, half-truths, Clinton-truths (I did not have sexual relations with that woman) and everything in between. In fact, it seems that every possible facet of this deal has been analyzed (correctly or not) by someone.

It would also seem that Steve Job’s secret little “Plan B” has caused quite a stir. I kind of feel like a Catholic in Belfast. I am in the minority, beset by people different than me (many of whom hate me and seek my demise) all the while trying to maintain my unique identity. Then, one day, the Pope gets up and says “We are joining with the Protestants, so we are all one big family now!”  Some Catholics are happy, some are angry, many are confused, no one really knows what to do. Some still want the “old” ways back while many are excited about the “new” ways that are coming into town. In fact, everything is completely nuts and the rest of the world is just sitting back, waiting to see how this turns out when the dusts settles.

Enter “Plan C”. What is Plan C you ask?  Well, lets recap plans A and B first shall we? Good. Plan A was IBM (you know, the chips we have been using for the last decade). Plan B it appears was Intel (which has been in the works for the past 5 years or so). Plan C, is . . . well, I won’t get to that just yet.

Instead, let me ask the following questions and see where their answers lead us.

Does Steve Jobs really think that Intel makes the best chips?
Will Apple ever go back to IBM?
Just what the hell is this “Plan C” crap you keep talking about?

And now for the answers. To the first question I must answer “yes, for now.”  Meaning I do think that Jobs feels Intel makes the best chips as of right this second. And by “best chips” I mean best chips for Apple, not best overall. Is there a difference you say? Of course. Just look at the G5, that was a great chipset but it produced too much heat and wasn’t speeding up the way Jobs wanted.

The second question is a very interesting one. Because unlike most of the other companies out there Apple has had quite a bit of experience changing horses. Lisa to Mac. Motorolla to IBM. OS 9 to OS X. And now IBM to Intel. So, could Apple switch back to IBM one day? Sure, I don’t see why not. If IBM really did start to make the best chips (as Apple saw it) then yes, it’s quite possible they would dump Intel.

And now let’s finally figure out what all this “Plan C” stuff is about. One thing surprised me very much about Job’s keynote speech and it wasn’t his announcement that they were moving to Intel. Rather it was that they had been planning for this move going on five years. I will say that again. For almost five years Apple had this up their sleeve and no one figured it out. There were no leaks, no rumors, no real speculation for five years. This thing was ultra secret and as a result it blew the Mac community away upon its release. I know, most of you are now thinking “so what?” Apple can keep a secret really well, good for them. Hoo wah lets go home.

But, my friend, there is more to it than that. Much more. Enter “Plan C”. I am convinced that Jobs will do whatever he feels is in the best interest of Apple. And if, in the future, Jobs decides that Intel’s goals aren’t Apple’s goals he will have no problem dropping them faster than a retreating French army. Thus “Plan C” is born. I think that Jobs will continue to develop OS X for IBM’s architecture. Now, he won’t tell anyone about it, and the development team will probably work in the basement for the next decade, but Jobs will do it. And as I said before he has already proven he can keep something this big a secret.

Lets face it, Intel won’t be the best forever. Jobs knows this and is already planning for it. You see, at first I was really worried. I thought that when IBM released their newest greatest G5 chips Apple might regret having kissed them goodbye. Same thing goes for the Cell tech, what will Apple do if it has to go back to IBM?  Then it occurred to me, why does Apple ever have to leave? I mean, really, what is preventing them from working on this in secret? If they did it with Intel they can surely do it with IBM. And it will end up being much easier because they aren’t really switching anything so much as continuing on with what they have been doing for the last decade.

And if Intel turns out to be the right horse to have bet on Jobs will look like a visionary and if it turns out in five years that IBM is the wave of the future Jobs can come out and say “yeah, we have been working on this since we went to Intel and are completely prepared for this new technology.”  Apple wins either way. Who knows, maybe Apple will decide to use both chip sets one day. Is it really such a crazy idea?  They could use Intel’s new energy efficient chips in their laptops and use IBM’s G5 chips in their high-end workstations.

Either way don’t expect Job’s not to have a backup plan, or in this case, a backup backup plan. Oh, and by the way, for those of you who haven’t thought about it yet, don’t be surprised if Apple starts courting AMD very soon. I expect Leopard to be a fully 64 bit OS and they are going to need a nice 64 bit chip to run that on. But I will speculate more on that in a future article. Like I said, it’s a good time to be a Mac news junkie.


  • *sigh*

    Okay, where to start?

    How about here…....OS X on Intel was NOT a well guarded secret. Rumours of “Marklar” have surfaced on various sites with almost the same frequency as “Son of Newton” and “Disney buying Apple”, and for just as long. ie right back to the public beta, which still had the x86 references in the system library. The only real surprise here was the timing.

    While I do agree that Apple would be silly to not continue compilation for the PPC future (Cell, ill-equipped or not) to keep the platform truly portable, it would seem to me that a return to PPC is pretty unlikely if the main reason for leaving was monetary (IBM wanting Apple to pay for development, that is). The monetary realities aren’t changing anytime soon, and I sincerely doubt that, after changing architectures, SJ or Apple would want to be in the only-vendor-using-the-chip seat again…..

    If the Cell architecture really takes off the way the hype would lead us to believe, then you can bet that the other chip manus will produce something competitive PDQ and Apple will be able to use it. If it doesn’t take off (or is unsuitable as a desktop CPU, as would seem), then Apple has successfully avoided it.

    blurgh had this to say on Jun 13, 2005 Posts: 2
  • I think this article was well thought out but the flaw is this ... the PowerPC was NEVER meant to have constant speed increases. It is more for embedded markets. Hence this is the reason Microsoft wants to use it, Sony will use it, and Nintendo will use it. It’s the reason Daimler Chrysler uses it their car onboard computers and Cisco uses it in their routers.

