Planning Ahead

1998: When you’re responsible for dozens of computers on a network, you try to plan ahead while choosing the most cost-effective hardware to meet your needs. Since 1994, that has meant buying PowerPC Macs.

Why? Because the Powers-That-Were at Apple said that Copland wouldn’t run on any Mac without a PowerPC processor. We certainly didn’t want to buy computers that wouldn’t run the next great Mac OS, due out in 1995 . . . or maybe 1996.

Things changed. Apple adopted the PCI bus and CPU daughter cards in 1995. They discontinued the last non-PowerPC Macintosh in 1996.

Apple courted Be, then bought NeXT. Mac OS 7.6 came out in 1997 – with full support for any 68030-based Mac with 32-bit clean ROMs. Mac OS 8.0, also a 1997 release, ran on any Mac with a 68040 or PowerPC CPU. Not quite what we had been led to expect, but definitely a good thing.

Power Mac 7500Rhapsody was going to be the next Mac OS, a Unix variant based on the Mach microkernel. Efficient. Powerful. Robust. And it would run on any Power Mac with a PCI bus. (Or maybe, if they used the Mach 3.0 kernel, maybe then it could even run on NuBus Power Macs.)

No, it wouldn’t. It would only run on Macs with the PowerPC 604 or G3 processor.

Scratch that, it’s going to be a hybrid of NeXTstep, Copland, and the Mac OS. It will run on “all currently shipping Macs” as of several months ago.

Now we have Mac OS 8.5 just around the corner, the first PowerPC-only version of the Mac OS. Three years after it was promised, which people with 68030- and 68040-based Macs can’t complain about. (Okay, they can and will, but they’ve had their day in the sun, and their Macs still run great under older operating systems.)

But next year (we’re told), the old Mac OS will terminate with version 8.7,* a PowerPC-only OS with a lot of OS X (X = 10) capabilities, but not all of them.

Mac OS X and 8.7 should ship at the same time. But OS X will only support Apple-branded Macs designed around the G3 processor, or so we’re hearing. That means all our 6100s, 7200s, and 7600s at work won’t be able to run it.

We tried to prepare, to plan ahead, to buy in anticipation of Apple’s stated plans for the future. When they said PowerPC only after System 7.5.5, we bought only PowerPC Macs. When they said PCI only, we bought only PCI Power Macs. When the rumors were 604 and G3 only, that was what we bought.

When the next great OS ships in 1999, it will run on 2 of the nearly 80 Macs currently on our network. Two. Despite four years of buying what Apple said would be the right computers to run the next great Mac OS.

Although OS 8.1 is nice, 8.5 sounds great, and 8.7 (a.k.a. Sonata) should provide a lot of OS X capabilities, the fact remains that we were sold a bill of goods by Apple Computer.

Out of 52 Macs at work running on PowerPC, only the two Power Mac G3s will be able to run OS X.

Not the 8500s with G3 cards. Not the 7600s with 604s.

Just two Power Mac G3s out of all the models we’ve bought in the past 4 years.

According to Apple, they sold over 7,000,000 PowerPC-based Macs before introducing the G3 last year. They’ve sold 750,000 that use the G3. That’s a lot of users to leave behind.

To put it mildly, I’m not at all happy with this turn of events. I’ve tried my hardest to buy the right computers for what we now know will be Mac OS X, but Apple kept moving the target.

What Can Apple Do?

  1. The best thing Apple could do would be to admit that they made a mistake and promise full OS X support for all the PCI-based Power Macs, their PowerBook kin, and their PCI clone cousins from Power Computing, Motorola, Umax, Daystar, and others. This would mean 19 additional machines on my network could run OS X.
  2. Next best, support 604-based Power Macs and clones in addition to the G3 machines. That still gives me 20 computers that can run Mac OS X – and pay the upgrade fee for it.
  3. Third best, at least support PCI Power Macs with G3 upgrades. That eliminates all but 4 of the Macs on my network, but 7 more can be upgraded with G3 daughter cards.
  4. The least attractive option, both for Apple and the end user, would be for Apple to make and sell (or maybe license) new motherboards for the PCI Power Macs and clones that they left out in the cold. The current G3 motherboard may already fit inside the 7200-7600 case. One or two form factors should be able to cover the Motorola, Power Computing, and Umax systems, most of which were designed around existing form factors. It wouldn’t be an inexpensive solution, but it would beat buying whole new computers.

Apple has been wonderful in providing OS updates for as long as they have. Mac OS 7.6 runs on a 68030, 8.1 runs on a 68040, and 8.5 will run on a PowerPC 601. That’s a lot of backward compatibility – and something we’ve come to expect from Apple.

It’s part of the reason Apple estimates that 79% of all Macs ever sold are still in use.

Please do the same for those of us who bought Power Macs in anticipation of Copland and Rhapsody. Brand new unsold pre-G3 PCI Power Macs are still in the sales channel, yet Apple is promising to make them OS orphans next year.

Not a good move. Please reconsider. Please design Mac OS X to run on as many PCI Power Macs as possible.


Dan Knight, information systems manager
Baker Book House, Ada, Michigan

* There is some question as to whether Sonata will be called OS 8.6, 8.7, or something completely different. Since it will probably come after a bug fix to 8.5, which Apple will probably call 8.6, I’ll guess 8.7 and use it in this article.

Update: The “Sonata” version was known as Mac OS 9 when it finally shipped in October 1999, 15 months after this article was published. Mac OS X 10.0 didn’t arrive until March 2001, 32 months after this article was written!

Further Reading

  • Accelerate Your Mac had a petition asking Apple to support pre-G3 Power Macs under Mac OS X (no longer online)
  • Target Base for Max OS X Too Limited? (no longer online), Dennis Sellers, MacCentral
  • Mac OS X Support, Brian J. Matis, Big Mac on Campus
  • Get Into the Ring, Apple, Part 1 and Part 2, Neema Agha, thessaSource
  • Sonata [a.k.a. OS 8.6] Will Fill Cracks Left by OS X (no longer online), CNN
  • Mac OS 8.5 report, Mac OS Rumors
  • I Was Wrong, George Green, thessaSource
  • The Mac OS X Files, Brian Kelley, MacKiDo