Apple shenanigans and clone concerns

The tussle for power at Apple continues and MacWorld’s Expo at Boston fails to clarify Apple’s position over cloning. Sutherland Lyall tries to make sense of it all

Boston MacWorld Expo started just as Design Week went to press. So we only had time to note the main thrust of Steve Jobs’ opening address. We were all wondering whether the pontifical conclave at Cupertino was going to puff out the white smoke in favour of Steve Jobs as all-Apple capo, but it was not to be, unless a new CEO decides to risk it. Jobs had sent an e-mail to the Pixar people saying that although he had been wooed by Apple, he had no plans to leave the company.

Despite his earlier formal renunciation of interest in acquiring Apple, Larry Ellison has a board seat. Will he buy the company after all? And either way wouldn’t that mean Apple going into NetPCs. And maybe the fact of Microsoft taking a $150m stake in Apple will stop all that stupid “mine’s bigger than yours” stuff that Mac people feel they have to indulge in.

But, really important for Mac customer choice, what happened about licensing the Mac operating system to all those cloners who for the first time give Mac devotees a modicum of choice about performance and price?

One certain thing was that Apple may have shot itself in the foot with its reluctance to listen to cloners’ public demands at the opening of the Expo for clarity about its licensing policy – not only licensing for OS8 but Rhapsody, the CHRP and the new PowerPC 750 chip technology as well.

One of the problems is that the cloners have, according to some analysts, been more innovative than Apple and have stopped the Mac platform from finally sinking into the deep. Apple apparently can’t bear the thought of that and may want to return to the old, comfy, single-source philosophy which earned it so many devoted followers.

Things may have changed by the time you read this but the general impression was that Apple would probably prevaricate for some time, despite a continuous media barrage to come clean and rumbling threats of legal action. Trying to claw everything back from the cloners could spell total disaster for Apple, say the doomsayers, who like the modestly cleansing effect the introduction of competition has had on the company.

Apple introduced new models as expected, as did the cloners, still under a cloud of uncertainty about whether they could legally sell them. The chip formerly known as Arthur, to whit the new PowerPC 750 in versions up to 266MHz (and, possibly, even faster compatible CPUs from Power Computing), will be on sale together with the surrounding state of the art gubbins by, say, October – in the US that is.

Mac Week, which had been testing some early versions in a new Motorola 66MHz Common Hardware Reference Platform (yes, good ole CHRP has returned to the mystifying world of acronymics) Cobra motherboard, described their performance as “astonishing”. One of the test chips was rated at 300MHz so you would really expect some enthusiasm.

Also in the pipeline is a 350MHz PowerPC 604e from Motorola. Intel won’t catch up until at least the end of the year, say pundits. Mind you, small Intel rival Cyrix, maker of good, faster than MMXPentium clones, has just merged with the mighty National Semiconductor although the official target for their joint efforts will apparently be directed at entry level and Net-PCs.

It needs to be said that, with cloning now ever so popular, Mac buyers are facing even more ponderables than open-architecture PC people have ever had to – in choosing the machine that’s going to suit them best.

You should remember that although we journalists get very excited about CPU speeds of 300MHz and maybe gigahertz by the end of next year, the in-use performance of a computer depends as much on such things as the motherboard’s bus speed, the amount and type of memory, cache size, hard disk and CD-ROM transfer speed, video accelerator performance (though not, in these PCI bus days, necessarily video board price) – and dare it be said, the experience of the jocks wielding the mouse and pen.

Serious PC people have always simply bought the fastest and latest and hoped to god they would all work with each other. No, they certainly don’t always work compatibly on the PC. Trouble is that we all operate under the tyranny of the Joneses so all your young lions are going to be badgering you to upgrade to PowerPC 750s when what you really need is another bunch of memory DIMMs and an inexpensive super-fast video accelerator board.

Don’t tell them you read that here though.

I don’t know if you’ve been looking at the NASA shots of the Martian landscape, but you might just have recognised that they are Quicktime VR panoramas. Pity it’s rocks all round.

Mind you, with Photoshop they could introduce some little green people to rouse a bit of interest.

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