Does any other company make a Mac-capable computer?
January 25, 2007 9:26 PM   Subscribe

Why can't any other computer company make a Mac?

If possible, can you answer this in plain English because (obviously) I don't know anything about computers or computer programming.

There are scores of companies that make PCs that run Windows, Linux, etc. Even a Mac can now run Windows. Why is it that only Apple makes Macs? Is there a non Apple-made computer that will run OSX and Mac software the same way that a Mac does?
posted by HotPatatta to Computers & Internet (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Patents, I imagine.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:27 PM on January 25, 2007

Other machines actuallly do work (see osx86).

Apple actively tries to prevent its OS from running on these other machines though.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 9:29 PM on January 25, 2007

Apple didn't start licencing out their patents until a few years ago, as far as I know.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:29 PM on January 25, 2007

Apple doesn't license the OS, and I'm sure their BIOS (or EFI, in Apple's case) is copyrighted, although that could be rewritten the same way Compaq wrote an IBM compatible BIOS so they could make PC clones. Pretty much, it's just too much trouble for too small a market.

There was a short time in the early 90s when Apple did license their BIOS and their OS, back when they were near death. Other than that, there haven't been any non-Apple Macs.
posted by wierdo at 9:29 PM on January 25, 2007

There was a Mac Clone for a while...I want to say it was Outback? Or Kangaroo? Something to do with Australia is all I recall.

posted by legotech at 9:46 PM on January 25, 2007

In simple terms, it's because Apple won't let anybody else make a Mac. There are advantages to this: more cohesive design, supposedly more system stagility (i.e. fewer crashes, though this too is disputed).

There are disadvantages to this: less flexibility in terms of hardware, more expensive, etc.

But the reason you don't see Dell (et. al.) selling systems that come with OSX installed is essentially because Apple won't let them. Yet.

In fact, it's fairly easy to install OSX on a Dell. It's just not strictly legal, since you have to use a "hacked" copy of OSX which has been altered to allow this to happen. I've installed OSX on a Dell, and I've seen it installed on a Thinkpad, though the Thinkpad had some issues with the network card.
posted by Hildago at 9:47 PM on January 25, 2007

There was a Mac Clone for a while...I want to say it was Outback? Or Kangaroo? Something to do with Australia is all I recall.

It was called the Outbound, and I believe it had some weird software that, according to the Macintosh Bible, 3rd edition (which I really wish I could find my copy of, because it's one of the most well-written computer books ever), "made interesting things happen when you press Tab."
posted by oaf at 10:08 PM on January 25, 2007

There was a great machine from Umax called a SuperMac a few years back. I've got an S900, and it still gets used pretty often, since it's the only device we have with SCSI and a floppy drive. It was a wonderful machine, much easier than the contemporary Macs to soup up with extra hard drives and such.
posted by bink at 10:11 PM on January 25, 2007

I should add that it's because that software tried to combine a spreadsheet and a word processor in one interface.

And to actually answer the question, it's because Apple doesn't let them.
posted by oaf at 10:12 PM on January 25, 2007

Off topic, but the king of the clones was Power Computing who were actually making better, faster Macs cheaper than Apple. The Steve came back and Apple remembered that it really was a hardware company after all.
posted by doctor_negative at 10:17 PM on January 25, 2007

And Apple does this because they're essentially in the business of selling Mac hardware. The OS is just something they wrote in order to sell the machines. This is a very old-fashioned way to sell computers, but it seems to work for Apple.

(They're also in the business of selling iPods, and downloaded music, but I'm just talking about the computer part of the business.)
posted by hattifattener at 10:55 PM on January 25, 2007

Obligatory Wikipedia Link and quote:

Wary of repeating history and wanting to retain tight control of its product, Apple's Macintosh strategy included technical and legal measures that rendered the production of Mac clones problematic. The original Macintosh system software was a very large amount of complex code that embodied the Mac's entire set of APIs, including the use of the GUI and file system. Through the 1980s and into the 1990s, much of the system software was included in the Macintosh's physical ROM chips. Therefore, any competitor attempting to create a Macintosh clone would have to either illegally duplicate all the copyrighted code in the ROMs—in which case Apple could legally quash the manufacturer—or reverse-engineer the ROMs, which would have been an enormous and costly process without certainty of success.
posted by stovenator at 11:20 PM on January 25, 2007

Well, the short answer is that it's intentional on Apple's part. They have patents on their software and hardware and their EULA states among other things that you'll only run Apple operating system software on Apple hardware.

The reason that they do this is simple: Apple wants to control the user experience at both the hardware and software level. Why? That's a little more complicated.

1) As others have noted, it's more profitable.

2) It makes the software team's job easier; they have knowledge about what kind of hardware their software's going to run on. This efficiency saves a *lot* of money and valuable engineer-hours in terms of coding, debugging, testing, etc.

