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What is AIM?
The basics about the Apple-IBM-Motorola alliance?.

By:David K. Every
©Copyright 1999


It all started in the early 90's (at least for this story).

IBM had created OS/2, but Microsoft was pulling an end-run and getting the industry to switch to Windows. IBM had also lost control of the PC Hardware years before, and IBM was losing lots more money than many COUNTRIES total worth -- many analysts predicted the end of IBM (humorous in hindsight).

Motorola was slowly losing their lead in CISC processors -- for the first 10 years the 68000's were far superior to the Intel processors (during the 1980's), but the lead was narrowing. So Motorola was making the jump to RISC with the 88000 , and it was performing well, but the market is never enthused about a loss of backward compatibility.

Apple was doing well, but that they needed to go to the next level. The 68000's weren't outperforming the x86's by enough, and Apple lives to innovate. Apple wanted to bring RISC computing to home machines -- so they could increase performance and reduce costs. Apple already had an internal project almost completed (Hurricane) that was the MacOS running on top of a Motorola 88000 processor. Apple was primed to make the leap to RISC -- with Motorola supplying the motors.

Then the world changed -- IBM approached Apple about making a deal.


IBM had a brilliant RISC Chip-Set known as the Power Architecture (RS/6000). IBM wanted to reduce this chip-set to a single chip, and make it an open architecture processor. IBM was going to use this chip set across their product lines, and wanted the economies of scale to help them by deferring their R&D costs over many more units. IBM also wanted to get back some "mind share" as well as market share.

IBM heard that Apple was going to make a RISC based machine, so IBM made an offer they couldn't refuse. Why not use IBM's chip?

Apple was smart enough to see that IBM was not going to disappear, despite all the industry analysts predictions to the contrary. But Apples wasn't 100% trusting of IBM, and Apple wanted multiple sources for the processors -- so Apple asked to bring Motorola into the deal (and to make the processors as well). This was a brilliant pairing and became AIM -- Apple-IBM-Motorola (in order of importance <grin>).

Motorola had the 88000 processor completed and had the I/O support chips for the 88000 done as well (necessary to really sell a processor). So AIM combined the designs of the 88000 with the Power Architecture and made the PowerPC. IBM achieved their objective of making the PowerPC a mainstream processor, and increased the likelihood of the chips success (as there were now multiple sources). As long as they were being "Open", they would open up the processor, and create a design that anyone could implement. There is more about the hardware side of the deal at History of AIM, Hardware.

This alone was revolutionary -- but that was not all there was to the deal.

Since Apple and IBM were playing nice, Apple had many software technologies that IBM wanted. So they decided to collaborate on Software designs, and spin off some companies. Apple was of course going to dip into IBM's deep pockets, and IBM was getting Apple's technology that was years ahead of anyone else. Of course IBM has its own "process" -- in fact IBM exists in a bureaucratic time-distortion field that can slow any development progress to a crawl. IBM has never been good at writing software, at least in time-to-market (too much process, too much time), and they managed to choke the life out of the software side of the deal. The details of what happened to the software side of the deal can be read at History of AIM, Software.

This article will continue with the politics and an overview of what went on.

The deal closed and both sides (Apple and IBM) technologists felt that they brought more to the deal (Corporate ego's). Of course if you talked to the negotiators both sides felt that they got more for their company out of the deal, so its a matter of perspective.

Both companies have their own politics and process -- and they clashed. The Companies succeeded far beyond the analysts wildest dreams, but they still fell far short of their goals.

Apple's process is anarchy and artistic fiefdoms. There are often many competing teams, and little rogue groups and engineers doing their own things (fighting for their own agendas). But Apple has lots of good engineers and artists. They produce great things in the lab, then don't have the follow-through to market them long enough to make them successful. The engineers (artists) are chasing the next big thing, instead of following through on the last one -- and the marketing and management doesn't see the value of what they have and doesn't bring down the discipline they should. Gil Amelio is changing that, but many are complaining.

