PC Industry Episode II: Attack of the Mac Clones

PC Industry Episode II: Attack of the Mac Clones

Summary: As I am sure like many of you, I watched the entire Psystar imbroglio unfold last week, snickering under my breath with unabated amusement while I imagined the collective blood pressures of Apple executives boil to a protective fever, with armies of attorneys ready to stream out in phalanx attack formation from the Infinite Loop, to pounce on and crush this little upstart from Miami. Cue the Imperial March and the ZDNet brass section - dum dum dum duh de dum duh de dum....

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Apple Clone WarAs I am sure like many of you, I watched the entire Psystar imbroglio unfold last week, snickering under my breath with unabated amusement while I imagined the collective blood pressures of Apple executives boil to a protective fever, with armies of attorneys ready to stream out in phalanx attack formation from the Infinite Loop, to pounce on and crush this little upstart from Miami. Cue the Imperial March and the ZDNet brass section - dum dum dum duh de dum duh de dum....

Well, as it turned out, Psystar might have fizzled before any real fireworks began. Still, I have to think that this whole idea of commercially produced Mac Clones has legs -- and Apple's anticipated litigiousness regarding this matter will eventually have to be tested in court, if not with Psystar, then with someone just like them, perhaps some rogue Chinese, Korean or Indian company where American EULAs and contract laws are more difficult to enforce.

I can imagine that many of us veteran PC industry geezers are drawing parallels here to the original PC cloning movement, where the legality was tested in court during the landmark discovery of COMPAQs efforts to reverse-engineer the IBM PC BIOS. As some of you recall, IBM eventually determined COMPAQ "clean-roomed" the BIOS rather than copying it and violating IBM's intellectual property rights and patents, and the rest, as you can see, is history. There is the obvious difference here that Apple owns Mac OS X and the rights to the hardware platform it runs on, whereas IBM had a non-exclusive license from Microsoft which prevented a loophole from being closed, but to use the hackneyed phrase -- when there is a will, there is a way.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

I have always said that it made absolutely no sense that Apple backed off from the prospect of cloned systems. For a brief period, during the PowerPC days of the mid 90's, companies such as Power Computing produced clones -- many of which were considered even superior machines to the equivalent Macs at the time for the money -- until Steve Jobs put the kibosh on that deal when he replaced Gil Amelio as CEO in 1997 and the Power Computing assets were purchased. This was a fairly easy thing for Apple to stop at the time, because in order to produce a Mac clone, you needed to license and buy actual Mac firmware chips from Apple.

Fast forward to 2008 - and Macs have now migrated to the Intel platform for over two years. The only thing that stands in the way between Mac OS and viral dispersal of cloned hardware is the legality of running the OS on commoditized parts that any willing and determined PC hobbyist can assemble in their own home. How easy is it? Well, along with legal copies of Mac OS X and a special EFI firmware emulator for PC BIOS-based equipment and instructions how to put it all together it doesn't really require any more effort than what it would have typically taken a PC homebrewer to assemble their own DOS or Windows-based white box 10 or 15 years ago.

If you really want the easy way out and have no ethical quandaries with software piracy, you can get a hacked Mac OS X DVD (just search on "kalyway" or "osx86" on any myriad of torrent sites) that pretty much does the whole thing for you without any OS hacking skills needed whatsoever. There is absolutely nothing special at all about what Psystar purportedly does. If you want a clone Mac or a "Hackintosh" that badly, you can have one, for just a small amount of effort and a very modest cash investment in a relatively generic PC motherboard, processor, RAM, video card and case with power supply assembled from an ever-growing list of compatible parts.

In all likelihood, you probably can run it on the PC you have now, depending on your tolerance for headaches and how many Saturdays you feel like killing to get it tweaked just right to make all your drivers work. Oh, you'll need to be your own support person, and it will probably be more than a little bit messy, but if you are determined to "screw the man" so to speak, than a private citizen can effectively do whatever the heck they want without any interference at all from the Evil Fruit.

