Today in Apple history: Mac clone-maker peaks before a dizzying decline


Power Computing clone Macs sounded like a good idea at first.
Power Computing's clone Macs were built for speed.
Photo: Antnik

June 4: Today in Apple history: Mac clone-maker Power Computing peaks, begins rapid decline June 4, 1997: Mac clone-maker Power Computing hits its high point — but it’s also the beginning of the end.

Power Computing’s boss reaches an agreement with Apple CEO Gil Amelio concerning the forthcoming Mac OS 8. The deal allows the company to start making moves toward an IPO as the fastest-growing PC company of the decade. Things don’t turn out quite so well!

The rise of Power Computing

Founded in November 1993, Power Computing set out to sell Mac clones by mail. With Dell’s mail-order computer business proving itself in the marketplace, Power Computing founder Stephen Kahng correctly surmised that a Mac version would do the same.

The company started talks with Apple in April 1994. By the end of that year, Power Computing secured the deal with Cupertino. (It was soon followed by another Mac clone-maker, Radius.)

Why the deals to allow Mac clones? Facing big challenges like the impending Windows 95, Apple was starting to struggle in 1994, and was about to enter its worst years in company history. As a result, an increasingly desperate Cupertino tried things it wouldn’t previously entertain — like making its own video game console.

Mac clones yield success

Power Computing released several Macintosh clones. These included the 1997 PowerTower and PowerTower Pro, which proved impressively fast for their day.

By 1997, the clone-maker was doing seriously well. The June 4 agreement with Amelio meant that, later that month, the company started seriously pursuing an IPO. The tech industry raced to embrace this sort of strategy, which helped cause the dot-com crash not long after.

As The New York Times noted at the time, Power Computing was headed toward doing $700 million revenue per year. The company had “just agreed to purchase 150 acres in nearby Georgetown for a new, $28-million headquarters building.”

And then the fall

Power Computing’s fortunes reversed suddenly following a change in management at Apple. By July, Amelio was out as Apple CEO and Steve Jobs was in as interim CEO. And Jobs didn’t like clone Macs.

By August 5, 1997, Apple became locked in a standoff with the company. By September 2, Apple agreed to acquire the clone-maker’s customer list and Mac OS license for $100 million in AAPL stock and $10 million to cover all outstanding debts and costs. Early in 1998, Power Computing shut down for good.

Talk about a whirlwind rise and fall!

Do you remember the era of clone Macs? Did you even perhaps own one? Let us know your memories in the comments below.