Today in Apple history: Psystar’s clone Macs go rogue

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After a battle with Apple over Mac clones, this T-shirt is all Psystar will be selling.
After a battle with Apple over Mac clones, this T-shirt is all Psystar will be selling.
Image: Psystar

April 27: Today in Apple history: Psystar clone Macs go rogue April 27, 2008: Psystar’s first Mac clones ship to customers. The new Open Computer means that, for the first time since the mid-1990s, there’s no need to assemble a “hackintosh” to run OS X on a non-Apple computer.

Unlike the last clone Macs, however, these low-priced computers don’t come with Cupertino’s blessing. Naturally, a fight ensues.

A brief history of Mac clones

Anyone old enough to remember Apple in the 1990s should remember clone Macs, the third-party computers that ran Apple’s operating system. The clone Mac era began in 1994, when Cupertino licensed its OS to companies like Power Computing and Radius.

Cupertino’s goal? To grow the Apple brand.

However, Apple quickly realized it lost money on the deal. The tiny licensing fees generated less revenue than selling genuine Macs to customers. Instead of more Macs, the strategy resulted in cheaper Macs.

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple, he ended the clone Macs scheme, buying out the remaining licenses as he focused on returning Apple to profitability. The last Mac clone-maker, Power Computing, closed shop in early 1998.

A decade later, Apple sat on top of the world. Aside from restoring the prestige of its Mac division, the company launched the iPhone, the iTunes Music Store and the iPod (at the time, Cupertino’s most profitable product). No good reason compelled Apple to get back into the clone business. But that did not stop clone-makers from wanting to cash in on Apple’s success.

Enter the Psystar Open Computer

One such company was Miami-based Psystar Corporation, founded by Rudy and Robert Pedraza. Announced in April 2008, Psystar manufactured the first commercially distributed hackintosh computers. The machines could come with Mac OS X Leopard pre-installed.

Psystar
Do you remember the Open Computer?
Photo: Psystar

To make this possible, Psystar adapted tech from the OSx86 Project, a collaborative hacking effort to get OS X running on standard PCs with x86 architecture on x86-64 processors.

Psystar’s Open Computer came with a 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E4500 processor, 2GB of DDR2 667 memory, integrated Intel GMA 950 graphics, 20x DVD+/-R SATA drive, gigabit Ethernet and four rear USB ports. (Customers could tweak and upgrade these components if they wished.) Prices started at $399, while a fully kitted-out OpenPro machine running OS X could stretch to $1,154.99.

The company’s press materials noted that:

“The Open Computer is a PC that works just like a Mac. With the Open Computer you can run OS X natively as if you had purchased an expensive Apple computer except that, while paying less, you receive more. Apple’s entry-level computer, the Mac Mini, is a small and not very powerful machine. When comparing base configurations, the Mac Mini costs 150% of the price of the Open Computer while offering poorer performance, smaller storage space, and RAM. Not only that but the Mac Mini doesn’t have the option for an nVidia GeForce 8600 video card like the Open Computer does so playing games on it is a lost cause.”

Apple sues Psystar over clone Macs

It didn’t take Apple’s legal team long to spring into action. By July, Cupertino had filed a copyright infringement suit against the small PC-maker.

Apple argued that Psystar’s clones violated the Mac OS X software licensing agreement. Cupertino accused the clone-maker of “direct and contributory copyright infringement, trademark and trade dress infringement, and violation of state and common law unfair competition laws.” Apple also accused Psystar of violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Psystar hit back. The clone-maker argued that Cupertino abused its Mac OS X copyright by forcing customers wanting to run the operating system to use Apple computers. Ultimately, a U.S. District Court ruled in Apple’s favor in 2009, handing the company a permanent injunction against Psystar.

One of the last products Psystar sold was a T-shirt reading: “I sued Psystar, and all I got was a lousy injunction.” In the end, Apple got a little more than that: Psystar agreed to pay Apple $2.67 million in damages.