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Umax clone works around Jobs

Umax can't ship systems with the PowerPC 750 chip, so it puts the processor in the same box and lets users install the cards themselves.

Umax Computer has adopted Apple Computer's "think different" credo.

The Macintosh clone vendor has come up with a novel solution to a difficult problem: It wants to ship computers based on the new PowerPC 750 processor but is prohibited by Apple Computer from doing so.

Its solution: Users will install the PowerPC processor by themselves.

Today, the Taiwanese company began shipping an upgrade card from Newer Technology in the same packing box as the computer. Previously, customers who wanted to have the fastest chip for the Mac had to mail in an upgrade coupon and wait for the processor to arrive in the mail.

Umax has been trying to ship the newest processor technology available on the Mac platform ever since interim CEO Steve Jobs made his position on clones clear: Jobs thinks they have taken away sales from Apple instead of increasing the overall size of the Mac market.

As a result, two of the three major clone vendors left the market late last year. Former Mac clone makers Motorola and Power Computing tried in August of 1997 to sell PowerPC 750-based systems, but both were prevented from shipping the systems when Apple refused to certify the systems for use with Mac OS 8. Under Jobs's direction, Apple later refused to license the OS altogether.

Apple's PowerMac G3 systems with the new PowerPC 750 processor are being touted as Pentium II killers and have been selling extremely well since their introduction in November of 1997, but Umax has yet to ship a product with the new processor factory-installed.

In the interim, Umax will offer a system with an upgrade card that has a 250-MHz PowerPC 750. The system also comes with 64MB of memory, a 4GB high-performance hard disk drive, a 24X CD-ROM, and built-in networking capabilities for $2,995.

Apple has so far kept Umax on as the sole major clone vendor in part because the company has been selling systems in areas where Apple doesn't have a strong presence, even though Umax sells machines that serve the same market segments. The company has also worked to sell less expensive systems and offers models below the $1,000 price point, where Apple has no offerings.

The company's license for the Mac OS expires in July, though, and the company's chances of continuing to produce Mac systems are not looking good at this point.

Umax officials have publicly expressed hope that they would be in discussions over how to maintain rights to produce clones by February. Sources close to Umax say negotiations have yet to take place, however.

With interim CEO Steve Jobs still in control at Apple, one source said there is little use in talking because Apple's basic position on clone vendors is unchanged. There is hope that a new CEO might bring a more open attitude to clones, the source said, but "in the meanwhile, we're just plugging along."

In related news, Umax announced that for a limited time, it will bundle a scanner with the purchase of C600 or J700 series computers. Umax's Astra 610s offers 30-bit color with hardware resolution of 300-by-600 dots per inch.