IBM Makes PowerPC Case to Linux Users

by Derrick Story

I'm guessing we're not going to hear much about porting Mac OS X to Intel chips for quite some time, if ever.

Why? Well, the G5 Mac is already powered by the right processor -- the 64-bit IBM PowerPC 970, and if IBM has its way, OS X's older brother, Linux, will be joining the party in greater numbers too.

Two interesting articles caught my eye tonight. The first, IBM Eyes Big Year for Linux on PowerPC on, says: "IBM refused to comment but there are hints the company will extend the tendrils of its PowerPC chip architecture further into its BladeCenter, possibly spreading the architecture to the iSeries, pSeries and other server lines."

This is followed (later in the article) with a quote by Redmonk Senior Analyst James Governor, "Anybody who doesn't think the PowerPC is a platform is an architecture that IBM is not fully committed to bring to the industry better think again," Governor said. "IBM may support Itanium, but it is not going to cede the market to Intel."

Then I read a cool piece by David Mertz, Ph.D., Linux on Mac: a POWER programmer's primer. Dr. Mertz makes an solid case for running Linux on the PPC, and he includes lots of great detail about how to make it happen... now.

If Linux users begin to take a serious look at the new PowerPC, all sorts of good things can happen for IBM, Apple, and others who support the work going on in East Fishkill, New York.


2004-01-22 06:27:27
Linux Is Not OS X's Older Brother
Technically, since OS X is based on Darwin, and Darwin is based on FreeBSD, and FreeBSD is based on BSD, and BSD is quite a bit older than Linux, OS X would really be Linux's older Uncle.
2004-01-22 07:12:39
RE: Linux Is Not OS X's Older Brother
Hi, I didn't really mean for it to be a technical statement... rather to connect OS X and Linux as family members. I'm perfectly fine with OS X being the crazy Uncle :)
2004-01-22 09:25:52
Linux Is Not OS X's Older Brother
Actually, it's more like this: Mac OS X is a direct descendent of OPENSTEP for Mach 4.2 which is the latest incarnation of NeXTstep. As in the NeXTstep that shipped in 1988, before Linus started work on Linux. NeXTstep 1.0 included BSD 4.3 and a modified Mach 2.5 kernel.

When Apple brought that code base forward, they refresh large parts of it by adding in the changes from various *BSDs and now they track FreeBSD as their reference for the BSD layer. The Mach kernel was also moved forward to a variant of the Mach 3 microkernel, but the BSD part is compiled into the same address space so that the RPC calls just become function calls (while preserving the abstraction). Apple also removed Display Postscript in favor of Quartz (PDF), added the Carbon layer which includes Quicktime, added Java, and so forth.

You can see a this evolution if you compare:

NeXTstep 1.0
OPENSTEP for Mach 4.2
Rhapsody DR1-4 (DR2 was the last version that ran on x86 AFAICR)
Mac OS X Server 1.x (basically OPENSTEP for Mach on PowerPC)
Mac OS X

2004-01-22 14:50:27
PowerPC Show a Lot of Promise
The PowerPC has shown a lot of promise over the years. Back in the days of the 603, a friend of mine was programming for the chip so that Nortel could use them in satelites. He thought they were awesome chips.

If I'm not mistaken, IBM has a large stake in the embedded market and has done a lot of development in that area.

I'm not familiar with the current structure of AMD and Intel's offerings, but from what I understand the PowerPC architecture had a better design for multiple processors and multiple cores on the same chip. This design advantage could play a significant role for both Mac OS X and Linux based systems.

I'm curious to know what other people think about the future of multi-processor platforms and whether the IBM will leverage any advantage they have.