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Apple makes up with clone makers

New licensing deals will free the Mac industry to adopt a next-generation PowerPC processor.

The chill between clone vendors and Apple over Mac OS licensing is beginning to thaw, a process that is expected to free the Mac market to adopt a next-generation PowerPC processor.

Negotiations to license the upcoming Mac OS 8.0 are finally progressing after weeks of rancorous talks. Sources said Fred Anderson, Apple Computer's chief financial officer personally negotiated a deal with Motorola (MOT) after the clone vendor walked away from the table. Lawyers are now working on the contract, which could be ready for signing within the next two weeks.

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.

But sources close to Motorola say the company is now planning to introduce new systems with the first of the G3 PowerPC processors at Macworld Boston in August.

The G3 is expected to debut at speeds below 300 MHz, but is expected to eventually speed up to 400-MHz. A 300-MHz PowerPC 603e is already available, but the G3 will be able to offer better performance than the comparable 603e.

Motorola and the other clone vendors are anxious to come to terms with Apple so that they can adopt the chip and introduce the first of the new PowerPC Platform-compliant (PPCP) systems.

PPCP is a specification for PowerPC-based systems that lets manufacturers use off-the-shelf components and technologies. To fully take advantage of the power the G3 offers, vendors need to harness it to PPCP-compliant systems.

The promise of PPCP is that it allows for more flexiblity in Mac clone designs, including Mac notebooks. Adoption of PPCP should mean more rapid advances in system performance as well as an increased supply of machines as vendors draw on a larger pool of component suppliers.

The problem to date has been that Apple wanted to require clone manufacturers to wait for a certificate proving they meet the standard before they could ship the boxes. Apple has been reluctant to give up this control for fear that clone vendors will introduce systems that eat into Apple's sales.

In late May, talks between Apple and Motorola broke down in part because of Apple's insistance on certifying Mac clones for compatibility.

But the new deal sets forth a new, less arbitrary mechanism for certifying clone systems, sources said.

Sources at Motorola, for example, say its deal leaves open the possibility that the clone maker will be able to make a PPCP-based notebook, even if Apple decides not to license the PowerBook notebook design.

Price has also been a sticking point between Apple and the clone makers. Apple wants to raise the operating system licensing fees for PPCP-compliant systems because the company will not be getting as much revenue from sales of motherboards. Apple is now offering a deal that "makes business sense," according to one source at Motorola.

Clone vendors may start paying more for the ability to sell high-performance systems, according to Chris LeTocq, an analyst covering operating systems for market research firm Dataquest.