“Goodbye, PowerPC!”

Thoughts July 2007

Jyrki Wahlstedt 

This text is written on a MacBook Pro, Apple's laptop after the change from PowerPC processors to Intel processors. That I'm having this new nice machine is not obvious, because about two years ago I had bought a PowerBook that should be a viable computer even now.
Two things I want to tell are, how I got this laptop and what I think about changes in information technology.
1) Getting my current laptop started from misery. The trouble with the previous unit began almost immediately after I had started using it. A memory-slot problem, second memory-slot problem (leading to MLB changes) and a failing hard drive in a few months' time made me desperate. Also all the time there were mysterious system panics due to some directory errors.
Then about last New Year the unit started to going to sleep by itself after having been used just a few seconds. The cause was found quite soon, the PMU (Power Management Unit) decided it had received overheating signals from somewhere and put the unit to sleep. The source of these signals is still mystery to me. However, I called to Apple Customer Care, as I remembered having talked to them  last year about changing the whole unit. The first person I talked to didn't want to decide the issue, but the next day I received a call and was promised a new unit. The new unit, this current laptop, arrived in less than two weeks. With this new one I've had no trouble so far, so I am quite happy with this and with Apple's Customer Care also. An earlier laptop, a TiBook from 2001, is still in good shape, so I'm happy.
2) The changes, then, are inevitable. In the case of processors, that is certainly true also. The speeds are up, the processors demand less power (perhaps?) and use less space. With Apple this is not the first time the company has changed processors. The original Macintosh used Motorola's 68k processor. In 90's, as Motorola could not get new processors ready (88k?), Apple chose to deploy PowerPC processors, based on IBM's POWER architecture and co-manufactured by IBM and Motorola, in their computers. At late 90's, as Apple bought NeXT, Intel started to loom in the background, as NeXT had their software running in multiple environments, incl. Intel-based workstations.
All changes, though changes must happen, are not good. I do not mean that it is bad for Apple to use Intel processors. I am sure, too, that in case there are any promising other processor architectures, Apple would be in the best position to utilize them, because OS X is basically hardware agnostic. I do think, however, that in general this change is not good, because it kills one species in the PC world, and I don't expect it coming back. The situation is now very different compared to earlier years, when almost all computer manufacturers built their own processors. At the moment in the personal computer world there is only one prevalent architecture, the Intel architecture. This is the bad thing. There should be more choices, diversity should be preserved and valued. Of course Microsoft is much to blame, as the company never built but a lame Windows for any other processor architecture besides Intel's.
I think all decisions leading to a more monoculture world are problematic. These decisions should be reviewed very closely, especially if the decisions are made by the public servants. These decisions are easily made due to financial reasons, be they real or imaginary, but mostly shortsighted and shallow.

As a comment to Apple's change this comes very late, but the laptop change inspired me, and I think that the larger issue of change management is of utmost importance!

With these words I bid thee farewell, PowerPC!

PS The references are based on my memory, on behalf of which I am sorry, if there are any mistakes.

© Jyrki Wahlstedt 2007