Mac clonemakers reacted with fury when Apple's Steve Jobs failed to clarify future licensing policies during his keynote speech at the Mac World show in Boston. "That issue is as vital to Apple's success as all this Microsoft stuff," said a source at Umax.
More officially, Umax' vice president of worldwide marketing, John Ellett, said: "This was our big fear, that there would be no discussion of the issue." The Mac-alike vendors are demanding that Apple make clear whether it will license future operating systems to them, and under what terms.
The day before, Joel Kocher, president of Power Computing, had called on delegates to demand a statement on licensing. "The worst fear - and you must not let it happen - is that nothing is said," he said in his own speech. But the next day the issue was eclipsed by the announcement that Microsoft would take a stake in Apple.
The clonemakers had been restive even before Jobs' speech. Joel Kocker, chief executive of Power Computing, one of the big three clonemakers along with Umax and Motorola, told Mac World delegates on Tuesday that Apple is "not committed to sharing technology". He called on the audience to demand that Apple make its platform truly open, or risk the Mac dying altogether. "A closed platform means death to the platform," he said. "Total destruction."
Many dealers at Mac World agreed the market would only flourish if the platform was kept open, which would encourage competitive prices and innovation and so strengthen the Mac against Wintel. "In the end, the clonemakers do Apple a favour by strenghthening the market," said one.
But Guerrino de Luca, Apple senior vice president, said "the best years were when we didn't have licensing". However, he agreed that a new fee structure was urgently needed to clarify the position for clonemakers, but said: "We want to continue licensing but we cannot continue under terms that will kill the long term profitability of the Mac ecosystem."
He complained that clonemakers had ignored Apple's pleas not to discuss the licensing issue publicly and said the company was currently considering letting them ship Mac OS 8.
Power and Apple have clashed repeatedly this year, particularly over different interpretations of their contract. This states that the licence needs to be renegotiated for "major releases" of the operating system. Power has chosen to assume the recently released Mac OS 8 is not a major release, though Apple says it is - but the real controversy is over the next generation, Rhapsody. This is indisputably a major release, but Apple has not made a clear statement on whether or not it will license it.
Motorola representatives said they expected the appointment of the new board to give Apple "new direction" and to hasten key decisions such as the licensing issue.
But Kocher refused to be so conciliatory. Showing off a notebook running on the new IBM-Motorola Power PC chip, Arthur, he shouted at delegates: "Don't clap because I don't have the confidence you will ever see this. Apple has yet to license the Powerbook design."
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