Is PowerPC Software an Endangered Species?

November 1st, 2006

It seems whenever I’m about to forget about the various conspiracy theories in this tiny corner of the world, and get on with my life, they seem to appear all over again.

Here’s an example of what I mean: Way back when Steve Jobs first confirmed rumors of the switch to Intel processors in June of 2005, he demonstrated what he claimed was the relatively simple process of building Universal binary versions of applications with Apple’s Xcode, Apple’s developer environment.

Well, of course, it was only simple if those developers already used Xcode, and even then some encountered complications. But Adobe and Microsoft, for example, had huge code bases built with other tools, so it took long months just to bring their products over. And that’s before the work on creating new versions could actually begin. While I suppose that won’t stop people from saying they could have done a lot more in less time, I won’t argue with release schedules. We will all survive, even if MacIntel users must endure sub-par performance from the present versions of Microsoft Office and Photoshop.

For a time, some folks suggested that there might be fewer Mac games because of the ability to run Windows with the full performance of a regular PC under Apple’s Boot Camp. Parallels is also promising 3D graphics support for its next major upgrade to Parallels Desktop. Is that just another incentive to discontinue Mac versions?

But if a company dares tell you that you have to run Windows to use its products, and if you considered that an insult, I wouldn’t blame you. But there really hasn’t been any evidence of that happening just yet. Mac users want Mac products. Installing Windows is mostly a crutch to let you dip into that environment on occasion to run legacy software that isn’t likely to move to Apple’s platform.

When Aspyr Media appeared on my radio show, The Tech Night Owl LIVE, a few weeks ago, they said they were still delivering Universal versions of their most popular recent products. There was no evidence that Mac development had suffered from that source. Besides, with Mac sales on the upswing, that would only provide more incentive for a company to stick around and build native software.

With the Intel transition complete, though, you have to wonder just how long companies will want to deliver products that run on the PowerPC. For sophisticated software, these developers still have to optimize their products for both processor families, and there’s extra quality control testing too. Over time, PowerPC sales will decline, and eventually they’ll reach a point where the extra time and expense isn’t worth the bother.

As a practical matter, I don’t see that happening any time soon. Millions of PowerPC Macs remain in service and it’ll probably be a few years before they should be set aside as legacies of the past.

But there are some chinks in the armor.

Take that new Adobe audio editing application, Soundbooth, which is now available as a public beta. If you happened to download a copy, you’ll find that the Mac version only works on a MacIntel. So what’s going on here?

Well, Adobe claims that the software would have only appeared in Windows form had Apple not gone to Intel. It just made the job of building a Mac version easier, but not easy enough, it seems, to provide Universal support.

This isn’t the only Intel-only application on the Mac. The latest versions of Audacity, an open source audio application, are available as separate downloads for PowerPC and Intel-based Macs. Here, of course, it’s just a minor inconvenience since the downloads are relatively small.

However, those of you who still have PowerPC Macs in regular use — and I’m still a member of that large group — might wonder if things will only get worse a lot faster than you might have expected. Does it really mean that you’ll have to retire your computer in the near future?

I really don’t think so. I’m more inclined to think that sales and not conspiracies will drive such decisions. There will be a gradual erosion, of course, but nothing to be concerned about right now.
On the the positive side of the ledger, Apple has already promised that the next Mac OS upgrade, Leopard, will come in Universal form, so you can use a single installer for any supported Mac.

Some day, of course, the PowerPC will join the original 680×0 Macs in the dustbin of history. But there’s no immediate danger of that happening. For now, at least, there are a lot more important things to worry about.

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4 Responses to “Is PowerPC Software an Endangered Species?”

  1. It’s amazing what people will formulate conspiracy theories about. Then again, the Flat Earth society is still going strong.

  2. Gslusher says:

    “Over time, PowerPC sales will decline …”

    Aren’t the sales of new PowerPC Macs rapidly approaching zero, as none are being manufactured? Some resellers are selling out their inventory, of course.

  3. brent lee says:

    “Is PowerPC Software an Endangered Species?”


  4. KT says:

    I don’t agree. PPC will diminish faster than you think and *especially* for new applications. For developers just entering the Mac market or Windows developers considering a Mac port, supporting PPC is debatable from an ROI perspective. You have to acquire old, unsupported hardware, and it essentially doubles your Q&A. But that’s not the worst problem. The biggest buyers of new software are generally new computer owners, so despite a large PPC base this affects a company’s decision to support it. I think this was the case with Adobe.

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