We are living in interesting times. Open Source desktop OSes are attracting the curious, and even the most stalwart of Windows supporters are now questioning their allegiances. If Apple were so inclined, permitting Mac OS X to run on generic PC and x86 Server hardware would probably throw an ugly wrench in both the Linux and Windows works. It might not be a huge wrench initially, but I bet the Linux crowd would definitely start to Think Differently if a truly legal Mac OS for X86 generic hardware were allowed to roam free on the Internet, with larger groups of people in the community doing hardware compatibility testing and installation scripting. Don't get me wrong, Ubuntu Hardy Heron is nice and all, but a Mac OS X I could easily and legally install on any random $500-$700 Dell or Taiwanese special from Costco or Wal-Mart? Or run as a Virtual Machine within ESX Server or Xen/KVM? Forget about it. Apple would sell tons of copies, and make many developers very, very happy.

Do you want your own Mac Clone and are willing to go thru the pains of building it yourself? Talk back and let me know.

Disclaimer: The postings and opinions on this blog are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Topics: Software, Apple, Hardware, Operating Systems, Security

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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127 comments
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  • for years that had the chance to do it

    now they will have neither to live with hackintosh or to make available to non apple hardware ....

    its not a choice it a reality.

    What ever lawyer will say or apple will say or anything .
    Does Microsoft have been able to cut piracy ....(not)
    Can apple do shiit about it too (not) ......

    Welcome to earth apple .


    as far as linux goes there ijn a league of there own
    way above the rest
    Quebec-french
    • Linux in a league of it's own?

      Meh. You're right. Even with the usability of Ubuntu, it's still in the nerd league. =P

      (PS - I run Linux too.)
      nix_hed
      • not geek but more like

        willing to learn and improve something to become above the masses
        Quebec-french
  • theres also the main error is

    if they did nt wanna get clone they should have stay with PPC chip.... but no they had the jump for intel crap ......

    Now it live with your choice chum and enjoy the knock-off :)
    Quebec-french
  • Historical revisionism

    Apple killed the clone market because it d@mn near killed
    Apple as a business. Or don't you remember that Jobs was
    brought back on to save the company from bankruptcy?

    This stupid old Apple should become an OS vendor
    argument raises it's moronic head every few years. It's
    particularly ridiculous when presented at a time when
    Apple is scoring record growth in its computer share and
    has steadily climbing market share.

    And it's all driven by the fact that a group of PC users
    know Windows sucks, but can't bring themselves to
    actually admit it publicly and buy a piece of Apple
    hardware.
    frgough
    • off course it nearly kill them back then

      But NOW since they move to Intel they put them self into a very awkward position where people can easily created there own clone without having a company support.

      Just two once on knowledge and a bit off willingness and boom you have it ...

      Apple put them self there .

      And as far as (a group of PC users
      know Windows sucks, but can't bring themselves to
      actually admit it publicly and buy a piece of Apple
      hardware.)

      It computer its like car pimping some will go the extra miles to have what they want
      Quebec-french
    • Wow. Historical revisionism

      [i]PC users know Windows sucks, but can't bring themselves to actually admit it publicly[/i]

      Actual history proves you wrong.

      (You have to hate that.)
      GuidingLight
      • Selective quoting

        I said the people raising the argument about Apple clones are
        PC users...

        Misrepresenting the arguments of your opponent in a debate
        means you've lost.
        frgough
        • Unselective quoting

          frgough:

          Let's try a slightly different tack:

          "Apple killed the clone market because it d@mn near killed Apple as a business. Or don't you remember that Jobs was brought back on to save the company from bankruptcy?"

          That's the first paragraph of your original post. The statement is relatively accurate, but only in so far as it goes. I suppose that you're willing to forgive/ignore the fact that Apple made some really stupid business decisions just prior to Jobs leaving the company, and continuing to do so until his return. But then, that's what True Believers do--forgive Apple and praise El Jobso as the Second Coming.

