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Apple WWDC delay prompts PPC 970 speculation

Rescheduled to meet IBM's chip delivery plan?

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Apple's decision to postpone its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) from mid-May to mid-June might at first seem nothing more than panic caused by too few pre-registrations.

Certainly the new, juicier carrot being dangled in front of developers - a "more complete" preview of Mac OS X 10.3, codenamed Panther - makes it appear that Apple is more concerned about bums on seats than anything else.

But there may be more to the change than meets the eye. It's important to note that WWDC is also moving venue, to the far swankier and media-friendly San Francisco Moscone centre. San Jose Convention Center is where the IT industry talks to members of their own tribe; the Moscone is where they go to reach a wider audience.

Then there's the 'carrot'. Developers would have undoubtedly been given a glimpse of Panther at a May WWDC and received a copy into the bargain. No one expects previews to be complete or of ship quality, so while the provision of a "more complete preview release" is nice, it's hardly a good reason to move location. Everyone will get a copy of Panther, says Apple.

Could Apple have something more exciting in mind? A very tempting answer is IBM's 64-bit PowerPC 970 chip. Certainly the rumour mill has it that IBM's Peter Sandon, the guy who unveiled the chip at last autumn's Microprocessor Forum, will be called on stage to demo the processor. Even if his presence - assuming he'll be there, of course - isn't connected to a specific hardware announcement, it would be tantamount to Apple admitting it will be using the new processor, something it has refused to discuss to date.

The rumours continue to the effect that Apple is brushing up 64-bit OS X development tools and a 64-bit version of the OS. In his Microprocessor Forum speech, Sandon admitted 32-bit PowerPC-based operating systems would need a few tweaks to run on the processor, which supports 32-bit PowerPC apps natively. Might 10.3 incorporate such modifications?

Other rumours claim Apple has completed the mobos for 970-based Macs and has been touring Taiwan looking for a manufacturing partner. It's also suggested that a prototype 970-based Mac might make it to WWDC.

Crucially, the 970 is scheduled to sample in Q2 2003 before going into volume production sometime during the second half of the year. The WWDC shift could have been made to accommodate IBM's internal delivery plan, and sample chips would allow Apple to demonstrate a machine.

Could be... could be... Alas there's little or no evidence to back any of this up. Sources are silent, and what information we have is circumstantial.

"Call that evidence? You couldn't hang a hat on that."

Indeed, it might simply be that Apple is delaying in order to offer a better glimpse of Panther, and the San Jose Convention Centre is all booked up - which it is: the Clusterworld Conference and Expo are scheduled to take place in the week Apple has moved WWDC to, which the Moscone has a that week free in its schedule.

Nevertheless the Moscone arguably gives Apple a bigger stage on which to make a joint 10.3-970 announcement. We shall see. ®

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