Will Mac OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard” really support PowerPC?!

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 rumors@macosrumors.com, follow us on Twitter: http://twitter.com/macosrumors, or simply submit a comment using the form below!


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  • john

    doctorsid:

    I guess that Bushthink is alive and well. I hope you are keeping up with the Wall Street “updates.”Just a 76 old semi-retired who also is not flush with the bucks. Started with machine language and line editors. Perfectly happy with Bean nowadays and other non-bloated applications for Power Macs. Rule of thumb: always get the Rolls Royces of “over the hill” technology.

  • Joe

    While it’s not totally unreasonable for Apple to eliminate PPC support in Snow Leopard, they should probably give some consideration to owners of machines that can make use of the features. They are focusing on multi-core CPU’s. The dual core and quad core G5′s have them. They are focusing on 64 bit computing. The G5′s are 64 bit machines. I also don’t see why OpenCL wouldn’t be possible on the later G5′s. The nVidia 6600 in the newest G5′s may be slow by todays standards, but there are faster cards available. Maybe raising the bar from 867mhz G4 in Leopard to Dual/Quad core G5 instead of to Intel only wouldn’t be too much of a stretch.

  • Rafael

    I have bought macs since the first imac was released. I moved from an original imac, to a blue and white G3, then a quicksilver dual G4, a powerbook G4, and now a G5… and I have had all these machines, except the imac run to at least 10.4.11. If Apple doesn’t allow 10.6 to run on my high end G5 I am just going to spend my money on building my own intel mac. There are so many resources online on how to do this and it will cost me half of what Apple expects me to pay. Also just to note, PC’s are actually getting a much better deal nowadays. They are no longer obsolete after 2-3 yrs. Their latest OS Windows 7 promises to run on machines more than 5 and 6 yrs old and will be able to install with only 512mb of ram and a 1Ghz processor. Makes me almost want to make the switch. Apple should be ashamed of what they’re doing and leaving out so many customers.

  • IBM Inside

    I am saddened by the prospect of leaving my iBook G4 in the dust with 10.4.11 rather than getting the (for me in education, free) 10.6 upgrade. The reason I do not use 10.5 is the lack of Classic support, and I now do not use the same programs. I would at least want 10.6 to run on a 1200MHz G4. Or, I could install 7 on my (rarely used) 5-yr-old Thinkpad T41 with (just) a 1600MHz Pentium M. My iBook is, in real world applications, over twice as fast as my PC, although my PC has 1280MB RAM, compared to my iBook’s 512MB. I really think that Apple, my fav computer company (my first computer was a MacIIsi) is making a bad choice by ditching us loyal PPC fans. This would not have happened if a G5 Powerbook went out… for my next computer, I will just get a used G5. PPC is simply better for my uses, and a lot of my software will only run reasonably well on a mid to high speed G4 PPC processor. Well, at least I know that linux is always going to be there… but I personally sort of hate linux. Rant over.

  • Conrad

    @IBM Inside:

    The minimum system requirements for Windows 7 are 1 GHz 32-bit or 64-bit processor,
    1 GB of system memory, 16 GB of available disk space, Support for DirectX 9 graphics with 128 MB memory (in order to enable Aero theme), and DVD-R/W Drive. BTW, what software are you running on the G4/G5?

    @Everybody:

    I’m a Mac OS 10 developer and I have been using my PowerMac G5 Quad 2.5 GHz with great success for the last ~2.5 years. However, it’s time for me to upgrade this machine so that I can be able to do iPhone SDK development. Also, I have noticed that many applications are being released as Intel only these days.

    I can understand the concerns as a consumer but a company like Apple must continue to move forward.

  • name

    Pssh. Don’t say that Linux is difficult to port to other architectures until you get a clue. Linux supports more architectures than all other operating systems combined.

    for example: x86, MIPS, x64, SPARC, DEC Alpha, Itanium, PowerPC, ARM, m68k, PA-RISC, s390, SuperH, M32R and more