          "This stupid old Apple should become an OS vendor argument raises it's moronic head every few years."

          Yeah, it does. And I happen to agree with you that, at least for right now, it would be another particularly stupid business decision for Apple to make OS X available to run on non-Apple hardware. Doing so would hurt Apple's bottom line--hardware sales.

          "And it's all driven by the fact that a group of PC users know Windows sucks, but can't bring themselves to
          actually admit it publicly and buy a piece of Apple hardware."

          And then, you go ahead and completely blow your argument to smithereens by making a comment like that. But then, True Believers do those kinds of things. Regularly.
          M.R. Kennedy
      • Historical revisionism

        Not to mention that "apple hardware" is incredibly overpriced...

        Im not ready to pay for pretty cases and uber-hip form factors...

        for me computers are about preformance, who cares what the box under my desk looks like...


        bhang
        bhang657@...
    • it didn't make sense back then

      It does today though.

      Back in the 90s with the clones you still needed new different hardware to run the Mac OS X. Even though it was cloned it still was more expensive than a PC.

      Now if Apple wants to kill a clone market today all they need to do is license their OS to run on any Intel box out there. Suddenly the clones mean nothing and Apple is making money off software sales while still having their optimized hardware.
      voska1
      • problem

        The problem is then that if you seach windows xp pro on
        any torrent site you can find it, windows doesn't have any
        loss because they make money with other software. If
        macosx allowed people to use their os on linux mac osx
        would be on those sites in seconds, and that means they
        have lost their profit.... I also means that they would start
        charging higher prices for their OS (in uk) macosx is ?80,
        windows ultimate is ~?300 AND Mac has software that is
        bundled with it, they sell iLife for ?60 , it is probably worth
        more like ?1000, there are programs there which when you
        know how to use them are close to professional.
        ibook4113
      • and it doesn't make sense now either

        Those clones were crap. Mine was the only computer that
        ever broke down on me in 22 years. It lasted a measly
        five years (and I bet many didn't even last that long). I
        don't think loading the Mac OS on machines with cheap
        and nasty components is a good idea either for Apple or
        for consumers.
        labarker
        • If you got five years..

          Then you've done pretty good. You got your money's worth.
          hasta la Vista, bah-bie
          • Five years?

            Do you seriously think that Macs usually broke after that time? It's not 'normal' and 'acceptable' to become useless after five years, that's just what Ballmer & Co. want you to think.
            cmjrees
          • Yeah, five years

            And lot of machines don't even last [b]that[/b] long. What are you complaing about?

            And I could care less what Ballmer thinks.
            hasta la Vista, bah-bie
          • Hey...

            I'm running a five year old computer and it runs fine thank you very much... (Although I am dumping the poor old thing for a new one pretty soon... PS, this comp isn't even Apple)...
            Core2uu
        • and it doesn't make sense now either

          I agree. If Apple is held to catering to owners or manufacturers of lame PC hardware, it will end up on the same slow boat that everyone else is already riding on. Apple's advantage is being faster and efficient do to its strong and small market size. If the market share were to lead in the same way that the ipod carries it's category, there would be a whole new list of problems that are not currenty a factor for Apple or its userbase. Virus and worm problems, security, and the control or management of these factors would undergo compounded pressure as these ill will PC users turn their attention to Apple.
          itsasony@...
          • The only way

            The only way it would make sense is if Apple wanted to
            rapidly penetrate the world wide market, in which case it
            would probably partner with a manufacturer (Asus? Lenovo?)
            rather than just license the OS. I see this as unlikely, but
            within the realm of possibility, now that the iPod and iPhone
            have raised Apple's international profile.
            Marcos El Malo
    • Dubious argument

      So you're arguing that a piece of hardware should be purchased because you don't like a particular piece of software?

      This is like saying that if you don't like your car's radio you should buy a new car.
      cslycord@...