A Macintosh clone (or an Apple clone) is a personal computer made by a manufacturer other than Apple, using Macintosh ROMs and system software or compatible with them. Thus cloning an Apple computer, the manufacturer engineered the minimal amount of firmware in the computers’ ROM chips.
These devices would run the same software as Apple’s, with a few exceptions, and they were less expensive as Apple computers as the manufacturer didn’t invest in design, testing, etc. of firmware, just copying it from Apple.
Let’s quote just a few examples: in 1982, Franklin Computer Corp. unveiled the Franklin Ace 1000, the first legal Apple II clone (by 1983, Franklin released an operating Franklin Ace 1200 Apple II compatible for US$2200).. In June 1983, Unitronics showed the Sonic, an Apple II clone personal computer, and the same month, Video Technology introduced the Laser 3000, an Apple II workalike microcomputer.
In 1986, Apple made a deal to sell discounted Macintosh computers to Dynamac for conversion. In 1988, Colby Systems, which had previously produced their Macintosh-compatible laptops on a trade-in basis, began selling them to Apple dealers who would then fit motherboards from their spare stock.
Also in the 1980s, in Brazil, a company called Unitron developed a Macintosh clone with specifications similar to the Mac 512K, and proposed to put it on sale. The Brazilian company claimed to have legitimately reverse-engineered the ROMs and hardware. However Apple claimed the ROMs had been copied. Then, under pressure from the US government and local manufacturers of PC clones the Brazilian Computer and Automation Council did not allow production to proceed. Even in Bulgaria a communist country at that era, a clone of Apple II was marketed under the name of Pravetz 82.
Obviously, Apple sales had greatly suffered from the competition provided by the clone manufacturers, both legal and illegal. Apple eventually licensed some of its systems to other companies. For example, Tiger Electronics, an educational toy manufacturer Tiger produce an inexpensive laptop with educational games and the AppleWorks software suite, the Tiger Learning Computer, also licensed by Apple.
Finally, wanting to retain tight control of its product, Apple introduced technical measures and legal actions. Therefore, any competitor attempting to create a Macintosh clone without infringing copyright would have to reverse-engineer the ROMs, which would have been a costly process without certainty of success. In the late 1980ies, several manufacturers created Macintosh clones, including the portable Outbound. In order to do so legally, manufacturers had to obtain official ROMs by purchasing one of Apple’s Macintosh computers, remove the required parts from the donor, and then install those parts in the clone’s case. To facilitate the task, in 1986, Apple made a deal to sell discounted Macintosh computers to Dynamac for conversion. Since 1988, Colby Systems, which had previously produced their Macintosh-compatible laptops on a trade-in basis, sold these laptops to Apple dealers who would then fit motherboards from their spare stock.
Apple’s strategy of suppressing clone development was successful. Indeed, only one company, Nutek, managed to produce “semi-Mac-compatible” computers in the early 1990s.
As to emulators, they are versions of clones. To give an example, let’s say that the Atari ST could be converted into a Mac by adding the third-party Spectre GCR emulator. That’s the user purchased a set of Mac ROMs which Apple sold as upgrades. The Amiga home computer could be converted into a Mac with similar emulators. According to Wikipedia, there existed a software emulator for x86 platforms running DOS/Windows and Linux called Executor, from ARDI, which reverse engineered the Mac ROM and built a 68000 CPU emulator, enabling Executor to run most of the Macintosh software, from System 5 to System 7.
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