3) It makes the hardware team's job easier; they have knowledge about what kind of software's going to be running on their hardware. This also saves a lot of money and engineer hours for the same reasons.

4) In theory, if Apple has tighter control over the user experience, they can make it better for their average end user. This assumes that the average PC buyer would cobble together a system that would ultimately be less satisfactory than the one that Apple wants to sell them.

Some folks, especially smart computery types, say "That's bunk. I'm perfectly capable of assembling a computer that does just what I want, and I can do it more cheaply than Apple because I know what I need and what I *don't* need."

Other folks point out that not everyone is a smart computery type. These folks go to great pains to point out examples of people who built costly do-it-yourself computers that aren't very well integrated or don't perform according to the user's desires. Their attitude is "Why do all that extra work to cobble together and configure something - work that requires time and a lot of technical knowledge not everyone has - when you could buy a seamless machine that does everything you want and just works right out of the gate?"

Appears to me that both positions have merit; Apple's definitely chosen to endorse the latter.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:51 PM on January 25, 2007

Apple's business model is tuned for a relatively low sales rate. The most important aspect of the software business is the fact that software costs essentially nothing to manufacture, so nearly the entire expense is amortized R&D. What that means is that volume is everything. The more you can sell, the lower you can price your software.

That was Bill Gates' key insight in the early 1980's, and the entire history of Microsoft is a demonstration of this fact. Microsoft's strategy all along has been to push volume, and to do whatever it takes (sometimes shading into the illegal) to maintain volume.

Modern software, especially things like operating systems, are immensely huge and complicated and expensive to create (even if you rely on volunteer labor, and let's not go there). Even with the amount of volume Microsoft does, they still have to charge quite a lot per copy of Windows. (Not as much as they do charge, but still quite a lot.)

Apple's sales volume of OSX isn't remotely as great as Microsoft's, but because of Microsoft Apple cannot charge much more per copy of OSX than Microsoft charges for Windows. The problem is that at that price, Apple loses a fortune on software.

Their business model makes that back on hardware. Apple's computers have always cost more than comparable equipment from commodity vendors. Back when they were selling systems based on a different processor, that wasn't as obvious, but these days it's more clear. Apple has to price its hardware higher because it uses some of the profit from hardware sales to underwrite the cost of developing software.

Of course, it's not required by the laws of physics that Apple have its own operating system, but if they didn't then Apple would just be another commodity hardware seller. It's OSX that makes Apple unique.

But if there were Mac-clone vendors, they could sell hardware at prices which didn't include Apple's software-tax, undercut Apple's hardware sales, and leave Apple losing money and sinking.

Which is pretty much what did happen in the 1990's, when Apple experimented with permitting clones. One of the first things Jobs did after he took control again was to kill that all off. It probably was popular with users, but it was economic death for the company by slow starvation.

You ask why there aren't any Mac Clones available from other companies. The reason is that Apple's business model requires Apple to do everything it possibly can to prevent anyone else from selling commodity hardware that is OSX-compatible, because that would undermine Apple's business model and eventually lead to bankruptcy.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:59 PM on January 25, 2007

random thoughts @ SCDB:

1) Apple is "tuned" for no such thing. They could pull the trigger with Sony or another major Wintel OEM at any moment.

2) Microsoft's strategy has been to push platform lock, and leveraging one monopoly to gain entry to the next.

3) MSFT could give away Windows and still clear more profit than Apple. With 95%+ of the market of the 250M/yr PC shipments, MSFT need only tap (on average) $5/unit to pay for the OS development. MSFT cleared $12.5B on $44B in revenue its FY06.

4) Apple charges less for OS X (10.4) than Microsoft Vista.
Apple simply cannot "lose a fortune" on software given its COGS. Like Microsoft, Apple is simply charging what the market will bear for these products.

5) Apple has a flexible business model that chases R&D innovation and aggressive systems integration to remain a relevant choice for its customers.

6) Macs cost more than junk, yes, but vendors in its spaces charge similar prices. Apple chooses not sell into the junk segments. Its gross margins on hardware have been 20-30% for about a decade now. Dell, it is true, runs at under 18%, but they're Dell. I just price-checked the 2.0Ghz MacBook vs. the equivalent offerings at Newegg and it came in right at the bottom of the price range ($1300).

7) Apple's OS sales volume is limited by existing installed base (~20-30M).

8) Apple does not have to price its hardware "higher" to pay for OS development. $50/unit on 5M units will adequately pay the OS share of its R&D bill.

9) It's more than OS X that makes Apple unique. Steve moved away from Beige in 1998 and the company has never looked back. I'm typing this on a 20" iMac, and I've got a quad-xeon Mac Pro under the desk. No other x86 OEM makes anything nearly as good (for my needs) as these products.

10) Apple makes more money from music & software than from hardware these days.

