Psystar's Thermopylae won't end Apple's clone nightmare

Apple may win the battle, but they'll lose the war, eventually. Well, that was predictable, really.

Apple may win the battle, but they'll lose the war, eventually.

Well, that was predictable, really.

A small startup in Florida decides to go make Mac clones, and surprise, surprise, Apple starts legal proceedings and unleashes the might of its superior Army of Litigious Immortals.

Well, we all know how that one is going to end, right? Apple is a multi billion dollar technology company with tons of money at its disposal for protracted litigation. In the most likely scenario, poor little Psystar will back down, turn its tail between its legs and cease and desist.

Far less likely, but in what would be the most entertaining scenario, like good King Leonidas above, they will go into battle facing incredible odds with the most remote chance of victory -- on the small premise that the interpretation of Apple EULA and their DRM that Psystar had to circumvent will not stand up in court. In all likelihood in such a scenarior, Psystar as a company will die due to financial realities of trying to sustain the legal costs of such a vicious lawsuit. We've seen what happens when much larger companies than Psystar go to war with much bigger giants, and in the end, it's never pretty.

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Whatever path Psystar chooses -- be it settlement and backing down, or fighting to the death in true Spartan fashion, the outcome is clear. Apple is going to win. They have more money, and the wherewithal to carry it through. Little Psystar doesn't.

But will Apple's victory be Pyrrhic?

Now that Psystar machines are in the wild, the genie is out of the bottle. The method which Psystar has used to load OS X on their machines using a documented, repeatable process -- the actual ICAP of the company itself -- is likely to make its way into the hacker community at large when the company dies. And should this lawsuit go to trial as far as the discovery phases, there is no doubt that their special "scripted installer" is going to be dissected, analyzed and reproduced  -- if it doesn't happen much, much sooner.

Whether Psystar lives or it dies as a result of this lawsuit, it's a foregone conclusion that absolutely anyone and his brother is going to be able to easily bring up Mac OS X on their very own Psystar-like machines. Certainly, it's already possible, considering that Psystar has used Open Source software in order to produce its systems. But its currently a hackerish, not for the faint-of-heart touch-and-go process that requires patience, dedication, and a lot of Internet sleuthing on fringe sites. If I were Psystar, I'd poison pill the entire situation for Apple by making all of the ICAP they created to build the systems -- sans the Apple OS X software itself -- available on a public website. Then Apple will have a huge mess on their hands.

And once that happens, all bets are off. Because all of this is occurring on the cusp of the Great Virtualization Paradigm Shift, where we will start seeing heavier use of Open Source/Free hypervisors like KVM, Hyper-V and Xen, and it will be all too easy to virtualize exactly what the Mac OS expects when running with native hardware. With the right hypervisor patches and tweaks, very little Mac OS install hackery is going to be required by those people who want to run the OS on cheap PCs.

How on earth is Apple going to be able to sue Xen, KVM, the Linux Kernel Project or the Free Software Foundation when some group of smart, motivated kids in China or other rogue nation with no WIPO treaty agreements creates some forked hypervisor project using that Psystar ICAP that any amateur Linux user can install running  on a "clean" Ubuntu, OpenSUSE or Fedora? Or better yet, some ultra-minimalist Linux OS produced explicitly for the purposes of booting virgin Mac OS X without needing arcane workarounds published on fringe sites for every clone Taiwanese motherboard variant? One that doesn't require some illegal Hackintosh distro like KALYWAY?  With virtually no perceived performance hit due to the use of more sophisticated virtualization extensions in modern multi-core processors from Intel and AMD?

Such a thing doesn't exist now, but give it a year, and Nightmare Hypervisor will rise from the depths to bite a chunk out of Apple's juicy flesh.

Let's face it -- virtualization is eventually going to make the hardware dependent eccentricities of OS X and Mac's feeble attempts at DRM meaningless.  Poor little Psystar may very well face its Thermopylae, but like the Persians, Apple will eventually lose the war.

It is better that Apple avoids the ugliness that is going to befall them later by allowing and encouraging Mac OS X to run legally on clone hardware, with a company supported developer program and community involvement, than facing a distributed legion of hackers determined to foil them with the tools to defeat anything they can come up with. Like Good King Leonidas and his band of 300 Spartans, Psystar will become the legend or the martyr that will give Mac hackers the motivation to punish the company where it hurts most -- their coffers. Mark my words -- it will take time, but Persepolis will be sacked.

Will virtualization force Apple to legalize OS X on vanilla x86 hardware? Talk Back and let me know.


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