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Mac clone executive quits in frustration over licensing talks with Apple

August 20, 1997

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ Joel Kocher, the outspoken president of Power Computing Corp., has quit in frustration over snags in licensing talks with Apple Computer Inc. and an internal disagreement how to handle them.

Kocher resigned from Power Computing on Tuesday, only nine months after joining the largest maker of Macintosh clones. His departure also comes two weeks after he publicly berated Apple for rethinking its licensing strategy.

That incident, at the MacWorld convention in Boston, revealed a rift between Kocher _ known for his out-front, impassioned style _ and Power Computing’s low-key chairman and chief executive Steve Kahng, one industry observer said.

``It was very clear the two were at odds over how to proceed with Apple and how to deal with this clone problem,″ said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies Research International in San Jose. ``Their styles clashed, and (MacWorld) brought it to a head.″

Kocher’s abrupt departure came amid rumors that Apple is planning to acquire Power Computing. Such a move would eliminate one licensing headache for Apple and neutralize some of the competition that has eaten into its sales.

An Apple spokeswoman said the company doesn’t comment on rumors. A Power Computing spokesman declined to comment on the merger speculation.

Kocher, 40, has tried to rally public support against Apple’s ambivalence about its 1994 decision to license its operating software, enabling other companies making copies of the Macintosh.

``I unfortunately have irreconcilable differences with Power Computing management over the way in which to move forward on the Apple licensing issue,″ Kocher said in a statement. ``I sincerely hope that Apple Computer ultimately does the right thing for the Mac community.″

Power Computing spokesman Mike Rosenfelt declined to elaborate on Kocher’s differences with company’s management. Kocher wasn’t available for comment.

Apple, based in Cupertino, Calif., has been entangled in contentious talks with Power Computing and other clonemakers. At issue are how much licensees should pay for Apple’s technology and when they should get it.

But industry observers say Apple is reluctant to continue licensing the Macintosh operating system. Apple, which hoped clones would help sustain the Macintosh platform against encroachments by Microsoft Windows, instead found low-cost copies were eroding its market share as it struggles to climb out of a severe downturn.

Delays in licensing Apple’s latest version of the Macintosh operating system have chagrined users and developers as well as clonemakers.

Kocher at MacWorld delivered a strongly worded speech criticizing Apple. Kahng was in the audience, said Bajarin, who took part in the panel presentation at which Kocher spoke.

``It appears that it was a situation that Kahng could not work with,″ he said.

Chris Le Tocq, a software industry analyst with Dataquest Inc. in San Jose, said that while Kocher’s departure was ``a real-life Silicon Valley soap opera,″ the licensing dispute would continue unabated.

``I guess this will just add more fuel to the fire _ that, we believe, Apple is trying to find a way out of the licensing morass it created for itself,″ he said.

Pieter Hartsook, a Macintosh market analyst in Saratoga, Calif., fears the licensing quarrel is putting Apple in a bad light.

Apple says it is honoring its current licensing agreements. But if the company backs away or appears to back away from them, its credibility among customers, partners and developers could suffer, Hartsook said.

``Who’s going to trust Apple as a business partner? Who’s going to sign a contract with Apple to buy a million dollars worth of Macs?″ he said.

Kocher, at least until his MacWorld talk, had been on a short list of high-tech executives mentioned as candidates for Apple’s next chief executive.

He joined Round Rock, Texas-based Power Computer as president and chief operating officer late last year. He previously was president of Dell USA and head of that company’s worldwide marketing, sales and service. Before he left in 1994, Dell enjoyed torrid growth, climbing to more than $3.6 billion in revenue.

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