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Apple goes after allies

Apple wants the clone makers to succeed. But it also wants customers to know that the clones are still inferior to Apple's own boxes.

Look out Macintosh clone vendors, Apple Computer (AAPL) is gunning for you.

Apple has already said it intends to go after the Microsoft-Intel duo more aggressively than it has in some time. But now it appears it will be just as aggressive against its own "friends"--the Mac clone vendors.

The company will conduct a seminar entitled "Why Apple Branded vs. The Clones" where it will showcase to users why hardware produced by Apple itself is a better choice than a Mac clone. The seminar is scheduled to take place February 25 and 26 in Portland, Oregon, and will be open to all comers, according to a posting on Apple?s Web site.

"Come hear how Apple Computer-branded Macintosh hardware is still the solution of choice for the publishing and design professionals. You?ll hear how Apple?s Mac hardware stacks up against the competition in features, service, support, price, and reliability. We?ll show you the Mac OS offerings from Power Computing, Umax, and Motorola and show how it stacks up with Apple?s hardware," the announcement states. "This seminar will highlight why Apple-branded hardware is still the hardware of choice for Mac users."

Although many hard-core Apple execs wanted to keep the Mac OS proprietary forever, the company's continuously dwindling market share forced Apple to open up its technology to clone makers. The intent was to recoup some of that lost market share by recruiting other hardware makers to the Apple standard.

The strategy appears to be working. A recent preliminary report from research firm International Data Corporation says Mac OS shipments increased last year compared with 1995. Although systems based on the Mac OS lost overall market share, the number of total shipments were up, a fact fueled particularly by the growth of the clone vendors.

With these numbers out there for the public to consume, Apple planned the seminar to address questions from customers about where Apple stood vis-a-vis the clone market and Intel. An Apple representative said the company?s overall objective is to build market share however possible.

"That we are competing with clone vendors would have been inevitable, but we are not specifically targeting them," said Bryan Longmire, Power Mac product manager for Apple's North American business. "It's not us vs. them, but we are not going to remain silent when they start taking shots at us."

Longmire specifically was referring to the full-page ads from Power Computing where the company compares its clones to Apple?s boxes. "Where we see a threat, we will counter, and if it?s clone vendors, so be it," he said.

But Apple appears to be striking out against its own allies. "When you are you are on the path of going out of business, any friend is a good friend," said analyst Rob Enderle at market researcher Giga Information. "Apple really should concentrate in overcoming its enemies--the Microsoft-Intel camp,"

The seminar is only for the Northwest region for the time being. But Longmire said it is likely that the company will host similar events in other regions as Apple personnel become aware of this seminar.

The clone makers reacted as one might expect. "This is a surprise," said Suzette Castro, marketing and communications manager at clone maker Umax. "We are not in the business of cannibalizing."

Castro said Umax has been working closely with Apple on many issues, and in fact has invited its top brass--along with Governor Pete Wilson--to attend the opening of its Fremont office on March 4.

"We want [Apple] to succeed," Castro added. "But for them to take an approach to attack us is a totally different story." She said she can?t understand the rationale behind attacking the clone vendors when Apple could be targeting Intel and Microsoft.

Executives at Power Computing were more circumspect in their reaction. "Over the last few months, we have seen Apple get more aggressive, which in itself is a positive sign. Apple is not our competition. We want to work with Apple," said Mike Rosenfel, marketing director for the clone maker.

The situation only highlights the very reason why many Apple managers didn't want to get in the clone business in the first place: Apple must now compete with its friends.

"It puts Apple in a lousy position," said Enderle. "They are in the hardware business and are trying to make money licensing their OS. For Apple to compete, they have to downplay the clones. All it?s doing is create confusion."