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Unitron Mac 512 - first Macintosh clone in the world!

 
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 03, 2006 6:38 pm    Post subject: Unitron Mac 512 - first Macintosh clone in the world! Reply with quote


Unitron Mac 512

From www.old-computers.com (Our "Fun Page of the Month" in October 2006)

This machine has been the first Macintosh clone in the whole world.


In Brazil it is almost unknown and there are people who doubt its own existence, but it really existed!
This computer almost started a commercial war between Brazil and United States. Apple got to persuade US government to use all weapons it could against brazilian clone makers (increase in importation taxes for brazilian products such as orange juice, shoes, etc) until this machine was no longer made.

Brazil had a tradition since the beginning of the 80's in cloning computers without permission of the original brand owners (see the lawsuit moved by sinclair against Microdigital). But Apple had so far tolerated brazilian clones of apple II . Well, not this time...

There were differences between this machine and genuine Macs : Some Unitron's macs had keyboards with black keys, some others had grey keys. Some versions had a disc drive with a button to eject the disc, some others were like the original Mac and had no button in its disc drive.

The end of making Mac brazilian clones may have been not good for apple in longer time since it opened the doors of brazilian market to PC clones that didn't have such restrictions.

Thanks to Ernesto Hublard from Brazil for information.

From www.lowendmac.com :


Since Brazil didn't allow import of microcomputer until 1993, anything users wanted had to be made in and for the local market. For those who wanted a Macintosh, Unitron created the Mac512.

Rainer Brockerhoff from Brazil writes, "It's a long story, but here are the highlights. Facts are as they were told to me at the time, but I've no way of verifying the political parts.

"The clone was made around 1985 by Unitron, a Brazilian company that had a very successful line of Apple II clones. Initially the plan was to make a Brazilian Mac under license from Apple; however, Apple would not accept less than a 51% share of the operation, which at that time was specifically prohibited by Brazilian law.

"Unitron went ahead anyway, getting a $10M loan from a government bank, and, with help from university laboratories and National Semiconductor, they succeeded in reverse-engineering the 'custom' Mac chips: the diskette controller (which was simply a one-chip version of the Apple II controller board), the real-time clock, and the PAL chips.

"At the same time, a software team reverse-engineered the ROM, based on the 'Inside Mac' specifications. I was a consultant for that team and eventually did most of the Toolbox managers . . . everything was coded in C, except for some critical device drivers and the QuickDraw emulator which were done in Assembly language. As a result, the resulting ROM was originally double the size of Apple's . . . in fact, in the final shipping version it was substituted by static RAM, which was loaded from a special pre-boot floppy.

"Meanwhile Apple had somehow obtained an early hardware prototype which still contained an actual Mac ROM, used for compatibility testing of the chips. They promptly cried foul and pressured the Brazilian government through the State Department. Faced with threats of import barriers for Brazilian shoes and oranges (so they tell me) the government quickly backed down. At the time, a special license was required to manufacture computers in Brazil. The Unitron seems to be the only case where two contradicting reports were filed by the official appraisers: a technical report which lauded the project as a sterling example of reverse-engineering and technical ingenuity and a political report which denounced the project as a contemptible theft of trade secrets.

"Needless to say the project was canceled - over 500 machines had already been made and were ready to ship - and Unitron took a serious financial hit (they're still paying off interest on that loan).

"The chip designs were later sold to a Taiwanese company which also made noises about producing a Mac clone. There was a write-up in Byte magazine at the time, but I can't find their name right now. The lawyers descended on that company, too, and they weren't heard from again.

"Unitron was subsequently downsized. Today they make industrial electronic equipment and still produce small numbers of Apple II clones, which apparently are still used as stage lighting controllers and similar stuff."

There are claims that Unitron did not reverse engineer Apple's ROMs, but instead cloned the ROMs with a few minor changes. These claims are probably based on the prototype the contained Mac ROMs and was used for compatibility testing. The Mac512 had 128 KB of ROM, twice as much as the Fat Mac.

Rainer notes that the ROM code was written in a mix of C and assembly language.

From www.everything2.com :

Apple first authorised the production and sale of clones in 1994 (with the first models reaching the market in 1995), but the first Mac clone was in fact produced almost 10 years earlier in Brazil.

As a consequence of the country's "reserved market policy", only computers produced by Brazilian companies were allowed to be sold in Brazil. PC clones were available but since the design of Macs was proprietary, it was impossible to purchase one legally in Brazil. A small company named Unitron wanted to rectify this situation. The initial plan was to negotiate some sort of licensing agreement with Apple. Unfortunately Apple refused to do this without owning at least 51% of the ensuing venture, which was prohibited under Brazilian law, so Unitron decided to go ahead without Apple's blessing. Unitron had already successfully cloned the Apple II without incurring Apple's wrath, so it seemed a realistic target.

Unitron's goal was to clone the Macintosh 512k (code-named Fat Mac). Many of the components were freely available, such as the MC68000 microprocessor, although this did not make obtaining them trivial, because of the restrictive import laws. A few however were custom designed, these included the IWM (floppy controller), the real time clock, and 4 PLAs. On the software side Unitron needed to produce copies of the Mac OS ROM which at the time contained most of the ToolBox.

