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ATPM 14.05
May 2008




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by Wes Meltzer,

Alpacas Cynics Foremost

They say everything old is new again, but I didn’t think my childhood was going to be new anytime soon.

I was wrong.

From 1995 to 1997, Apple licensed Mac OS to third-party hardware manufacturers, in an attempt to be more like Microsoft. But at the time, name-brand Macs were pretty expensive, and the demand was fairly limited, so it only had the result of destroying Apple’s ability to function as a company. Rather than turning into Redmond, they got turned into Be, Inc., with a legacy hardware program attached. One of prodigal CEO Steve Jobs’ first actions was to eliminate the licensing program.

Jobs gets the lion’s share of the credit for rescuing the company today, and I mean this in its original sense (“all,” as per Aesop, not the colloquial “most”). And most of us thought that, in spite of the bizarre chatter from computer industry “analysts” who don’t have any idea what they’re talking about, the cloning program was done.

So it came as an, uh, interesting surprise to me to hear that there was a company with an Internet storefront offering Mac clones for sale with Mac OS X on them. I came at this a little later than everyone else, apparently, since I had the temerity to leave town on business and came back midway through the news cycle. And all I heard was “PSYSTAR!” Ars Technica’s Charles Jade broke the story (as best as I can tell), and he also had a lot of juicy details about the mysterious Mac clone they were offering for sale:

Psystar, a plucky little company from Miami, Florida is, for the moment, selling OpenMac, a Mac clone with Leopard pre-installed for $554. You also get:

  • 2.2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU

  • 250 GB Hard Drive (7200 RPM)

  • 2 GB DDR2 667 RAM

  • Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics

  • DVD+/-R Optical Drive

  • 4 USB ports

For another $110, you can get an NVIDIA GeForce 8600GT, and for another $50, you can get FireWire too. Even without that, this price seems a little high compared to other OEM PCs sold by mom and pop.

The whole saga began with pluck, but that wasn’t going to last. Jade foreshadowed what was going to come with 22 simple words in very plain English from Apple’s End User License Agreement for OS X: “You agree not to install, use or run the Apple Software on any non-Apple-labeled computer, or to enable others to do so.”

Set aside the question of whether it’s realistic to sell a Mac clone. The amount of work required to run OS X on an Intel PC is apparently quite onerous, and a lot of hardware is bound not to work, because Apple drivers are customized to the exact models of hardware in their branded computers. So your hardware choices are limited, never mind the level of polish that Apple puts into their cases and peripherals and the like. But having said that, you can do it. The larger question isn’t can you, but may you?

Their Web site may have been flooded with visitors, so much so that their site was down overnight on April 14. But by the next day, they were back and “defiant,” to borrow CNET’s Tom Krazit’s term. InformationWeek’s Paul McDougall got an employee named Robert to comment on the story, and all he said was, “What if Microsoft said you could only install Windows on Dell computers?” He went on to claim that Apple’s EULA was what was in the wrong, and that Apple was a monopolist.

So Krazit does a little analysis: for the purposes of antitrust litigation in the US, Apple could only be a monopolist if the relevant market is “computers running OS X.” He thinks that’s a bit, ahem, constipated reading of the law. He wasn’t the only one to pick up on this angle: NewsFactor’s Jennifer LeClair got an actual intellectual property lawyer to comment, Ilan Barzilay of Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks (in Boston). Barzilay told LeClair, “If the relevant market is personal computers, there’s no way you can say Apple has a monopoly.”

Now, there’s an argument to be made here (and not just from Psystar; for instance, PC World’s Travis Hudson sounds like he’s edging toward it) that the EULA is itself a sham. These agreements have so far been presumed to be valid prima facie, but Psystar is saying that they will litigate.

Then, the next day, Psystar’s payment processing company ended their relationship with the company. PowerPay accused Psystar of violating the terms of their agreement. Psystar switched to PayPal, which may or may not still be processing payments for them. (I can’t confirm it because I can’t access Psystar’s site at all.) And CNET’s Krazit got a direct explanation from PowerPay’s CEO:

The applicant processed almost 200 percent of his anticipated annual volume over just a few days. In doing so, the applicant never used AVS (address verification services), which is a vital part of validating cardholder consent… This, coupled with the fact that product was substantially different from what was described in the application, left PowerPay no choice but to suspend services. The discrepancy in addresses and other info only add to our discomfort with the account.

At about the same time, there was some good citizen journalism going on, trying to determine if this Psystar existed at all and who and what they were. With tips from readers, The Guardian’s Charles Arthur started trying to hunt down who this Psystar was (hint: neither the BBB nor the Chamber of Commerce had ever heard of them). It was he who hit on the changing address on the Psystar Web site throughout the day on April 15, something that certainly smells a little funny. A reader e-mailed Krazit to say that a Miami screen-printing company was located at one of their listed addresses; then, they changed the address twice more. And they got some more information: the company appears to be owned by Rodolfo Pedraza.

