July 31, 1997 7:30 PM PDT

Motorola to show laptop clone

Motorola will be quietly showing off a Macintosh-compatible laptop behind the scenes at Macworld Expo in Boston next week, according to industry sources.

Currently, there are no fully portable Macintosh-compatible notebooks Macworld saga on the market. If Motorola were to take its prototype into production and obtain needed licensing from Apple, it could become the first of the long-awaited "PowerBook clones."

The only other portable Macintosh computer currently on the market is from Vertegri Research, a small Canadian company. Vertegri's computer is bulky, weighing as much as 12 pounds, and is really a desktop in laptop clothing, allowing the company to circumvent PowerBook-clone-specific obstacles that vendors like Motorola have faced.

Indeed, the fact that a company must cram a desktop computer into a portable design underscores the sorry state of the Macintosh PowerBook clone market. In short, it doesn't exist.

Apple so far has been reluctant to allow the production of Macintosh-compatible laptops, despite indications by clone makers such as Motorola and Power Computing that they would like to market such systems.

With its notebook division only beginning to recover from a less-than-stellar year centered upon the ill-fated PowerBook 5300, Apple has hesitated to foster outside competition in this segment of the Macintosh market.

But critics of Apple point out that if Macintosh-compatible laptops had existed last year, Apple's own portable problems would not have hurt the overall Mac OS market as much.

If alternative Mac OS laptop makers had existed, fewer mobile users might have chosen to jump ship over to laptops based on Intel processors.

Motorola isn't the only company rumored to have developed a Macintosh-compatible laptop prototype. Earlier this year, Power Computing was supposedly developing such a system as well, before reportedly reconsidering the effort as it takes a closer look at developing Intel-based systems.

Central to the issue of developing such laptops is the new Mac OS 8, which is closely tied in to the new Common Hardware Reference Platform, or CHRP, standard. The new OS, along with the standard, could allow licensees to develop notebooks without Apple's express permission, because their hardware designs would no longer have to be based on Apple's. So far, Apple has not licensed the new operating system to any of the clone vendors.

Motorola has chosen to try to move to the CHRP standard without Mac OS 8, yesterday announcing desktop systems based on a CHRP-compliant version of Mac OS 7.6.1, the previous version of the operating system already licensed by Apple to the desktop clone vendors. The existence of such a licensed, CHRP-compliant version of the OS could mean some leverage for vendors trying to break Apple's grip on the Macintosh notebook market.

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