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Apple's chipping and cloning, while MS relieves stress

This weekend Young Vermel and I headed out to the country for a father-and-son picnic: brie, bread, and wine for me, grape juice and Oreos for the kid.

This weekend Young Vermel and I headed out to the country for a father-and-son picnic: brie, bread, and wine for me, grape juice and Oreos for the kid. After lunch, as Vermel frolicked with squirrels, I lay on my back under a shady tree. My eyes were closed, soft winds and distant sounds were lulling me to sleep, when--wham!--something fell hard upon the Skinny noggin. Pushing any obvious Isaac Newton ramifications aside, I rubbed my sore head and ruminated on the fact that the crimson fruit, much like the Apple down in Cupertino, could be both good and bad, depending if you ate it or got whacked by it.

As an example of this Jekyll-and-Hyde phenomenon, take Exponential Technology. Although they once boasted of 500-MHz PowerPC chips, they've recently gone belly up, largely due to Apple's decision not to use their chips in its products. As my colleagues reported earlier this week, Exponential will soon auction off its 45 valuable patents to pay off debtors and back salaries of more than $1 million.

Former employees have lost a lot of back pay, but at least they still had their God-given right to kvetch--until recently. It seems as if the ex-Expos were using the company's email server to host a chat room, in which they would compare notes and devise strategies. Apparently it was quite valuable. Since the company brass didn't bother informing some folks that they were auctioning the patents, the chat room grapevine spread the news instead. I say "was valuable"-- several of the internal messages leaked out, and the execs have shut down the email server.

Whatever happened to the freedom of scuttlebutt? And what was the defunct company so paranoid about? Their upcoming IPO? Well, whatever the reason for the email kibosh, we can clearly see the effect of Apple's "Let the chipmakers fall where they may" rationale.

On the other hand, some people are benefiting from their association with Apple: Given the rancor between Apple and its cloners, I was surprised to hear my hardware helpers tell of not one, not two, but three possible Motorola Mac clone notebooks on the way. They demoed one with a super-peppy 250 MHz chip at this month's Macworld; two more are in the works, according to my Mole-orola. The trio will reportedly range from a featherweight subnotebook to a heavy-duty desktop replacement.

Also on the Motorola front, I can neither confirm or deny the rumor floating around that Motorola wants to get their new line of laptops into the hands of cranky luddite Senators, who last week scoffed at the notion of laptops in the hallowed halls of Congress. From California to New Jersey--or, more exactly, from Feinstein to Torricelli--the aged wealthy ones yelped that laptops would bring about the end of the Senate as we know it. Good luck, Motorola, and remember: If you can get Teddy Kennedy to peck away at one of your new machines on TV, you're golden. Just pray that he doesn't start surfing the Web during a session.

As long as we're looking at laptops, let's talk ergonomics. Those cramped keyboards and tiny screens leave users with gnarled hands and knotted necks. According to one Skinnophile, help is on the way from Redmond, Washington. Yes, Microsoft is rumored to be in the process of developing an ultra-comfortable ergo-chair , the perfect gift for the digital slave who has everything, including carpal tunnel.

This reeks of tall tale, but it does make sense. After all, Microsoft has quite a track record in the ergo-friendly product biz: special keyboards, mice, as well as the new Talking Barney doll that jacks into a PC port and synchronizes with his own CD-ROM game. It has proved a perfect tool for stress relief when flung at high speeds against the nearest wall. Must go: Vermel is returning with something wriggling inside his T-shirt. I'll tell you exactly what it was in a future column, if you send me your juiciest rumors.