IBM will finally announce its deal to license the MacOS from Apple next week, in hopes of boosting the PowerPC chip's market share by making low-cost Macintosh clones possible.
Officials at IBM's microelectronics division say sales of an OS/PowerPC bundle will focus on the MacOS but will also include a PowerPC bundle that includes Windows NT.
"While the MacOS will be the predominant operating system, we will be able to offer customers a licence for Windows NT," says Jesse Parker, director of segment marketing for the division. "We want to give them all the pieces they need for creating individual solutions."
Apple also has rights to the NT OS, and, although Apple would not comment on its plans, sources say the company is evaluating a server bundle centred around Windows NT.
"NT is becoming a phenomenon," says one Apple executive, regarding the explosive growth of the OS. "We're almost forced to support it."
In addition to considering using NT for server products, Apple is planning to port some of its cross-platform technology, such as QuickTime, to NT.
However, some observers question whether there's any point in offering NT with the PowerPC chip from Apple or IBM.
"There is some appeal in the corporate market to running multiple operating systems on the same piece of hardware," says Pieter Hartsook, editor of the Hartsook Letter, a Web-based newsletter. "But if users are going to buy an NT platform, they will go with the dominant one, which is Intel's, or if they want to be exotic, Digital's Alpha."
Hartsook and other observers believe the microelectronics division's first order of business is to convince its own PC company to start selling Macintosh clones, a prospect that presently appears dim for the short term.
The deal gives the IBM division an unrestricted worldwide licence to offer systems and board makers a licence for the MacOS along with a PowerPC chip on a board or with just the chip.
"We negotiated the rights to sublicense at the microprocessor level because we can better accelerate the market," IBM's Parker says. "We want the Taiwanese to be able to build motherboards because they can do that better than we can."
The agreement gives IBM the right to license System 7.5 and the upcoming Copland OS for PowerPC reference platform designs. IBM also has the right to sell System 7.5 for existing Power Mac designs.
The Power Mac clones could roll out within three to four months, Parker says, with the first commercially available systems using the PowerPC reference platform design ready for August's Macworld show in Boston and in stores by October.