Following months of stalled licensing negotiations with clone makers, Apple is reportedly taking additional hard-line measures that would thwart the growth of, or perhaps eliminate altogether, the clone market.
This time Apple is refusing to certify some new systems and, if industry rumours are correct, is interested in buying out its leading competitor, Power Computing.
On Friday, Apple's senior vice-president of corporate development, Doug Solomon, sent a note to clone makers putting them on notice that Apple will not certify the newest and fastest Macs--those based on the Common Hardware Reference Platform (CHRP).
And yesterday the Mac OS Rumours page reported that Apple is likely to buy Power Computing, a merger that, if true, would eliminate the largest Mac clone maker and Apple's biggest competitor.
"Until further notice," Solomon's note to clone makers reads, "Apple will not be scheduling nor accepting CHRP-based Mac OS systems for Technical Evaluation or Certification ... . Apple is currently evaluating the future of directions of Mac OS licensing."
At Macworld Expo in Boston earlier this month, Motorola Computer Group debuted the StarMax Pro 6000, the first systems based on CHRP.
Three years in the works, CHRP is a hardware specification that would help free clone vendors from their dependence on Apple, since the Mac OS licensees would no longer be tied to using Apple-designed motherboards. CHRP also lets the licensees create original Mac designs that can be targeted to markets that Apple's current designs don't serve.
CHRP systems will also use industry-standard components, which should lower he cost of Macs and help prevent parts shortages. And CHRP provides tangible speed benefits: Motorola's CHRP systems are the fastest Macs yet. In Macworld Lab tests, the StarMax Pro 6000s significantly outpaced the Power Macintoshes that Apple announced at Expo.
Industry sources have told both Macworld and Macweek that Apple has also refused to certify some non-CHRP systems based on Arthur, officially called the PowerPC 750, which is the fastest PowerPC CPU to date.
A Motorola executive says Apple's Friday notice to clone makers would not prevent his company from shipping the CHRP-based StarMax Pro 6000 in October.
"Our existing agreements allow us to ship and support the [StarMax Pro] 6000. We are still pursuing that plan. We still plan on bringing those [machines] to market within the same timeframe."
He says that Motorola is continuing to negotiate with Apple, but won't say how those talks are progressing.
Yet another unconfirmed industry rumour speculates that Apple attempted to release itself from contractual obligations to clone makers by buying back Mac OS licenses, but that the clone makers demanded prices Apple was unable to meet.
Apple's withdrawal of support for clone vendors has been gaining momentum for several months.
In the US spring, Steve Jobs publicly called the clone vendors "leeches", and, in an interview with Macworld three months ago, Apple's vice-president in charge of software development, Avie Tevanian, said the clone vendors "are skimming off the top" of Apple's marketshare.
Earlier this month at Macworld Expo, Apple finance chief Fred Anderson said that the clone proposition must hold value for Apple shareholders and not just be "a replacement business for Apple's".
But many see Apple's withdrawal of support for the clone market as potentially devastating to the Mac platform.
Pieter Hartsook, an industry analyst, says Apple needs to "put the platform first, itself second. It can't exist without the platform. I think people are interested in the platform first and the Mac brand second."
In an expo keynote, Power Computing president and COO Joel Kocher lambasted Apple for its stalled negotiations over licensing the Mac OS.
"Closing this platform could spell [its] devastation," he said.
Hartsook identifies other concerns. "Apple has contractual obligations to these vendors," he says. "It's essentially breaking that contract. What kind of signal does that send to customers and resellers? I think it sends an awful message that Apple is an unreliable business partner, that it is a company you absolutely don't want to do business with, because it will screw you."
Hartsook says he has no indication of whether Apple really is in negotiations to buy Power Computing. However, he says such a deal is plausible, since it would mean Apple would gain Power's direct sales model, eliminate its leading competitor by absorbing it, and since it would also offer Power Computing a way out of the Mac market.
Neither Apple nor Power Computing returned phone calls for this story.