IBM has formed an industry consortium chartered with opening up the process of building Power processors, as used in Macs.

It's a move to open up its Power microprocessor architecture. The consortium is called

The organization aims to give IBM's partners better access to Power technology so they can more easily build things like processor simulators, compilers and algorithm sets. It will also give them a way to develop and share common power components themselves, without having to work directly with IBM, as is presently the case.

"This is not just a business partner program," said Mike McGinnis, IBM's program director for PowerPC licensing, "This is a collaboration. It's giving these partners a say in where the architecture is going."

Apple not a member yet

The consortium is comprised of 15 companies from the software, consumer electronics, automotive and networking industries, including Sony, Cadence Design Systems, Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing, Novell and Red Hat.

Some prominent Power licensees like Toshiba and Apple Computer were not on the list of members, but IBM expects to announce new members in the weeks ahead.

One of the first orders of business for the consortium will be defining an open bus interface specification to be used by vendors who build components like networking or memory processors around the Power core, McGinnis said.

Though IBM is still working out details of the governance model, the organization will be modelled on the organization that IBM created in 2001 to build a standard set of software development tools. Eclipse has become a popular development environment that's been widely embraced by industry vendors.

"The intent is clearly to have this become an independent entity," he said. "If you understand what Eclipse is, then you understand what we would like to be."

Pushing PowerPC forward

IBM has been pushing hard to bring Power processors into new markets. Earlier this week, Sony, Sony Computer Entertainment, and Toshiba announced plans to begin building products on a Power-based processor designed for the consumer electronics market, called Cell. The three companies plan to use the processor for game consoles, high-definition televisions and home servers, with the first Cell-based products shipping in 2006. Microsoft will use the chips in its Xbox.

By announcing the creation of in China, IBM is sending a clear message that it would like to work with Asian manufacturers, who will represent the bulk of the new Power licensees, said Richard Doherty, an analyst with The Envisioneering Group: "It is no accident that this announcement was made in China and not in New York or Silicon Valley," he said.

The announcement also puts pressure on Intel, which has been wooing some of the same licensees but does not have a similar consortium model for its own processor licensees, Doherty said: "There's probably going to be some head scratching in Santa Clara over the next few years," he said, referring to Intel.