Unitron was able to secure a loan from the government and eventually managed to reverse engineer the custom designed chips, with the help of various University laboratories and National Semiconductor. Unitron claimed that the ROM was rewritten based on specifications from the Inside Macintosh books. Written in a mixture of C and assembly, it was twice the size of the original ROM. Unitron was also able to translate the operating system (known simply as "System" in those days) into Portuguese.

In 1986 Unitron released the Mac512, the first Mac clone. Unsurprisingly Apple's curiosity was aroused and they managed to obtain a few of these machines. After disassembling them, Apple disputed the fact that the ROM had been reverse engineered. Apparently a few bytes had been changed to change the checksum, but the immense majority of the ROM had been copied. There is some dispute as to whether the machines that Apple obtained were merely prototypes fitted with copies of Apple ROMs for compatibility testing, whether it was only later models that had a reverse engineered ROM or whether Unitron never actually successfully reverse engineered the ROM at all.

Whatever the truth behind all of this was, it suffices to say that Apple was not happy with what they saw. It was not the so much the reverse engineering of the hardware which posed problem, but the alleged copying of the ROM. In 1987 They were able to persuade the American government to threaten Brazil with raising tariffs or lowering imports of key Brazilian products if Unitron did not cease the production of its clones. The Brazillian government was able to pressure Unitron into canning the project, and the designs were eventually sold to a Taiwanese company. Apple's lawyers descended on this company as well and so the story of the very first Mac clone ends.

In 1992, when the law changed and Apple was finally allowed to sell their computers in Brazil, virtually nobody had seen or heard of a Mac before. People had bought IBM clones because that was all that there was to buy. Had Apple not come down so hard on Unitron they could have established a foothold there. On the other hand, had the Unitron experiment been allowed to continue, the machines could have spread to other countries and eaten into Apple's profits. Even if it had not, it could have set a dangerous precedent for Apple.

Sources:

http://www2.uol.com.br/macpress/artigos/c028a00052.shtml
http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1527846
http://www.lowendmac.com/clones/unitron.html
http://www.lsi.usp.br/~jecel/reserve.html
http://web.archive.org/web/20030620194342/http://www.applefritter.com/macclones/unitron/index.html
http://www.apple2.com.br/modules.php?name=Sections&op=viewarticle&artid=36 http://www.old-computers.com/museum/computer.asp?st=1&c=997
http://www.lsi.usp.br/~jecel/mac512.html
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tachyon



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PostPosted: Sun Oct 15, 2006 12:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great post, I never knew the Brazilan connection with the clones.
I had a look and it the Unitron is mentioned on the wikipedia article at

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macintosh_clone

There was another link there, with color photos

http://www.stoneagescanners.com/chester/mac512.html

That's clone gold. A true rarity.
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 15, 2006 12:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

thank you for the links, great photos.

I will add a section in the Gallery for this computer.
This is a really cool clone - I would love to have one.
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 15, 2006 12:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Some Portugese Infos:

From http://www.stoneagescanners.com/chester/mac512.html

UNITRON MAC 512 ?ltimo update: 14/Mar/2004

Quando a Apple lanÁou o Macintosh (~1984), ela o projetou de forma a impedir a criaÁ„o de "compatÌveis" (ao contr·rio do IBM-PC). Isto n„o impediu que a brasileira Unitron conseguisse a proeza de clon·-lo.

Ele seria lanÁado no mercado nacional com o nome de Unitron Mac 512, mas, graÁas a uma intervenÁ„o da Apple junto ao governo brasileiro, a empresa foi proibida de comercializ·-lo, e se viu obrigada a mudar de ramo (informaÁ?es aqui e aqui). Sempre se ouviu rumores de que algumas unidades haviam sido fabricadas e ainda existiam por aÌ.

Uma ediÁ„o recente da revista MacMania tratou do caso, reacendeu o interesse no assunto, e eu consegui descolar um ! O melhor È que, mesmo n„o tendo conseguido lig·-lo no PC, consegui v·rios disquetes dele e coloquei pra funcionar. Eis as fotos.

and here the Babelfish translation:

Quote:
512 UNITRON MAC last update: 14/Mar/2004

When the Apple launched the Macintosh (~1984), it projected of form to hinder it the creation of "compatible" (in contrast it IBM-PC). This did not hinder that the Unitron Brazilian obtained the feat of clonar it.

It would be launched in the national market with the name of Unitron Mac 512, but, thanks to an intervention of the together Apple to the Brazilian government, the company was forbidden to commercialize it, and if she saw debtor to move of branch (information here and here). One always heard rumors of that some units had been manufactured and still existed for there.

A recent edition of the MacMania magazine dealt with the case, it relit the interest in the subject, and I obtained to unglue one! Best he is that, exactly not having obtained to bind it in the PC, I obtained some floppies of it and I placed pra to function. Here are the photos.

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