Apple Hopes To Kill Psystar’s $399 Mac

The numbers look too good to be true for Apple Inc.’s Mac followers — A 2.2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 2 GB of DDR2 667 memory, a 250 GB hard drive, DVD, and Integrated Intel GMA 950 Graphics, all for a lowly $399.  To put this in perspective a Mac Mini with a 2.0 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, equivalent memory, a 160 GB hard drive, DVD, and the same graphics processor, will cost you a hefty $949.  Of course the $399 Mac came in a full-size case, and the Mac Mini came in a shrunken footprint, but obviously for some Mac users, the decreased size wasn’t worth $550.

Well it turns out it may well have been too good to be true.  The Mac compatible computer, produced by Miami-based Psystar went temporarily offline, amid threats from Apple’s legal legion.  Psystar, also known for its Voice-over-Internet, security and networking systems perhaps should have known better when it advertised to users a chance to buy a computer “capable of running unmodified OS X Leopard kernels”.

Apple has long fought such moves.  Briefly during Gil Amelio’s tenure at Apple a number of Mac clones were allowed, as it was seen that the insistence on proprietary sales was one cause of the downfall of Macs, from their once leading position in the home computer market.  However, with Steve Jobs quickly reassuming leadership of the company, the clones were out the window, and he began a campaign of purging and did not stop until every last clone maker was destroyed.

Still, in the shadowy underground of Apple-loving hackers, following Apple’s switch from PowerPC to Intel processors, some users found ways to patch or emulate OS X to get around Mac’s Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI), one of Apple’s main barriers to cloning.  Other similar barriers were removed, and ever since a small Mac hardware hacking community has arisen.  The Cupertino-based Apple and its CEO Steve Jobs have tried to silence this movement, but their constant cat-and-mouse battle with the hackers has had little impact.

However, Apple found a perfect target to vent its frustrations on when, when Psystar dared to try to make a business undercutting Apple’s own marked up hardware.  Psystar came with the EFI V8 emulator which tricks OS X install disks into thinking the computer was an official Mac.  Apple couldn’t directly assault Psystar as there was nothing overtly illegal about its hardware.  So they dug.  And they quickly discovered a caveat — Psystar offered to preinstall users’ copies of OS X on the system.  Leopard’s End User License Agreement (EULA) states:

This License allows you to install, use and run one (1) copy of the Apple Software on a single Apple-labeled computer at a time.

Apple’s lawyers, armed with this clear violation of the EULA promised to challenge Psystar and coincidentally, the site just went down only to come up renamed.  Whether Apple’s legal team can lay Psystar’s $399 Mac to rest remains to be seen, but its clear Psystar is going to fight what it calls an “illegal EULA” to the bitter end.

While Apple is broadly appreciated as one of the most innovative tech companies, it has also been widely criticized for its draconian legal and business tactics — from bricking users unlocked iPhones, to killing the leak site Think Secret, and trying to legally block the Big Apple, New York City from using a logo with an apple (which bears little resemblance to either version of Apple Inc.’s logo) in an environmental campaign.

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