The Clone Wars

Photograph published in Fast Company magazine

Look at all those Apple icons. This picture, taken in a university classroom in Great Britain, shows Apple’s astonishing success in branding.

At Elon, a picture like this wouldn’t be possible. Classes in the School of Communications come in four maximum sizes: 33, 25, 18 and 15. Still, the ratio of Apple logos in our classes would be similar.

I purchased my first computer in 1983 upon becoming a doctoral student at the University of Tennessee. I bought a “clone” — a Franklin computer with a floppy-disk drive — because I was a cheapskate. The Franklin had the same operating system as the Apple II and was less expensive.

Later that year, Apple successfully sued Franklin for copyright infringement, with the Third Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that copyright law can protect an operating system. (Franklin was caught red-handed, with embedded strings in its operating system containing the word “Applesoft” and the name “James Huston,” an Apple programmer.)

Apple was able to force Franklin to withdraw its clones by 1988, and Franklin soon stopped manufacturing computers.

This was only one skirmish in a decade of Clone Wars in the early years of the computer. IBM similarly battled clones (such as Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, Epson, NEC, Olivetti, Tandy and Zenith) that adopted “IBM-compatible” systems. To shake off the pesky clones costing it millions in lost sales, IBM changed the design of its PCs in 1987, creating the ironic situation of IBM computers no longer being “IBM-compatible.”

Today, the computer world is basically divided into Apples and PCs. The classroom photo above shows us which is winning over young people.

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One Comment on “The Clone Wars”

  1. Glenn Scott Says:

    Interesting to remember all that. Those of us in newsrooms will never forget the Tandy product under the Radio Shack title: The TRS 80, better known to us as the Trash 80.

    The title didn’t do justice to its indestructibility. Or to its tiny screen that allowed us to see no more than maybe six lines at a time. On deadline, we had to recall what we’d written so far. No time to scroll.

    The best elements of the Trash 80, though, were the acoustic couplers, those rubber cups that fit over both ends of the telephone’s handpiece and sent blips through the phone line back to the newsroom computer.

    That computer was one step better than the portable fax machines with rollers on which we attached our copy. One page moved every 15 minutes, so the key was to write a page in about 12 so we had time to re-attach and keep the machine cranking.

    My first laptop was a Toshiba, a really good model. First week I had it, I flew to Brazil and tried to send a story FTP from Belo Horizonte. Wouldn’t work. No chance to connect. Finally, I had to do what the Brazilian reporters were doing: wrote the piece longhand and handed it to a cable operator who worked on a huge console in one cubby in the press room at the arena. (Not to be confused with cable TV.) She collected cash on the spot. I still don’t know how it arrived at the other end. Delivery service? AP wire? But it finally reached my paper.


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