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2009 – Low End Mac colleague Simon Royal says he didn’t believe the rumors last year that Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard would be Intel only. I have to say that at the early point when it was reported that alpha builds of Snow Leopard were being seeded to developers as Intel-only software, the proverbial writing was on the wall, and I figured it was the longest of long shots that there would be a PowerPC version of OS 10.6.
E Mac OS X Snow Leopard (version 10.6) is the seventh major release of Mac OS X (now named macOS), Apple 's desktop and server operating system for Macintosh computers. Snow Leopard was publicly unveiled on June 8, 2009 at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference. Well, all the rumours have been put to bed: Apple have announced the next version of Mac OS X, and it isn’t looking good for PowerPC users. Scheduled for release in September, Apple are offering OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard at a knock down price of only $29 for existing OS X 10.5 Leopard users. At this point, I. It started out on PowerPC processors but later transitioned onto Intel processors with Mac OS X Leopard (10.5) the last to natively support the PowerPC architecture and Snow Leopard (10.6) the last to support PowerPC applications on Intel-based Macs. Snow Leopard is the gateway to update your Mac to a newer operating system via Apple Purchases. Having seen the negative reviews, I thought I'd give it a go and see what happens. Nothing to lose. Well, imagine my surprise when I copied the iso to a USB stick, stuck it into my 2008 MacBook Pro and it worked beautifully.
Now that it’s been confirmed, I don’t find it unsatisfactory – in fact, I was advocating it even before those first Intel-only developer builds materialized. In an opinion piece 14 months ago, I affirmed that dropping PPC/Carbon support in OS X 10.6 would help streamline the system and free up developer resources to make the Mac OS run better on contemporary Intel-based hardware, which even then pretty well anyone who cared about being at the cutting edge was already running anyway.
Not Bleeding Edge
Now I’m not a surf-the-bleeding-edge kinda guy. I’m not an early adopter by nature and temperament, and I am temperamentally inclined to hang onto older, comfortably familiar, and proven technologies until I’m convinced that the next wave, so to speak, really is an advance or improvement.
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For example, my car and truck were built in 1990 and 1994 respectively. I still use a land line telephone (iPhones don’t work in this neck of the woods anyway, with the fringe of the nearest GSM service range about 35 miles away), have and still use a VCR for TV time-shifting, and just recently got my first (non-computer) DVD player. My 35mm camera, which is 36 years old, still gets some use (less and less all the time), and I have a small-by-today’s-standards 20″ television with a CRT connected to a broadcast reception antenna (no cable here either).
I finally got my first Intel Mac last winter – more than three years after the first MacBook Pros were released – and I still use a 9-year-old Pismo PowerBook several hours every day.
However, indications being perhaps to the contrary, I’m not a hidebound reactionary Luddite. I’ve got nothing against technological advance; indeed, I embrace it in many instances, when it (in my estimation) represents actual improvement over what it’s displacing and is economically sound and justifiable. I have fallen in love with my Unibody MacBook despite my frustration about it’s lack of FireWire support.
But I’m no fan on change for change’s sake and am inclined to like things I own better the longer I keep them. My car and truck, for instance, do everything I need them to do, are reasonably reliable, and long since paid for, so there’s no compelling reason to trade up, objectively speaking. I didn’t switch to Mac OS X as my production OS until late 2003 with OS X 10.3 Panther – when I deemed its feature and efficiency advantages as finally outweighing OS 9’s superior speed and responsiveness.
At Peace with Older Macs, OS
I’ve serenely made my peace with OS X 10.4 Tiger being the last officially supported Mac OS version for my beloved Pismos, and I’m disinterested in doing a hacked install of OS X 10.5 Leopard. My 1.33 GHz 17″ PowerBook labors strenuously enough supporting Leopard’s graphics resource demands, and I can imagine how sluggish the Pismo would be with its puny RAGE 128 Mobility GPU and 8 MB of video RAM – even with its 550 MHz G4 processor upgrade – trying to cope with Leopard.
Of course, one tantalizing aspect of Snow Leopard is its slimmed-down, reportedly more efficient and less resource-hungry coding, which would probably make it a better performer on PowerPC hardware than Leopard is, but a lot of that slimming has been thanks to elimination of PPC code. You can’t have it both ways.
The ‘Intel Only’ Future
Simon notes that the last Power Mac G5 clocked in at 2.5 GHz and is still a very respectable machine – and certainly full of life – but Leopard isn’t exactly chopped liver and should be well-supported with software for a considerable stretch yet.
Simon wonders: “It was inevitable, but how long before owning a PowerPC – even a fast one – will mean not running the latest OS or latest version of software?”
Well, as noted with Adobe CS, not that long in some instances. Browsers have proved to be the sticky issue for OS 9 holdouts. No one has developed a really up-to-date browser for the Classic Mac OS for a long time, although there are still a few (iCab and Classilla among them) that one can still get by with for the most part.
Apple Lost Interest in PowerPC
Apple clearly long since lost interest in PowerPC. Leopard works sort of okay on my 1.33 GHz G4, but it’s an indifferent performer in many respects. I’m inclined to suspect that Apple pretty much took a “that’s good enough” approach as regards refining and polishing Leopard performance on PowerPC machines. Tiger is a much smoother performer with fewer angularities.
