The fate of Windows NT on the PowerPC and the future direction of the PowerPC hinge on the availability of native PowerPC NT applications and on a price/performance edge over Intel. Motorola and IBM, the manufacturers of the PowerPC chip, recognize the connection between NT application support and the PowerPC's direction. So these two companies and Groupe Bull have formed a strategic alliance to encourage independent software vendors (ISVs) to port their NT applications to the PowerPC and to develop a volume market.
Not all ISVs automatically support the non-Intel NT platforms, PowerPC, MIPS, and Alpha. Although porting applications is relatively easy, quality assurance testing adds precious weeks to a product's delivery cycle. In addition, ISVs have to consider the ongoing cost and effort of support. They need a compelling reason to spend extra time, money, and effort on a new platform, especially if few customers are asking for it.
Recently, I met with Karl Stoltze, vice president of application and systems solutions at Motorola Computer Group. His task is to attract ISVs to port their NT applications to the PowerPC. He has to build a solid business case for the top ISVs in each software category.
Stoltze says he's ready to take that challenge head on. He plans to get the top 30 software applications, including the top five database management system (DBMS) packages, ported by the end of 1996. "Our goal is to achieve parity with Intel with the release of NT 4.0 on all BackOffice products, VB4, VC++, and Internet tools," he said.
To help convince the top ISVs to port, Motorola is offering them:
* Motorola PowerPC-based machines for porting applications
* a solid business case for porting, including the potential for getting Motorola's business
* an enhanced opportunity to reach a built-in base of 140,000 Motorola employees as potential customers
* an onsite Motorola team to help with the porting
* a tool kit and porting guidelines kit
* a tuning and performance team
* a commitment to leverage Motorola's extensive network of worldwide channel partners
* a commitment to comarketing activities, with strong branding of the PowerPC name
* access to a porting center (that Groupe Bull is cosponsoring) in Silicon Valley
The PowerPC supports several operating systems, including NT, AIX, Mac OS, Sun Solaris, Linux, and Amiga (later this year). Also, the PowerPC supports several realtime operating systems for the embedded environment (e.g., laser printers).
According to the Microprocessor Report, approximately 90% of PowerPCs are shipping with the Mac OS. The two PowerPC manufacturers, IBM and Motorola, support NT and consider it the key to moving the PowerPC beyond the Mac. Currently, Motorola ships 80% of its PowerPC-based computers with AIX and 20% with NT. By 1997, the estimate is that 70% of these computers will ship with NT, and the other 30% will have AIX or Solaris. In addition, the PowerPC-based systems you buy in 1997 will be able to run these operating systems interchangeably. IBM ships most PowerPC-based computers today with AIX but plans a significant increase in systems shipping with NT. Last February, IBM told its channel partners to expect the same compensation when selling PowerPC-based RS/6000s with NT as with AIX.
According to IBM's Troy Tellman, IBM, Motorola, and Groupe Bull are working together to attract ISVs to the platform. "We have weekly status calls to talk about our progress and to promote a unified voice to the ISV community," Tellman said. During this meeting, the three companies decide which of them will work with each ISV. For example, Motorola is responsible for getting the Microsoft BackOffice products ported, IBM is to get Microsoft Office ported, and Groupe Bull is going after the European ISVs by leveraging its existing relationships in that market. IBM and Motorola both have onsite porting teams at Microsoft headquarters to make sure the PowerPC is on par with Intel for NT and key Microsoft products. "Access and PowerPoint contain a lot of Intel assembly code, which makes porting Office to the PowerPC very challenging," Tellman said.
Like Motorola, IBM plans to leverage its existing customers, channel partners, and porting centers. "We have real customers who are sold on the RS/6000 today. Whether the RS/6000 customer base is porting to NT or wants a mixed AIX/NT platform, these customers provide a compelling business reason for ISVs to port their NT applications to PowerPC," Tellman explained. In addition, IBM is offering RS/6000s at a 50% discount for qualified ISVs who want to port their NT solutions to the PowerPC.
I've asked hundreds of ISVs which chips they plan to support. The priority order is Intel, Alpha, PowerPC, and MIPS. Already, in its short life, the PowerPC has overtaken MIPS for third place. Digital Equipment is introducing FX!32, which lets NT/Alpha-based systems run 32-bit software written for NT/Intel. So until Microsoft adds this feature to NT (in the first quarter of 1997), the PowerPC will remain a distant third behind Alpha-based systems.
The PowerPC team has a solid game plan. But to succeed as the platform of choice for NT users, Motorola, IBM, and Groupe Bull will have to put the incredible resources of their companies behind the plan. To create the volume market necessary for the current strategy, PowerPC-based systems must be priced the same as Intel-based machines and offer a performance advantage. (For more information, or to find out which software has been ported to the PowerPC platform, contact Motorola Computer Group at http://www.mot.com/gss/mcg/isv.)