Motorola and IBM finally went their separate ways on the PowerPC architecture yesterday, announcing that control of their 'Somerset' design centre in Austin, Texas, is to be transferred to Motorola.
The two companies claim they will "continue to cooperate closely on the PowerPC architecture", but it is clear from the Somerset deal that they will be going in different directions. About 100 IBMers who were involved in what was a 50:50 joint venture are being offered jobs by Motorola, indicating that the projects they worked on will not be continued at IBM.
The partners have been moving apart for a couple of years, as the PowerPC consortium - which also included Apple - has become less focused on setting a de facto standard to rival Sun Sparc and more interested in individual members' often contrasting product strategies. Both companies will now compete to supply Apple with its PowerPC CPUs.
IBM claims a lead in copper based semiconductor production, which will produce very fast, low cost chips, although Motorola is chasing hard. Motorola is introducing instructions similar to Intel's MMX to its flavours of the PowerPC platform to address consumer and graphical applications, but IBM has steered clear of that route.
While there is still compatibility and equivalence between the two companies' products, it seems likely they will diverge, and compete more aggressively, in the future.
The Somerset announcement also suggests this divergence will accelerate. "The companies also intend to leverage their individual design activities to compete for desktop microprocessor opportunities at Apple Computer," says the statement.
But the former partners still have plans to cooperate, particularly in the embedded market. This will continue under the direction of a joint Architectural Review Board, whose role will be to ensure continuing compatibility between embedded products. But that is an administrative matter rather than an architectural one, implying divergence that will be held in check, rather than two companies marching in step.
"Motorola is committed to the PowerPC architecture as an important high performance element in our Digital DNA strategy. The total ownership of the design centre will allow us to expand our commitment to new designs for Apple and our embedded market customers," said Hector Ruiz, president of the Motorola semiconductor products sector.
"The pervasiveness of PowerPC microprocessors is exemplified by the 1,000 or more design-ins to networking, computer, telecomms, broadband, wireless infrastructure, automotive, consumer and industrial applications," he continued.
IBM will also be pushing embedded products, and pitching for Apple business, but it stressed the continuing importance of PowerPC in its mainstream computer lines, pointing out that two of its four server lines, RS/6000 and AS/400, use the chip.
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