Apple executives have been openly pondering what was once unthinkable: running a Macintosh operating system on an Intel processor. But executives are expected to steer clear of that issue next week as the company struggles to make a decision on that front.
The list of new licensees won't be disclosed until next week but industry speculation points to companies such as Motorola, Power Computing, and new licensees such as Everex and Acer--though Acer may end up playing more of a manufacturing role, where it produces core components and then sells them to other vendors who want to market Macs under their own brand names.
The list of which clone vendors will adopt the Rhapsody operating system is important because clone vendors are increasingly a driving force in the Macintosh market. Motorola announced just today that it has sold more than 56,000 Mac systems since it began shipping its StarMax line in mid-November.
According to recent quarterly statistics from market research firm Dataquest, the Mac OS clone market grew 348 percent in 1996, rising from 2.4 percent in 1995 to 13.9 percent in 1996. Power Computing alone has sold tens of thousands of systems in the last six months.
The clone vendors have been so successful that the number of Mac systems delivered actually increased in 1996, even though the Mac continued to lose market share compared to Windows PCs, according to preliminary figures from International Data Corporation.
If it is to continue the momentum gained from the clone makers, Apple will have to get most or all of them to declare allegiance to its future operating system, Rhapsody.
Rhapsody will combine the foundation of the NextStep operating system with Apple's standalone technologies, such as the QuickTime Media Layer and OpenDoc. NextStep will give the Mac OS memory protection, which keeps the entire system from crashing when one application goes down, and preemptive multitasking, a feature that speeds performance by dividing processor time between applications more evenly.
But while Apple is right now focusing on recruiting more Mac clone vendors, the ability to run on other platforms is still an attractive idea to many Apple executives. If Rhapsody were to run on Intel-based boxes, Apple could then pitch its operating system to the likes of Compaq Computer and Dell.
As Apple moves forward with development of Rhapsody, Apple chairman and CEO Gilbert Amelio has said he would be a "damn fool" not to consider that possibility. He added the company has been looking at such a move for the past five years, but that Rhapsody would provide the opportunity because NextStep already runs on Intel.
But for the meantime, Amelio is referring to this possibility as a contingency plan in case Motorola and IBM stop making PowerPC chips.