IBM's process is bureaucracy and political fiefdoms. There are constantly competing teams, but there is an order to everything. Inside of IBM the games are harsher and bigger -- most of their divisions are bigger than other companies (or some countries). The politics are even harsher with divisions crushing other divisions (or other companies) -- just because they can. IBM will engineer a product to death -- literally. It takes IBM 20 YEARS to let a dead technology go, and it takes them 5 more to set a new direction. You can forget about IBM ever getting their ducks in a row and getting everyone headed in the same direction.

To sum them both up -- Apple's process is "FIRE!... READY... AIM..". IBM's process is "READY... AIM... AIM... AIM...READY..."


Now IBM's goals for AIM was no different than their goals had always been. To rule the world -- well the computer world anyway. They figured if they got Apple using the PowerPC, then they would be able to get Apple to make MacOS a personality that ran on top of OS/2 (workspace shell), and they would have Apple being a marketing arm for their products in the "artsy" space. Unfortunately for IBM it didn't work out that way.

IBM also wanted make OS/2 a more mainstream OS. The way to add value to OS/2 was to put it on a processor that let the OS shine. Intel and Microsoft were both ingrates that forgot who made them -- and IBM made both of them what they are. So IBM was going to teach them both a lesson by making a Processor better than anything Intel had, and an OS better than anything Microsoft had. IBM did that, but quality is not always the deciding factor in the marketplace.

The PowerPC was going to be the future of OS/2. OS/2 was already written, so IBM only needed to be port OS/2 to the PowerPC (and IBM had been working with the Power architecture for years). OS/2 just stalled. It took IBM over twice as long to get their OS ported to the PowerPC as it took Apple to get the MacOS running well on PowerPC's. (Which shows how far IBM had come -- in that past it would have taken them 10 times as long.) By the time IBM got OS/2 to the PowerPC, Apple had already sold Millions of systems with MacOS. IBM's dream of being the leader because of size of markets died quickly. Furthermore Apple was doing just fine (in their minds) and they didn't need IBM as much as IBM needed Apple. So Apple was not going to just do what IBM wanted -- which I think was a shock to IBM. The poor Blue-Suited Bureaucrats at IBM just can't understand these upity little companies like Apple, Intel and Microsoft.


IBM really wanted the PowerPC to give them control of the Personal Computer Industry again -- like they had for 3 weeks in the 80's before Microsoft and Compaq had ripped control away. The way for IBM to achieve this goal was to make a new Personal Computer Platform (PREP) for the world to use and extend. This was not altruism as much a play for control. This "Open" Platform for computer hardware would use IBM's Processors, follow IBM's rules, and run IBM OS's first -- and other OS's who followed their lead. It was a good plan, and it is better for the industry at large if there is someone at the helm. The PC camp has no one, and the results are little progress, lots of false-starts and bad directions, and a hacky platform.

IBM decided to try to slow Apple progress with PowerPC's (and gain control) by creating a platform that was "incompatible" with MacOS, and would require Apple to do some "rewriting" to get the MacOS to work. This was Prep. If Apple "fixed" the MacOS, then this would give IBM time to finish OS/2, and it would teach Apple to be the subservient follower that IBM expected them to be. Apple was less than enthused, but responded with some alterations to the design called "Prep+" that would be compatible with the MacOS, but IBM was not yet interested in following Apple.

So IBM made Prep without Apple, and finished OS/2 (years late), got their AIX (IBM's Unix) done, and Motorola continued with their plans and ported WinNT for the PowerPC. Without Apple / MacOS (and volume) "Prep" was the sound made as the platform fell on its face.

IBM and Motorola both got a life lesson, Apple (MacOS) is the PowerPC. If they wanted to play ball, then they had to come to Apple.


