IBM targets 3rd-party board makers with MacOS licences

IBM has announced that is licensing the Macintosh operating system from Apple and that its microelectronics division will sublicense the MacOS to vendors purchasing PowerPC chips. However, it has no plans to make Mac clones itself, according to company officials.

Motorola Computer, the third partner in the PowerPC alliance with Apple and IBM, announced in February that it was licensing the MacOS and would make complete Mac clone systems and motherboards. IBM, however, is focusing on helping others to make Mac-based systems in order to help expand the PowerPC market.

"IBM is not committed to ship any MacOS [machine] at this point in time," says Michael Attardo, general manager at IBM's Austin, Texas-based microelectronics division, which makes PowerPC chips. "Although we do not preclude" doing so in the future, he says.

"The main effort we're focused on right now is making sure the industry-standard infrastructure is open ... so broad-based OEMs will adopt the MacOS," says Jesse Parker, director of segment marketing for IBM's microelectronics division.

IBM wants to help Taiwanese companies make Mac-based motherboards cheaply, analysts say. And although they are generally applauding IBM's move, particularly its offer of technical support for hardware developers, analysts agree that IBM needs to convince its PC division to build Mac clones itself in order to grow the market and entice other OEMs to the platform.

"If they can't convince their own company to do it, how can they convince anyone else?" says Pieter Hartsook, publisher of The Hartsook Letter, a Macintosh newsletter based in Alameda, California. "Selling Mac clones could affect its relationship with Microsoft and Intel, and I think that's the bigger issue."

Rob Enderle, an analyst at Giga Information Group in Santa Clara, California, is pessimistic, despite the fact that US-based Datatech (DTK) Enterprises and Tatung of Taipei, Taiwan, have immediately announced that they will sublicense the MacOS from IBM.

"If you were a Taiwanese company would you want to sell into a declining base?" he says. "IBM backed away from the PowerPC platform as a unit." Adding another platform would cut into profit for the company which is suffering from declining marketshare itself, Enderle says.

IBM's PC company "has its hands full just trying to make Wintel work, [as] a profitable growing business," says Eric Lewis in International Data's Mountain View, California, office. "Certainly PowerPC [development] and challenging Microsoft have fallen somewhat on IBM's corporate strategy list."

In its MacOS licensing, IBM is targeting markets in the US, Japan, other parts of Asia and Europe, executives say. Apple and IBM also are discussing a partnership related to notebooks and subnotebooks, according to Parker and George Scalise, executive vice-president and chief administrative officer at Apple.

Meanwhile, Apple hopes to return to profitability within 12 months, Scalise says. The company posted a US$740 million loss in the first quarter.

"This is not the saviour of the Mac market by any means," says Scott Miller of Dataquest in San Jose, California. "But it's an important step. They want to make it as easy to build a Mac motherboard as it is to build an Intel motherboard. It starts to enable some real innovation, new price points and new designs. These are things Apple couldn't afford to do on its own."

Under the licensing agreement, IBM can license System 7.5 and the upcoming Copland upgrade to the MacOS for PowerMac designs and for systems based on the Common Hardware Reference Platforms (CHRP), which will run MacOS, OS/2, Windows NT and Solaris. The agreement also gives IBM access to the 16 local language versions of the MacOS that Apple has so far approved for licensing: US English, UK English, Italian, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, Dutch, traditional Chinese, simplified Chinese and Japanese.

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