I love the Spaces feature and Time Machine and a host of other improvements like the updated spellchecker and Spotlight in Leopard, but compared with Tiger, it is still a buggy beast, and email performance, at least over dial-up, with which I am still stuck, remains in the toilet – slow and cranky – compared with smooth and slick throughput in OS X 10.4 Tiger on the same equipment and connection. (I have both Leopard and Tiger installed on separate partitions on the big PowerBook.)
The most recent PowerPC Mac in production was the dual-core Power Mac G5, discontinued in August 2006, and the last PowerPC laptop was the 12″ PowerBook, superseded by the MacBook in May 2006. My projected service life for a primary workhorse Mac is three years, so I think the PowerPC cutoff with Snow Leopard is very reasonable.
Consequently, I’m not only satisfied (I’m delighted) that the next OS X version is focused on polishing the speed and reliability of what’s already there in Leopard rather than piling on a whole slew of new stuff, and should make my MacBook run even better. For those who ponied up for the last G5 Power Macs, G4 PowerBooks, and eMacs back in early-to-mid 2006, it was certainly no secret at the time that PowerPC Macs were lame ducks, so you really have no complaint.
Leopard Will Continue to Work
Leopard will continue to work on your machines and will be supported by Apple for the foreseeable future. I expect periodic security updates will be released at least until 2011 – and perhaps longer than that. Virtually everyone who is serious about staying current in the computer world, or at least reasonably so, should have an Intel Mac by then.
For those who want to keep using an actively developed OS on their PowerPC Macs, there’s always desktop Linux, which keeps getting better and better.
As Simon Royal ruefully observes, PowerPC users will slowly become a smaller and smaller minority, and more and more software will become Intel-only – eventually Snow Leopard (and its successors) only.
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April 2016 update: In late 2009, one-third of Mac users visiting Low End Mac were on PowerPC hardware. At this point, PowerPC users visiting Low End Mac are about 9% of all Mac users coming to the site.
Meanwhile, I intend on using the Pismo I’m typing these words on for several years at least, provided it holds up – and it’s showing no signs of flagging. I love my Unibody MacBook, but the old Pismo still has its charms, even running OS X 10.4.11 Tiger.
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In late 2008, I wrote an article about the future of PowerPC Macs, The Future of PowerPC Macs and Software as Snow Leopard Approaches. Well, all the rumours have been put to bed: Apple have announced the next version of Mac OS X, and it isn’t looking good for PowerPC users.
Scheduled for release in September, Apple are offering OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard at a knock down price of only $29 for existing OS X 10.5 Leopard users. At this point, I was excited. I was sure all the rumours of Snow Leopard being Intel-only were rubbish.
Intel Only for Snow Leopard
However, read the small print. It is only for Intel users after all.
Since the release of Intel Macs, it has been a waiting game to see how long before PowerPC Macs were classed as extinct. Even before the mention of Snow Leopard, more and more software was being released as Intel-only.
When a new OS comes out, you expect new versions of software to be for that OS only – that is the forced progression of computing – but when the same OS runs on two architectures, it makes it a little more difficult.
The last G5 Power Mac clocked in at 2.5 GHz with 4 cores – still a very respectable machine, and certainly full of life – but it won’t be able to run Snow Leopard, Adobe Creative Suite 5, or other Intel-only software, yet a 1.5 GHz Core Solo Mac mini will.
With recent announcements, it just seems another nail in the PowerPC coffin. Okay, it was inevitable, but how long before owning a PowerPC – even a fast one – will mean not running the latest OS or latest version of software?
15 Years of PowerPC Mac OS Support
The PowerPC platform was introduced in 1992, although the first PowerPC Mac didn’t ship until March 1994. The last PowerPC Mac in production was the above-mentioned Power Mac G5, sold until August 2006. This makes some of the last PowerPC Macs just over three years old, making them “old hat” in a very short time.
September will see the launch of Snow Leopard. Every new Mac sold will come with Snow Leopard, and any existing Intel user with a spare few quid will be upgrading. By Christmas, the Mac world will be awash with Snow Leopard and probably will have have seen the first update (version 10.6.1).
PowerPC users will slowly become a smaller and smaller minority. More and more software will be come Intel-only, as well as Snow Leopard only, leaving Intel Leopard users out in the cold too – but at least they have a cheap upgrade option.
By October 2010, Snow Leopard will be well into it stride, rumours of Mac OS X 10.7 will be flooding the Mac community, Apple will have a new bunch of peripherals and fancy gadgets that only work on Snow Leopard – and the PowerPC platform, along with Leopard, will just about be forgotten.
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Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do about it. It’s part of computer evolution. While the hardware in your machine may still be good enough to do what you need, the latest software and latest trends require a newer OS. A newer OS won’t run on your PowerPC hardware (even though most of the time it would be physically possible); therefore you have to buy a new (or newer) computer to keep up with the latest standards.
And this evolution just keeps going.
I’m a PowerPC user. My 867 MHz Titanium PowerBook G4 meets the minimum requirements for Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, but as soon as Snow Leopard is released, my PowerBook will start the downward slope of being out-of-date.
Of course it will still do everything I need it to do at present, but it is a downward slope.
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