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Apple wants Psystar to snatch back Mac clones from customers ... and other thoughts

The revelation yesterday that Apple had filed suit against the Florida-based Mac-clone outfit Psystar generated a lot of commentary and questions from readers. So much so that I've decided to try to cover some of them in this post.The bottom line is that Psystar's customers are up a creek without a paddle.

The revelation yesterday that Apple had filed suit against the Florida-based Mac-clone outfit Psystargenerated a lot of commentary and questions from readers. So much so that I've decided to try to cover some of them in this post.

Why is Apple suing Psystar?

Apple vs. Psystar
Well, to put it simply, Apple believes that Psystar has no right to sell systems pre-loaded with the Mac OS X.

Read the full complaint here.

Isn't this just a case of Psystar breaching Apple's EULA (End User Licensed Agreement)?

No. On the face of it this suit might seem a little petty given that each copy of Mac OS X that Psystar was selling was legitimately purchased, but Apple claims that Psystar's Open Computer and OpenServ systems run a "modified unauthorized version of the Leopard operating system." Psystar has also been pushing modified versions of Apple's security updates (modified so that they'll work on Psystar's machines) via its website.

So this is just an issue of intellectual property infringement?

No. In the suit filed, Apple has also been quite scathing about the quality of the systems that Psystar is selling:

Online commentators have reported that Psystar’s computer is “missing stuff like iLife, Bluetooth. an IR receiver, DVD burning and the ability to update your computer,” is “LOUD, Crazy Loud,” it “breaks the OS’ automatic updates,” and that “video was DOA right out of the box. No signal going to monitor Boot up is moot point as there is nothing to see.” Of Psystar itself reviewers have written “they have no quality control,” “lousy tech support,” and “All I want to do is return the computer and get a refund.” Likewise, it has been reported that Psystar has repeatedly changed location, this its office could not be found and that its first on-line payment processor terminated Psystar’s account.

So if Psystar stop selling the Open Computer and OpenServ, it's in the clear?

No, Apple seems to want to take things a lot further than that. For starters, Apple claims that "Psystar’s actions have been committed with intent to damage Apple and to confuse and deceive the public" and that "as a direct and proximate result of Psystar’s infringing conduct, Apple has suffered and will continue to suffer lost sales and profits in an amount not yet fully ascertained in an amount to be proven at trial."

Not only does Apple want Psystar to stop selling Mac clones, it also wants Psystar to recall ALL the Mac-clone systems sold since April.  

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But weren't all copies of the Mac OS bought and paid for?

Yes, but that's not the point. Apple is claiming that Psystar had no right modifying its code in order to make it work on a standard PC and then distributing that modified code.

So, where does this leave customers?

Up a creek without a paddle. Apple wants all Open Computer and OpenServ systems sold by Psystar since April to be recalled. How that would work and whether customers would receive a refund is unclear at this point.

But let's assume that there is no recall and that this is simply a legal tactic to make life harder for Psystar, customers who bought Psystar systems running Mac OS X are still in limbo. Since these systems relied on system updates that had been doctored by Psystar not to cripple the machines, and that we can be pretty sure that no more of these updates will be released by Psystar, the OS is essentially frozen in time. On top of that we can also assume that technical support and any warranties are now kaput too.

Was what Psystar doing legal?

Several of the TalkBack commentators yesterday seemed convinced that Psystar was in the clear as to what it was doing and that it was Apple that was wrong to file suit. I am not a lawyer and my usual phrase in these cases is that it's for the courts to decide what's legal and what's not.

However, if there were a legal loophole that allowed an OEM to modify the Mac OS to run on a standard PC then I'm surprised that we haven't seen a big OEM like Dell or HP do it. The fact that the only company to sell a Mac clone was a company that no one had hear from tells me that the big names had already ruled it out. If Psystar had managed to load the Mac OS onto the systems without modification then a it might have fallen into that grey area and remained unchallenged, but Psystar was blatant about what it was doing, and there's no way that Apple could be seen to allow that to continue.

Will Apple ever become clone-friendly again?

I doubt it. Apple is a hardware company and not a software company and it needs that hardware/software lock-in to remain in place. Just as when the "IBM PC" became the "IBM-compatible PC" and later just "PC" pretty much everyone benefited from that ... apart from IBM. Apple would have to radically alter its business model in order to be able to survive in the face of clones.

Will virtualization eventually break Apple's grip on hardware?

Maybe, but I can forsee a massive Apple vs. The Hackers battle at that point. Then Apple will probably end up adopting a Microsoft-like product activation routines.

Will this case ever make it to court?

Personally, I doubt it.

Thoughts?

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