Responding to a huge decrease in demand for PowerPC systems, Microsoft announced this morning that it will be discontinuing development of Windows NT for the unpopular chipset. Microsoft will continue to offer technical support to Windows NT 4.0 users.

The move is seen as the deathblow to the PowerPC, which offers significant improvements over the Intel x86 line. Unfortunately, the chipset never gained serious mass market sales, with only the Macintosh line using it in volume. Apple sold less than 4 million PowerPC Macintoshes in 1996, compared to 50+ million Intel-based systems. For all practical purposes, the PowerPC has been relegated to a Mac-only solution while high performance NT users have turned to Digital's Alpha. The Alpha architecture is even more impressive than the PowerPC and is far more scalable.

This move puts Apple Computer in another awkward position: the company had been planning on using Windows NT in its Web servers. To counter the bad news about Microsoft dropping PowerPC support, Apple CEO Gil Amelio told shareholders this week that Apple would likely embrace the Intel x86 architecture running the NT operating system to jumpstart sales. This sort of thing makes one wonder about where "Rhapsody" fits into Apple's strategy (see the next story): even Bill Gates was quoted this week as saying he was "confused" about Apple's OS strategy.

Microsoft reminded the press that it was working with Motorola on a PowerPC-based Windows CE handheld machine, suggesting that the PowerPC will find a niche in the non-PC world. Motorola and IBM are also looking into creating PowerPC-based Network Computers