11) You really don't understand anything about Apple or what the Mac is about. Since ca. 1985 the Mac has been an exercise in hubris, trying to figure out where the computer biz is going and get there first with the best product.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 12:38 AM on January 26, 2007 [2 favorites]

Some folks, especially smart computery types, say "That's bunk. I'm perfectly capable of assembling a computer that does just what I want, and I can do it more cheaply than Apple because I know what I need and what I *don't* need."

Other folks point out that not everyone is a smart computery type.

If you're intent to build your own system from the ground up, you probably don't want a mac, and for the beginning computer user, you're probably better off with a mac

But there are many, many "smart computery types" that could build any type system they desire and choose a mac instead. Of course, this has something to do with choosing an OS, not just computer parts.

I know what you're saying, but putting it as advanced computer users use pcs and nonadvanced use macs simply isn't true.
posted by justgary at 1:33 AM on January 26, 2007

But there are many, many "smart computery types" that could build any type system they desire and choose a mac instead. Of course, this has something to do with choosing an OS, not just computer parts.

Precisely. As a developer, I find OS X and BSD/Linux/Solaris boxes best. As a home user, I find that rules out the latter three. (Although I do run CentOS 4 on my server box, top distribution). It will be a long time before Linux is anywhere near OS X or even Windows in terms of ease of use and usefulness to home users.

Please don't begin to suggest that only non-advanced users don't want to put together their machines. I did so for years before I decided that a Mac solution was preferable.
posted by PuGZ at 3:53 AM on January 26, 2007

Just to insert some sanity into the Power Computing built better Macintosh cheer-leading, Power Computing licenses mother boards from Apple. They were willing to be a little riskier with bus speeds and such than Apple were but all the actual design work was done by Apple. When releasing things in small lots you can often margin your printed circuit boards and integrated circuits if you're willing to dust bin components or pay for the manufacturers to selectively pick what components you get.

I'm an advanced computer user. Hell, I design supercomputers for a living. I've built my own PCs running various Windows and linux variants. I keep coming back to the Macintosh though.
posted by substrate at 5:42 AM on January 26, 2007

I actually owned a Power Computing Powerwave (with a 120 Mhz 604) back in the day. Power Computing was perhaps the best-known Mac cloner, but not the only. There was also Daystar, Umax (better known for scanners) and Motorola. ISTR that there was a Japanese company (Panasonic?) that made a media-oriented Mac with nice stereo speakers built in, only for the Japan market. IIRC, Daystar came out with a quad-processor Mac before anyone else.

When Apple pulled the plug on clones, that led to bad blood between the two companies that (I speculate) may have caused Moto to change gears with PowerPC development, which may be part of the reason Macs run on Intel now.

Apple also licensed a Japanese company (Bandai, I think) to make a version of the Pippin. Remember that?

I also recall, vaguely, an attempt at an unlicensed clone of the Mac in the early 90s, based on a clean-room clone of the Mac's ROMs. Didn't work very well, from what I read. And of course there's basilisk, which is completely unlicensed.

Right now, we have a quasi-clone in the form of the ModBook: this actually scavenges the motherboard from a Macbook and repackages it.

I'm not exactly sure what technically prevents OS X from running on non-Apple hardware these days, as Apple is using pretty much standard motherboards from Intel. Obviously the software is looking for something in hardware, but I don't know what.
posted by adamrice at 8:40 AM on January 26, 2007

A number of people have pointed out that Apple holds patents (or other similar rights) to their technology and have chosen not to sell or release any of these rights to other companies.

The unstated implication here is that Intel or IBM or Microsoft did release/sell/rent rights to their technology to other companies and that when, say, Samsung makes a PC compatible hard drive, they have to pay some sort of royalty or fee to one of the aforementioned entities. If this is the case, when and how was this decision made? If not, then how did Samsung get the right to manufacture those hard drives?
posted by Clay201 at 10:47 AM on January 26, 2007

The reason that there are no Mac-compatible computers is that nobody would buy them, because there would be no guarantee at all that future versions of the Mac OS X (or even security updates) would work on them. In fact, Apple has a strong incentive to make sure that happens. Would you buy a computer that could only run the exact OS that shipped on it? Or that would perpetually be a week or a month behind on security updates, relying on the goodwill of some hacker somewhere to for security? If you're going to put yourself in that situation, you might as well just run Linux; the support's going to be better.
posted by kindall at 11:31 AM on January 26, 2007

Years ago I used to have a Power Tower Pro clone. It worked fine. Then Apple sued Power Computing or something & shut the production down... sooo, when my computer started acting up I had to replace it with a new Mac.
posted by miss lynnster at 2:35 PM on January 26, 2007

Actually, Miss Lynnster, Apple didn't sue them or anything quite so direct.

Power Computing (and other licensees) only had a license for System 7.x. Jobs decided to label the next major release as OS 8 (rather than 7.7). Apple wound up buying back Power Computing's existing license, in fact.

Oh look, Wikepedia has a pretty good article on Mac clones.
posted by adamrice at 3:24 PM on January 26, 2007

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