Ever since we posted our first ‘sneak peek’ at Mac OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard” two weeks ago, one of the most frequent questions and lingering doubts amongst readers surrounds the issue of support for PowerPC (G4/G5) based Macs. Will it really be present in the final version? Tonight we took a moment to answer that question as best we could for a reader who asked about it in the comments section of the aforementioned article.
“Mizhou” wrote: “A friend of mine just tried to install on a 1.8 GHz G5, and the installer just says that it is an unsupported architecture.”
Quoted from the response by our founder, Ryan C. Meader (@dalaixerces on Twitter):
Internal builds we’ve worked with have (and continue to) support PowerPC but there are increasing signs that the final version may not.
Notably, as you’ve said, recent limited-seed developers builds don’t appear to include the PPC code and simply refuse to install on non-Intel Macs.
Although the unique nature of Mac OS X’s architecture and its underlying technologies allows multiple hardware platforms to be supported with far less effort on Apple’s part that would be required, for example, to port Linux or Windows to another CPU/platform….at the end of the day, debugging and providing support for such a fundamentally different platform that hasn’t been an active part of Apple’s hardware products for three years is holding Mac OS X back.
From what our sources tell us, it’s still possible that the PowerPC build of Snow Leopard could be finished with surprisingly minimal effort on the part of its developers….the code isn’t the problem. It’s the attention Apple’s developers have to pay to a legacy platform that they haven’t used in years, when they could be re-learning and shifting their focus purely to Intel development. It’s the support costs, far larger install packages, and greater complexity in stripping down a triple-platform (ARM, Intel, PowerPC) OS versus a two-platform system. Also, many of the remaining RISC (PPC/ARM etc) specialists at Apple are now mostly focused on the iDevice variant of Snow Leopard.
All that said, it’s still possible that the developer seeds are Intel-only because the vast majority of changes that require debugging by third party developers are Intel-specific. Keep in mind that a number of Snow Leopard’s features, including the Cocoa Finder, aren’t present in the current developer seed as we reported above.
While there’s a certain lack of clarity on this issue from an internal perspective when asking developers at Infinite Loop about the issue….and Apple hasn’t made any clear public statements on the issue of PowerPC support in Snow Leopard….we think it could end up being the case that the grapevine is right; 10.6 could be released as an Intel-only build.
This is supported by the fact that developers will most likely be able to deploy Universal Binary applications across both 10.5 Leopard & 10.6 Snow Leopard without the backwards-compatibility issues that plagued the 10.4-to-10.5 (Tiger to Leopard) transition. Thusly, while PowerPC Mac owners would be shut out of Snow Leopard’s benefits, they wouldn’t have to miss out on applications that have been optimized to support Mac OS X 10.6’s unique features.
Of course this is only an initial explanation of why there is such a lack of clarity about this issue and why Apple appears to be maintaining (minimally, but adequately for internal purposes at least; if not actually keeping up with bugs since there is no third-party testing of the PowerPC code branch as there is of the Intel-only limited-distribution developer seeds) the PPC codebase….we haven’t yet been able to get a clear or concise answer to questions about this from sources we’ve talked to, but we do have older more reliable sources that have not been available to talk to for the past few months that we hope to speak with about this in the next few days.
All in all, we’re not quite ready to say definitively that the final version of Mac OS X 10.6 will be Intel-only. In fact, until Apple clearly states its intentions on this issue, or at least releases a feature-complete, broad-distribution developer seed of Snow Leopard that still doesn’t support PowerPC….it appears that at least some degree of uncertainty will remain, regardless of what our sources have to say.
Stay tuned for much more on this and all things Snow Leopard in the days ahead — we have some very exciting hands-on reports and benchmarks to share (perhaps even a screen shot or two, if we can steer clear of Apple Legal’s itchy trigger finger!), and lots of dirt on all sorts of other interesting developments at Infinite Loop.
Questions? Comments? Feel like doing a bit of rumor-mongering yourself? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Twitter: http://twitter.com/macosrumors, or simply submit a comment using the form below!