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February 2005

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Whatever Happened to Warp for the PowerPC?

By George W. Archer © February 2005

Someone asked on if anyone had a copy of:

Official Guide to Using OS/2 Warp, PowerPC
by Karla Stagray, Linda Rogers
Publisher: Hungry Minds Inc (June 1, 1996)

I did not have this book, but the existence of the book reminded me of an attempt I made to acquire a copy of a version of OS/2 for the PowerPC. I called IBM in Austin, TX, around 1996, after IBM announced it would not go into production with a PPC version of Warp3 or 4. I lusted after this combination to have multi-OS capability with a realtime virtual machine.

The tech staff rep told me that the OS/2 version for the PowerPC was specific to a line of IBM motherboards that would have been manufactured for 4 models (2 desktops and 2 laptops) of a PowerPC computer series:

Personal Computer Power Series 830 (PowerPC 604) $2,795
                        Series 850 (PowerPC 604) under $6,000

ThinkPad Power Series 820 (PowerPC 603e - less than $6000
               Series 850 - (PowerPC 603e) - annoucned for sale Jul 1995

The specifications for these PPC machines came from a book:

Exploring the IBM PCPower Series - The Instant Insider's Guide to IBM's Revolutionary New Personal Computers
by Jim Hoskins and David Bradley
Maximum Press, 1996
ISBN 0-9633214-5-5

Maximum Press 605 Silverthorn Rd, Gulf Breeze, FL 32561 904-934-0819

After chatting with IBM in Austin, TX, I gave up hope of ever having a RISC-based computer running Warp4. I still keep the book in my Warp library as a reminder and a collector's item.

Tucked into my copy of "Exploring the IBM PCPower Series" were news clippings I had saved tracking the development of the ill-fated OS/2 for the PPC and the 4 versions of PCs IBM hoped to sell. The saga dramatized IBM's inability to play Microsoft's game of using software (an OS), rather than hardware, to dominate the market. IBM in its usual hardware-centric way tried to use the PPC chip to launch a new OS (really a Warp3 re-write) to sell a new line of PPC-based PCs that ran several different applications originally written for different CPUs and OSes. It did not work.

"OS/2 Magazine" April 1994, pp. 33-37 also discussed some of the technical specs for the PPC chip and a proposed version of Warp to run initially on a PowerPC 601 chip (to be upgraded later to 603, 603e and 604 chips). "Byte" and "InfoWorld" also had announcements in late 1994 of these developments. IBM gave a demo at the 1994 Comdex show and announced the desktop version in Aug 1994 to sell for about $2500.

By Oct 1994, IBM began to have second thoughts faced with negative comments by industry pundits. It went downhill from there after IBM faced technical problems implementing "personalities" in the kernel to run Windows without emulation and a problem of recompiling 16-bit OS/2 programs for the 32 bit OS and PPC chip. The announced release date of summer 1995 came and went with only a rumor that a command line version as an alpha was being tested by a small group of tool developers but that no GUI interface was expected to be available until early 1996.

IBM even had a full page ad in the 17 Jul 1995 edition of "InfoWorld" showing the Personal Computer Power Series 800 Super Client ($2695) using the 604 chip but implying that Warp3 would run on it without explaining how. The ad failed to acknowledge that the proposed PPC version of Warp was not yet ready!

To deepen the doubt that IBM would actually deliver on its ad, by Jul 1995 users of the PowerPC on other platforms said that the PPC was not that much faster than Pentium chips to warrant the premium prices for it.

A third beta release of Warp for PPC was delayed and did not appear by its delivery date of July 1995. A September 1995 release date slipped too. Microsoft was making announcements to get mindshare for NT 3.51 and undercutting credibility that IBM would deliver a Warp version. In November Microsoft said it would release NT 3.51 for the PowerPC with Motorola PPC RISC chips. At that point, it looked as if Microsoft would beat IBM to market. The IBM-Microsoft rift was also simmering in the background with the arrival of any OS supporting the PPC.

The bad news continued to drift in. According to InfoWorld interviews, IBM had not even contacted ISV's and asked them to work on PPC versions of existing OS/2 applications until Dec 1995, claiming 100 had signed on. Microsoft announced its version of NT for the PPC for a June 1996 release delaying it until after NT 3.51 for the Intel chip shipped. By then Microsoft had already issued 3 betas for the NT/PPC version. Macintosh's applications developement for the Motorola version of the PPC continued apace in parallel with these developments.

The technical and market obstacles were too great: the demise of the IBM-Microsoft alliance; Microsoft's close ties with Intel; and Intel's dominance in CPU marketing overwhelming IBM's weak hardware challenge that depended on a PPC that lacked OS/2 versions of apps and an OS without a fully developed GUI interface.

IBM has always been a hardware, not a software company. IBM's focus on the PPC chip and a new line of PC's that depended on a new version of Warp, had the emphasis reversed in favor of hardware. Their advertising and softeare development was out of sync with their hardware plans and NT 3.51's release undercut almost any reason to continue development by either company. Warp for the PPC was doomed.

By the first week of Feb 1996, IBM announced it would not build PPC desktops, nor would there be any release of a PPC version of OS/2. The lab versions of the PPC hardware were shunted off to IBM's RISC Systems RS/6000 group.

The potential PowerPC market yawned and moved on to the Motorola/Mac option for the PPC. In the next week of Feb 1996 the RS/6000 model F30 was announced running AIX on a PowerPC 604 selling for $13,995(!) with only NT 3.51 and Solaris versions offered, a concrete admission that IBM had capitulated to Microsoft and Sun [Microsystems] but hoped to sell more hardware. IBM did not mention a Warp OS version again. Selling expensive hardware was the name of the game for IBM.

At some point after the dust settled (I don't have press coverage in my files), Microsoft decided the NT version for the PPC competed with its Intel-based version and dropped it. Game, set and match.

I think IBM began to get it "right" when it championed Linux as a software challenge to Microsoft without trying to compete with either AMD or Intel by using a RISC chip on a PC. IBM's recent sales of its hard drive line to Hitachi and its PC division to a Chinese company are a logical conclusion to its disastrous flirtation with the PowerPC and PCs and related OSes.

But the game IBM abandoned with the PPC continues. IBM has gotten smarter and let Linux be the OS alternative to Microsoft's OSes for enterprise-level hardware support. Sadly, the dynamic duo of the PPC and a PPC Warp3 version were the casualities.

There is just a slim chance prototypes of the 4 PowerPC machines are out there somewhere running the beta versions of Warp for the PowerPC. If you ever see any of these beasts in the wild, I'd like to know where.

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