Will Mac clone take a bite of the Apple?
The release of a Mac clone has the web buzzing – but will Apple tolerate it, asks Linton Chiswick
News of a new Mac computer has caught everybody by surprise this week, including Apple. Cheap, cheerful, and running Apple software, the 'Open Computer' may shortly become the focus of a fascinating legal battle.
The concept of a 'Mac clone' isn't new. During the 1980s and 1990s a number of manufacturers produced computers capable of running Apple's operating systems. Apple responded with a mixture of fatalism and opportunism, licensing the best models and taking a cut of the action.
When founder and current head honcho Steve Jobs returned to Apple after a long hiatus, he brought the era of the clone to an end. Unlike Windows, which you can install on whatever PC you want, Apple's current operating system is designed to work with custom Apple hardware only, and comes with an End User License Agreement (EULA) expressly forbidding attempts to install it on anything else.
The good news for users is that Apple software and hardware operate together with an unrivalled robustness and elegance. The bad news is that Macs are expensive.
The new Mac clone is made by a mysterious, Miami-based company calling itself Psystar. The machine was announced on Monday, caused so much buzz the Psystar website crashed almost immediately - prompting rumours that Apple's lawyers had already parachuted in - but reappeared a day later to take orders. The 'Open Computer' itself is a mid-range tower, priced at just $399 - about $200 less than anything in the Apple line.
So far, Apple hasn't commented, and there's confusion over whether a license agreement - more of a deterrent than an enforceable contract, according to lawyers - can stop Psystar. Some suggest Apple might prefer to update its software to create compatibility problems.
Certainly, with dissatisfaction at Microsoft's Vista operating system high, and Apple's market share growing, Jobs will want to end talk of a new Mac clone era quickly and decisively. ·
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