The Great Psystar Hoax

By Mike on 6:34 pm

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One of the most bizarre tech stories to come out in awhile swept across the internet this week. It involved a company named Psystar, who was supposedly making Mac clones and selling them for just $399 base cost. This is far cheaper than any Mac Apple sells. The company had supposedly used the OSX86 project's code to run Mac OS X Leopard on off the shelf PC hardware. This violates the EULA for OS X (since it's only allowed to run on Apple hardware) and possibly the controversial Digital Millenium Copyright Act. The plot has thickened since then since information has come out showing that Psystar is most likely a hoax. For one, the address the company gives is home to a totally different company that sells packing supplies. I think a lot of tech heads were suckered in by this hoax, myself included. Mostly because it is plausible. OSX86 is a real project for running Mac OS X on off the shelf PC hardware, and yes, it does work. Though Psystar had claimed to have worked with them, OSX86 denies being contacted by them. Apple themselves seems to have been suckered in by this hoax, sending their lawyers after this guy. They've made no official announcements regarding this as of me writing this.

Why were so many people suckered into this? Well for starters, it is plausible as I said. It also had a lot of Mac fans licking their chops for the possibility of an ultra low cost alternative to Apple's pricy hardware. Low end systems like the Mac Mini typically are priced higher than their PC counterparts with similar specifications. There are a number of people out there with "Hackintosh" computers, PCs running OSX86. The idea of a cheap Mac clone is mighty tempting. Apple did test the waters of the cloning market back in the mid 1990s. Motorola was one of the more notable Mac cloners, being part of the Apple-IBM-Motorola (AIM) alliance that developed the PowerPC processor. Motorola sold its line of Mac clones under the StarMax brand. They were cheaper than regular Macs. We bought one of these and it's still occasionally used at the office of our family business. Apple didn't keep this going for too long though. The StarMax line ended in 1997. Mac clones themselves are still in high demand.

There have been repeated calls for Apple to open up it's OS to run on PC hardware in the post Intel transition era. Most notable is Michael Dell, who wanted to sell a line of Dell systems with OS X as an option. Apple has stated that they will not allow OS X to run on anything other than Mac hardware. Back in the 1980s, cloning arguably killed IBM's home PC business. Though Apple does create and release a large amount of software, the company is still primarily in the hardware business, and they want to keep it that way. Chances are they wouldn't sell very many computers if their profitable OS was ported to a cheaper system. It makes logical sense to them but I'm not sure if it does to others, or even myself. If Apple is really serious about taking down the big boys in Redmond, maybe they need to rethink their strategy. In recent years, Apple has become the Gucci of the PC world. Their products are solid but many see them as overpriced and underpowered for what they sell for compared to Windows PCs. There is obviously a demand for a low cost Mac. The Mac Mini is currently the cheapest option but at $599, it's expensive and doesn't even come with a DVD burner, which is standard on most systems these days. The Mini is a small form factor PC though, which is partly why it costs more. Perhaps Apple should think about making a sub-$500 upgradable tower based system. Given that this seems to be the route that a lot of manufactuers are going these days, it would only make sense for Apple to do so if they want to stay competitive.

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