December 9, 1996 10 AM ET

IBM wavers on PowerPC backing for NT
By Lisa DiCarlo

  IBM's once rock-solid commitment to build PowerPC Platform systems that run Mac OS and Windows NT is on shaky ground.

Although IBM's Microelectronics Division in June showed a "proof of technology" demonstration of systems running both Mac OS and NT, the company's client hardware divisions have yet to commit to building such systems. At the same time, IBM is reconsidering whether to continue selling PowerPC-based RS/6000 systems running NT.

With PowerPC Platform licensing failing to generate much OEM interest--or needed revenue--IBM Microelectronics will attempt to broaden the processor's focus by enabling it to run Java applications faster.

The division will articulate a PowerPC strategy for Java-based NCs (network computers) next month, said Jesse Parker, director of marketing for the Microelectronics group, in Waltham, Mass.

Although IBM's Network Station runs on a PowerPC 403 processor, the Microelectronics group is working with the Java Virtual Machine and real-time operating system technology to improve performance of Java applications running on forthcoming PowerPC-based NCs.

The Microelectronics Division, which secured a Mac OS license earlier this year, is charged with selling the PowerPC reference design to OEMs--including IBM's own system divisions, such as the Personal Computer Co.

But Microelectronics officials have a hard time answering questions about IBM's failure to incorporate the PowerPC Platform--the dual-operating-system reference design unveiled more than a year ago by IBM, Apple Computer Inc. and Motorola Inc.--into its RS/6000 or desktop PC product lines.

"I have the same questions," Parker conceded. "I understand the [lack of commitment] perception, and I don't know what to say."

Parker said each IBM division makes its platform decisions independently, unless IBM designates the adoption of a particular technology as a "corporate objective," as it did with OS/2. When asked whether IBM considers the proliferation of the PowerPC Platform a corporate objective, Parker said, "I don't know how to answer, except to say it's a complex issue."

When IBM, Apple and Motorola introduced the PowerPC Platform at Comdex/Fall in 1995, officials of IBM's now-defunct Power Personal Systems Division announced plans to build systems around the specification. Since the division was dissolved this year, no other client group has picked up development of the dual-operating-system machines.

As sales of AIX-based PowerPC workstations and servers flourish, IBM's RS/6000 group plans to discontinue sales of NT-based PowerPC workstations, several sources said. AIX systems account for more than 90 percent of the division's PowerPC workstation sales, they said.

Separately, Microsoft Corp. acknowledged last week that it will re-evaluate its plans to port Version 5.0 of NT to the PowerPC if the hardware market does not reach critical mass.

"The current plan is to provide NT 5 for the PowerPC," said Rich Tong, vice president of marketing for Microsoft's Desktop and Business Systems Division, in Redmond, Wash. "But if the major hardware companies all call us tomorrow and say they're changing direction, then we'll change our plans."

Additional reporting by Norvin Leach

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