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Apple in dire straits with clones

Recent trends among Macintosh clone makers may portend a bleaker future for Apple's market unless the company changes its ways.

Recent trends among Macintosh clone makers, including Power Computing's tilt toward the Windows market, may portend a bleak future for Apple Computer's (AAPL) market unless the company changes its ways.

The upshot is that some clone makers are encountering excessive Apple-generated red tape, sapping their competitive vigor and steering them in alternative directions that, in at least one important case, lead away from Apple.

Power Computing, despite its status as the largest and most successful Mac clone manufacturer, recently cast a vote of no confidence. The company said it would introduce computers next year that use Intel processors and the Microsoft Windows operating system.

"They've been doing well in the Mac market, but they have to jump into the Windows market to keep growing," said Kimball Brown, an analyst with research firm Dataquest.

Power Computing "plans to offer selected Wintel desktop and portable computer systems with some features and functions the company believes are not currently available from other manufacturers of Wintel computer systems," the company said in a financial filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Power Computing has been up against a recalcitrant Apple, which it says has hindered the clone maker's ability to compete effectively. "At least once, the company has postponed the introduction of a new product as a result of Apple's delay in certifying the company's products," Power Computing said in its statement.

Others have experienced their own problems. Motorola, another major Mac clone maker, has had difficulty negotiating a deal with Apple for the Macintosh operating system, affecting its plans for competitive products.

Sources indicated recently that Fred Anderson--the stand-in chief executive at Apple until a new CEO is found--personally negotiated a deal after Motorola walked away from the table.

Although issues are apparently resolved, Motorola has been the most vocal critic of Apple's negotiating stance. CNET'S NEWS.COM reported in May that talks were at a critical stage and that delays in licensing would jeopardize planned product rollouts.

Motorola has also been trying to bring out a Macintosh clone notebook PC but, like other companies, has run into problems getting Apple to license the necessary technology to build a system.

All of this points to a potentially dire situation where Macintosh manufacturers throw in the towel--killing what little vitality is left in the Macintosh market.

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