Well an "Open" standard without Apple was not "standard". Lets face it, Apple was outselling the others (and all other workstation manufacturers combined) -- without them on board, a standard wouldn't mean anything. It is in Apples best interests to play by the rules and they want a standard as well. IBM realized that they weren't going to strong arm Apple, and they had to play nice. So back to the tables they went, and CHRP was created. CHRP is just a redesigned Prep that is more "Apple" friendly.

In an interesting side note: Microsoft decided that they could extort money from Motorola and IBM for WinNT. Not only would Microsoft get royalties on every version sold, and not only did Motorola have to do most of the porting work, but Microsoft is rumored to have "renegotiated" and wanted a few hundred million for the privilege of making money for MS. IBM has AIX (Unix) which is better than NT, and Motorola was selling many more MacOS Systems than WinNT, and the market wasn't interested in WinNT anyway-- so they told MS where they could stuff it! Microsoft may lose more than they realize.

AIM tried to change the name of CHRP (Common Hardware Reference Platform) to PPCP (Power PC Platform) -- but it didn't take. PPCP rolls off the tongue like a dissolving aspirin tablet.


Apple is in a dilemma. They want and need the Open-Standard of CHRP. This will prove to the world that Apple and the MacOS are not dead. It will allow anyone to make a computer that is Mac "Compatible", and can do things like actually get a device plugged in and have it work. PPCP/CHRP is 10,000 times better in hardware (and software) design than that other nightmare of technologies all slapped together (known as "PC's"). But it Apple needs to regulate the speed -- and for change to come slowly.

Apple is big enough that they take time to react. They aren't as nimble as smaller companies. The smaller companies are letting Apple do all the R&D for them, then the little guys go in and raid Apple's markets. Apple wants to have enough control over the little guys to get them to raid the Wintel PC markets more than Apple's (to go after new markets) -- which is good for the Platform over all. But the little guys fear that if Apple has this control, then they will never give it up.

So Apple has to convince everyone they are serious about Cloning, and the PPCP platform -- without being the farmer that lets the salesman share the loft with his daughter (if you know what I mean). Apple IS getting everything going in the right directions -- slowly. CHRP will hit before the end of the year ('97). Apple will make sure PPCP happens -- out of the goodness of their own heart and more importantly because it helps Apple's long term interests. Apple is NOT going to sacrifice the company or their short-term interests in the process. It is an interesting tight-rope they are walking, but things will work themselves out -- they always do. So far Apple has been doing much better than anyone has given them credit for.


PowerPC has been a raging success. AIM has been producing chips that out perform the competition often by 2:1. The design advantages of RISC have paid off in the past with much less design money producing chips that are faster, use less power, and are cheaper to manufacture than Intels' chips. But the bigger issue is that the superior design is allowing for more speed (and cost) advantages in the future.

AIM's Software Alliances was a dazzling flop. Every company (and product) that was created is dead -- or in a coma. Yet every goal they were trying to achieve (Multimedia, PDA/Communications, Object Oriented Operating System) is being done anyway -- by Apple. Apple is sitting pretty in all these areas -- something industry analysts seem to ignore when they predict Apples demise.

The PowerPC Platform is happening (at a snails pace). There are many clones makers today, something that didn't exist a few years ago, and many others lining up. There are more Macs being sold today than ever before, and by many different companies. AIM is still backed by three huge companies, and to think that AIM is dead, you must believe that all three companies are irrelevant or doomed.

There is in-fighting and politics in AIM -- but all the companies have a large mutual vested interest in the success of PowerPC, in the success of AIM, and in the success (ultimately) of each other. This is why despite the games, and slow progress (at times), AIM will continue to progress and make a big difference in the industry. Who knows, maybe AIM will eventually help IBM with their goals of re-conquering the computer world -- except that they will have to share the "Power" with the other two companies. Either way, if you want to see where Wintel (Microsoft and Intel) are going to try to go tomorrow, you only have to look at AIM today.

Created: 06/02/97
Updated: 11/09/02

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