Apple quells the attack of the Mac clones

Minority report: No one can sell you a Mac OS X machine except Cupertino

Minority report: No one can sell you a Mac OS X machine except Cupertino

Apple has defeated Mac-clone maker Psystar in court. Hardly surprising but also quite intriguing. Seb Janacek explains why.

The protracted legal battle between Apple and clone maker Psystar has finally ended. The winner was predictable: Apple. The manner of defeat maybe less so - the Cupertino company agreed to settle with the small PC maker, which sold Intel-powered PCs pre-installed with Mac OS X.

This week the judge presiding over the case ruled in Apple's favour, deciding Psystar had illegally modified Mac OS X to run on unauthorised computers. Psystar has stopped selling Apple's OS pre-loaded on PCs. In addition, the company which is already in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection somehow needs to fork out around $2.7m in damages.

However, Psystar will live to fight another day, having asked the federal judge to allow it to continue to operate and sell software that lets third parties hack the Mac OS X operating system to run on PCs. Given Apple's objection to this - and considering the Cupertino company essentially holds all the cards - the decision to settle seems odd.

I had to admit I was expecting Apple to enjoy a crushing victory with no mercy. Historically Apple has fiercely protected its copyright and its crown jewels - the Mac operating system - since Steve Jobs returned to the company in the late 1990s and turned the licensed clone makers out on their ears.

As a small company Psystar may have chosen to cut its losses. Meanwhile, Apple has got what it wanted from the case: the cessation of clone sales and more importantly the legal precedents it needs to defend itself against future attacks on its intellectual property from rogue cloners.

Cupertino may also have decided the decision to settle was a good PR move. Indeed the allegations from Psystar that Apple was running a monopoly may have tarred it with the antitrust brush.

The case has always been a curious one. It was unlikely that Psystar was ever going to win. Given how sensitive and protective Apple is over its operating system licensing, it was unlikely that a little upstart would get the better of it in a court of law.

The most interesting aspect of the whole saga was the allegation made by Apple that Psystar was merely a stalking horse - a front for a consortium of individuals or organisations using the clone maker to test the waters. In a PC market where price is a main differentiator, the ability to offer a popular non-Microsoft OS pre-installed on hardware could have proved attractive to buyers.

That mystery may end with the settlement - complete dissolution of Psystar may expose any so-called 'secret' backers.

One thing the settlement does resolve is that - for now at least - nobody but Apple can sell you a computer with Mac OS X pre-installed on it. The attack of the clones has been thoroughly repelled.

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