Some of Gizmodo’s readers in South Florida actually drove to the locations and took photos: one was a residential address, and some others warehouses in west Miami. Another reader found some incorporation filings from the State of Florida—apparently these yahoos (Rodolfo and an accomplice, Roberto Pedraza) are the state-registered officers of seven corporations of one bizarre stripe or another. My favorite is Dade Elevator Corp, filed in October 1979 and involuntarily dissolved on December 16, 1981. I can find no evidence of any elevators ever produced by the Pedrazas. And I’m not sure I’d want to ride in one. They’ve had other corporations dissolved by the state, for lack of paperwork filed (e.g., Foreceed Corporation, Expressi Networks, Deco Motors). Their only two active companies are Psystar and Floridatek, LLC, listed as based in Homestead, in far southwest Dade County, Fla.

Richard Koman, ZDNet’s government blogger, thinks that the whole thing smells rotten. In fact, he lists a variety of interesting reasons that they’re just a big phishing operation. I’m not sure, but good grief, people. If you’re a real company, why wouldn’t you register with the Chamber of Commerce, the Better Business Bureau, a directory—something?

After all of the uproar settled down, Macworld’s Rob Griffiths took a stab at building his own Mac clone. He figured, I guess, that it might be a good exercise. End results? “While it was fun to build the Frankenmac,” he wrote, “the truth is that I’m not generally willing to live with the downsides of a build-your-own Mac over the real thing fresh from Apple’s factory.” Plus, I’d forgotten how awful the interiors of a home-built PC look in comparison to a Mac. Ouch.

Inheritances Mosh Town

  • Apparently the next version of the Adobe Creative Suite, CS4, won’t be 64-bit on the Mac but will be in Windows. Ars Technica’s maestro John Siracusa says you can blame either Apple or Adobe, either because Adobe was unprepared or because Apple changed the rules of the game. John Gruber (can you believe this is the first time I’ve linked him?) asks if it’ll matter at all. In real-world use, a 64-bit Photoshop would be 8–12 percent faster, he quotes John Nack of Adobe. Hmm.
  • Are you still using Eudora? Seriously? Even the Engsts, of TidBITS, are now using Apple Mail. It may be time to switch, guys. Have I mentioned that I lost patience with Eudora and its ridiculous, unmodern ways a long time ago now? Anyway. Tonya Engst documented her experience switching to Mail, and although it’s clear that her setup isn’t perfect, the time has come.
  • Om Malik and John Gruber do some interesting math on how much money Apple makes from Google referrals. Apparently Malik thinks it’s at least $25 million and wants to know more, and Gruber notes that we don’t know exactly how much—but that Apple almost certainly has better negotiators than the Mozilla Foundation.
  • Marco Arment takes an interesting, long-view look at the pricing and profitability of iPhone software sales. As he puts it, you could make $18,648; or $186,480; or $1,864. What’s the sweet spot? How does the number of iPhone users affect the dollars? What price will users pay for iPhone applications? I don’t know, and neither does he, but it’s good to see people asking the question. I hope, for the iPhone and for developers’ sake (and for mine, once the exclusivity contract is up) that the answer isn’t “free,” because we’ll see a much more robust software ecosystem at $10-$15, I think.
  • Have you ever wondered about the magic of the graphical user interface, what makes it work and where there’s room to improve? Bret Victor takes a very, very long, Edward Tufte-esque (and dissertation-length) look at the world of interactive graphical design, called “Magic Ink.” You’ll be glad you read it. (Someday. When you’re finally done.)

Therefore Whiten Potent

On a final note, I finally got around to relaunching a sort-of blog for this column. There’s always plenty that I think about writing, and flag for later work, but for a variety of reasons doesn’t make it in at the end of the month. (Sometimes, it just doesn’t fit; and sometimes, it doesn’t look interesting anymore after a few weeks.)

If you want to follow along, and get the unfiltered Mac and blog news from just about every source I can bear to read, you can keep reading at Son of Bloggable, my tumblelog. Send me photos of your Macs, links to anything that interests you, and whatever else you think deserves to be heard. We’ll make it so.

You see, this column has always been about you, Mac users on the Web. Except, “you” has always required that you have a blog or some other public forum, and that I be able to find you. Now, I have the opportunity to take down those barriers. All you need, now, is the ability to send me an e-mail or IM. Let’s see if we can make this work.

And that’s all for the news. Have a wonderful May!

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