Send in the (OpenMac) clones (and DIYiMac)

With apologies to Marc Wilmore, it's IT Blogwatch: in which a Mac clone gets people chattering and puts Apple's lawyers on DEFCON 1. Not to mention a home-built iMac clone...

Arnold Kim broke the story early this morning:

A company called Psystar has started advertising a $399 computer called "OpenMac" which claims to be a Leopard compatible Mac built from standard PC-parts ... marketing this as a cheaper and more expandable alternative to a true Apple Mac ... Leopard compatible with some "minimal patching" but does offer Leopard pre-installed ... accomplished by using parts that are known to be compatible with Mac OS X Leopard, as well as the use of an EFI emulator ...
These claims have not been independently verified, so this should not seen as an endorsement of this product. However, the technology appears to be derived from the osx86project, which has allowed hobbyists to install Mac OS X on their non-Apple PCs ... an interesting possibility, and will certainly draw the attention of Apple. more

Seth Weintraub adds:

Is this the beginning of another Clone era in Macintosh history? Probably not in any big way. You see Macintosh OSX expressly says in its EULA that it can only run on Apple-branded Computers. Pystar is most likely hoping that people gloss over that tiny detail. Or it is hoping that Apple likes that it is selling a copy of Leopard with its clones and decides to leave it alone. The story is bigger than just that, however. Pystar is exploiting a hole that Apple customers have been complaining about for years. Namely that there isn't a midlevel "everyman" Macintosh. The cheapest Mac Pro is $2000. The fastest Mac Mini uses a 2.5 inch hard drive and has integrated video instead of a dedicated card and still costs almost twice as much as the OpenMac. The iMac is three times the cost and has an integrated display - that all people may not want. more

Bryan Gardiner chimes in:

[It's] a move that's sure to get the attention of Apple's lawyers ... it's not the desktop's name that's likely to cause trouble, but rather the fact that Psystar (the company selling the machine) is claiming it will ship with a fully compatible version of Leopard ... it's clear the company is trying to market the OpenMac as a cheaper, more expandable alternative to a real Mac, which is great. But Apple's End User License Agreement is pretty clear about where its OS can appear: that would be Apple-branded hardware exclusively. And while it's one thing to do a little tinkering on your own, I suppose it's quite another for a company to do it for you -- and potentially make a profit off of it. Note: Psystar is at least making people pay for certified copies of Leopard. more

The anonymous gnomes at Psystar write:

The staff here routinely experiments with new pet projects or "hacks", either with software and operating systems or with hardware. We enjoy modifying everything from our homes to our cars to our computers and we take pleasure in sharing this knowledge with others ... Mac enthusiasts have been experimenting on running the new Apple operating systems on commodity PC hardware ever since the Intel-based Apple computers were introduced in early 2006 ... even the latest releases of OS X can now run on PC hardware that is commonly available but compatibility can sometimes be an issue. Psystar has assembled a system that is completely operational with Leopard ... Through extensive testing we have reinvented the wheel ... The basic OpenMac is better than the most affordable Apple computer out now not only in price but in possibilities. The OpenMac sports a faster processor (2.2GHz vs. 1.83GHz), double the memory (2GB vs. 1GB), three times more hard drive space (250GB vs. 80GB) at almost half the price! more

Adrian Thomas flies in to say:

The draw? The OpenMac can be configured with a better graphics card, processor and larger harddrives than the similarly prices Mac mini. It has none of the mini’s good looks - but then again, looks aren’t everything. They claim the OpenMac is capable of running a stock Leopard installation without any modifications. But once you dig a bit deeper, it turns out that’s not quite the case ... they’re basically selling Hackint0sh’s. I expect Apple’s legal dept. is already looking at ways to take this down. It’s a shame that Apple doesn’t offer a configuration like this though: A Mac mini with a slightly better graphics card would be a great second mac for notebook owners who already have an external monitor who want to play the occasional game without shelling out for an iMac or Mac Pro. more

John Koetsier is an aesthete:

OpenMac is a game changer for Mac switchers. It’s not pretty, and it’s not small. But it is very, very cheap ... I’m tempted to pick up one, but a couple of things hold me back. First of all, I love Apple fit and finish. Aesthetics are important to me, and I don’t want objects in my house that I don’t love. Secondly, I’m fairly certain Apple’s next OS update will include some code checking if it’s on an OpenMac, and potentially brick your computer. (I’m also fairly certain that enterprising hackers will find a way around that, but I’m not the type that likes to do open heart surgery on my operating system.) But I bet a lot of potential switchers will pick one up - primarily technical types who have wanted to check Apple out, but have not wanted to drop the grand or more that is the current price of admission (Mac Mini aside). And the end results will actually be good for Apple with an expanded market, OS sales to anyone who antes up, and a cheap entry point to Mac that does not compromise the Apple brand. more

Bart Reardon's magic 8 ball is uncertain:

If this went to market one of two things would happen: (1) Apple laywers set phasers to kill - nothing to see here move along (2) A precedent is set where it is legal to sell a computer compatable with Leopard and it would be the end user breaking the EULA. It has already been shown that a company can sell a compatable product as long as they don't infringe on copyright (compaq vs IBM anyone? and we all know what happened after IBM lost that fight). Anyone wanting to buy an "OS X compatable" PC? more

But Roberto Mateu is more forthright:

Let’s see how long this lasts. I give it less than a week. more

And finally...

Buffer overflow:

Other Computerworld bloggers:

Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/adviser/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and spam. A 20 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. You too can pretend to be Richi's friend on Facebook, or just use boring old email:

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