All Giz Wants: Mac Clones Again

Why, oh why can't there be Mac clones again? The quality of Mac hardware has been steadily declining, and if a user is devoted to OS X and no other, there's no choice for hardware but Apple.

The first official clone experiment in 1995-97 was going so well, and then Steve Jobs swooped in and killed it by raising the licensing price of the operating system and ROMs to impossible levels. And that de facto ban is seemingly here to stay. As late as last year, Apple VP Phil Schiller declared, "We will not allow running Mac OS X on anything other than an Apple Mac."

Now, Apple can do whatever it wants. The company can carelessly delay the introduction of new Core 2 Duo processors by a couple of months, and there's a captive audience that will sit there and wait. Mac notebooks, no longer worthy of being called laptops, can fry users' laps, and Mac users have no recourse. Apple can charge whatever price it desires; everyone will pay. And where are the Octo-Macs? We've been testing and playing with the 8-core PCs for six weeks now.

Let's toss out a few ideas, and get some comments.

Let Apple make its hardware money with iPods, and let the clones return, bringing forth more innovation and letting people modify their Macs the way it's commonly done in the PC world. Suddenly, the nearly-infinite variety of PC hardware would be open to the Mac OS.

Sure, Apple can continue to sell workstation and laptop hardware, and if it's so great, it will continue to dominate. But let the free market decide how good the Mac hardware really is. Apple has undoubtedly excelled with iPods; and it would probably survive in a competitive market for its workstation and notebook hardware as well.

On the other hand, maybe Apple is in the catbird seat right now, with its hardware able to run Windows XP, but not reciprocating by letting the Mac OS run on PC hardware—at least not in any official sense that would let diverse hardware manufacturers in on the fun. This is a good situation for Apple, but not necessarily for OS X users.

Hackers and do-it-yourselfers are already unofficially running Mac OS X on Wintel hardware. But let's see an officially-sanctioned Mac clone marketplace where OS X and Microsoft Windows Vista can compete head-to-head, and let the competition between hardware vendors sort itself out. That would be a sure-fire way to finally get out of the quagmire of a sub-5% market share for OS X.