Will Snow Leopard Support Some PowerPC Macs?

Apple announced the next version of Mac OS X, code named “Snow Leopard”, about six months ago. Information regarding it has been vague – even the official 10.6 Snow Leopard site doesn’t really tell you much. At the LISA ’08 convention, it was announced that Snow Leopard would be available in the first quarter of 2009, which was a bit of a shock.

Mac OS X Release Schedule Slide from Apple
Apple showed this slide at LISA ’08.

One of the biggest questions is whether or not Mac OS X 10.6 will only be available for Intel Macs and cut out PowerPC Macs. The early developer version only works on Intel machines, and I think this is where the question stemmed from.

When Apple brought out OS X 10.5 “Leopard”, it annoyed a lot of Mac users with its high hardware requirements, cutting out a lot of Mac users with older machines. I recently picked up a 15″ Titanium PowerBook G4/867 MHz; it meets the minimum specification for running 10.5.

This got me wondering about Snow Leopard once again.

Apple has already stated that 10.6 is not a major upgrade, hence the similar name. It is more of an upgrade than a whole new OS with new features. With this in mind, will Apple raise the minimum hardware requirements again?

Cutting Off Too Many Macs

If Apple does release Snow Leopard as an Intel-only operating system, all those high-end G4 and G5 users will be very annoyed. After all, the last Power Mac G5 models (the 2.0 GHz and 2.3 GHz dual-core and 2.5 GHz quad-core) were only discontinued in August 2006, so some of these high-end Macs have been in use for less than two-and-a-half years. Cutting off a Mac that is less than three years old will cause an uproar in the Mac community. (The first G5 Macs were introduced in June 2003, so all G5 Macs will be less than six years old when Snow Leopard is released.)

Thinking about that, it makes sense that Apple might cut out the G4 platform – but if Apple is building 10.6 as a Universal Binary to accommodate the G5, it might as well keep G4 users happy and include them as well. After all, Apple was still selling G4 iBooks and PowerBooks in early 2006.

Increasing Hardware Requirements

When Mac OS X 10.0 was released in March 2001, the minimum specs were a G3 with 128 MB of RAM; this remained the same for versions 10.1 and 10.2. When OS X 10.3 was released, the specs were the same, but built-in USB was also required. It was only when OS X 10.4 was released that the RAM requirement was upped to 256 MB, and built-in FireWire was also “required”. However, this was not actually a requirement to ensure that 10.4 ran okay – the specific machines that didn’t meet these requirements where blocked in the installer file.

I modified the installer to support these “bad machines”, and now it installs on any G3 (except the original “Kanga” PowerBook G3, which no version of OS X supports).

The minimum requirements for Mac OS X had been very low for a long time. When Apple released 10.4 in April 2005, we had already entered the G5 era, yet it was officially supported on machines as old as the 1999 “Blue & White” Power Mac G3.

This is the reason the Mac world was stunned by the high requirements of OS X 10.5; it had gotten used to the bar not being raised or raised very little, and in one fell swoop Apple rendered machines from 1999 to 2002 as “obsolete” or “vintage” (according to MacTracker).

Will Apple keep raising the bar, cutting out huge chunks of Macs – and annoying these Mac users – or will it follow the trend of earlier versions of Mac OS X and keep the minimum requirements of 10.6 the same as 10.5?

Now that my latest PowerBook officially supports 10.5 – rather than having to use LeopardAssist or the Open Firmware hack to get it on my hardware – I am hoping Snow Leopard will keep the same requirements.

After all, Apple tells us that it isn’t so much a new operating system, just an upgrade with lots of fixes rather than new features.


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