    The PowerPC is more dependant on the complimentary architechture. IE, Hypertransport, Multiple processors, Firewire, Serial ATA, level 3 cache, and efficient SOFTWARE!

    Industries that rely and will rely on the PowerPC/Cell rely on consistency - they like to build around a brain, not build a new brain every 6-9 months.

    Intel is just the opposite. Since their processors are put in all sorts of UNCONTROLLED configurations - the processor itself has to continue to increase in speed.

    In my opinion, Apple will NEVER move back to a RISC processor - that is until a paradigm shift in computers takes place - probably OS XX - which brings about a no GUI, voice controlled, brain transmitted OS!

    To address the comment by blurgh:

    The rumors of Marklar (OSX on PCs) was just that - this is NOT OSX on PCs - it is OSX running on Intel processors. It is also a logical deduction for a rumor to say such. Steve Jobs just pointed that out to be humorous.

    jackwhispers had this to say on Jun 13, 2005 Posts: 2
  • There were no leaks, no rumors, no real speculation for five years.

    Um..where have you been?  This rumor and speculation has been around ever since OSX debuted.  In fact, it was perhaps the most common response to the rumor THIS time, “we’ve been hearing about Apple running on Intel for five years; nothing new.”

    Unless something substantially changes in the way we use computers, I wouldn’t expect any sort of consistent jumping back and forth.  While the Mac can afford to make moves like this with a relatively tiny market share, if they got anything approaching 50%, it would be far too disruptive to pull moves like this too often.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jun 13, 2005 Posts: 2220
  • Beeblebrox,

    Maybe I should have said this clearer.  When I said “There were no leaks, no rumors, no real speculation for five years.” I should have said “There were no leaks, no rumors, no real speculation for five years That were taken seriously”.

    There are rumors that President Bush ordered 9/11, that we faked the moon landing and that bigfoot exist.  I am not denying the rumors, I am only tring to point out that no one really believed them until now.  Its similar to the “rumor” that Apple will unveil a 2 button mouse.  That rumor is 20 years old if its a day.  But if Apple released on tommorrow people like you would be saying “whats the big deal?  that rumor has been around for years.”  The big deal is that no one really believed it.  Now they do.  But thanks for the comment.

    James R. Stoup had this to say on Jun 13, 2005 Posts: 122
  • My contention is that just because a rumor is right - doesn’t mean it wasn’t made up in th first place.

    Its similar to the “rumor” that Apple will unveil a 2 button mouse.  That rumor is 20 years old if its a day.  But if Apple released on tommorrow people like you would be saying “whats the big deal?  that rumor has been around for years.”

    But that rumor exists because Apple has a patent and that’s what a lot of people have wanted - so therefore - a rumor that Apple is going to release a two button mouse - it doesn’t actually mean they are - but the rumors sites would have you believe they are more accurate (without luck) - so as to gain advertising dollar and “we told you so” rights.

    jackwhispers had this to say on Jun 13, 2005 Posts: 2
  • Jack,

    You are correct that a rumour “come true” doesn’t mean that it wasn’t made up initialy. However, you also can’t assume that a rumour IS made up, as opposed to a genuine leak. If they were all made up there wouldn’t be legal issues right now between Apple and ThinkSecret, would there?

    The Marklar rumour that I saw over and over again was “OS X on x86” or “Apple has OS X x86 hidden in a back room”. It was always the site/forum speculation that blew it up into “OS X on generic PC”.

    The rumour also existed because there are (as of Jaguar anyway…sorry no more recent machine to check it on right now) quite a few references to i386 in the /System/Library folder that don’t really need to be there otherwise, so there was some slight basis for it at least…..

    I do agree that few people took it seriously (thank you for that phrasing refinement, Mr. Stoup smile ) that Apple would release an x86 machine, the general consensus that I saw seemed to be that the “OS X x86” rumour was very likely true in some fashion as a back up or emergency plan….it would seem that SJ, for whatever reason, decided the emergency was now.

    blurgh had this to say on Jun 13, 2005 Posts: 2
  • I am confused as to why PPC work would need to be done in secret, especially over the next 2 years. PPC is part of the lineup, and it will continue to be part of the lineup and legacy of support for the next 5 years. They BETTER keep supporting the PPC or there will be hell to pay in the press and on the user support front. No secrets about it.

    KiltBear had this to say on Jun 13, 2005 Posts: 3
  • But if Apple released on tommorrow people like you would be saying “whats the big deal?  that rumor has been around for years.”

    Well, I’m not really one of those “people like you” because I didn’t dismiss the Intel rumors as no big deal.  I was simply reporting the responses I heard.

    Although if Apple did release a two-button mouse tomorrow (a move long overdue) it would certainly be fun to see how quickly Mac-fanatics abandon their long-held religious devotion to the single-button mouse and all of the reasons why it’s the better choice.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jun 13, 2005 Posts: 2220
  • I would really like to see an Apple-AMD alliance.  I bet their main concern is supply problems.  One thing the move to Intel will definitely alleviate is the constant supply issues.

    But, Apple would instantly become AMD’s biggest (maybe second biggest…not sure how many AMD HP/Compaqs there are) client.  That would be a nice position for Apple to be in.

    daniel had this to say on Jun 14, 2005 Posts: 3
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