PsyStar introduced its Mac clone to much media attention back in April, causing many discussions about the company’s legal status, the validity of the Mac OS X EULA, and even PsyStar’s very existence. It soon turned out PsyStar was a real company, and was actually shipping the OpenComputer Mac Clone to its customers, to generally rather favourable reviews – not stellar of course, but acceptable, with the biggest downside being the inability to use the Software Update tool, forcing users to download OS updates straight from PsyStar’s servers – to prevent updates from Apple hosing the OpenComputer. We’re a few months later now, and a few things have changed.
Firstly, PsyStar has expanded its Macintosh clone product line with the OpenServ 1100, a – you guessed it – clone of Apple’s Xserve rack server. It has four front drive bays, two gigabit ethernet ports, and built-to-order options such as a maximum of 16GB of RAM. The choice in operating systems is vast, offering CentOS 5.1 (32- or 64-bit), various Windows Server options, Ubuntu Server 8.04, Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard Client, or unlimited Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard Server.
The company hasn’t been sitting still on the software front either. The Software Update tool which at first didn’t work properly on the Mac OS X version installed on PsyStar’s Mac Clones, now works just fine because it contacts PsyStar’s servers, not Apple’s, which fixes one of the major problems for those not interested in brands and badges.
CNet’s Tom Krazit got a few comments from PsyStar’s CEO, Rudy Pedraza. The company has not yet been contacted by Apple or its legal team, and Apple itself characteristically declines to comment on this issue. In addition, even though PsyStar declines to mention specifically how many OpenComputers they have sold so far, they did say the number is in the “thousands”. Pedraza explains the OpenComputer mainly is bought by people who couldn’t afford a Mac before, but also by small companies who cannot afford to equip their staff with Apple’s Macs. Lastly, the company will start offering its products in Europe too.
CNet.com has been testing the OpenComputer for a month now, and wonders what exactly makes a Mac a Mac – after using the OpenComputer for a month, Tom Krazit just isn’t so sure anymore. “As long as I ignore the big ugly box underneath my desk it’s easy to forget that this isn’t a Mac. […] In just about everything but the name, this is a Mac.”
These days, there is little that separates a Macintosh from any other x86 machine – hardware-wise, that is. They use the same processors, the same chipsets, the same graphics cards, the same memory, the same hard drives, the same everything. Apple always claims that what sets the Mac apart is the combination of hardware and software that Apple offers, which, according to them, makes it possible to deliver a more stable and reliable platform, since Apple only has to focus on a limited set of hardware to support.
However, when a small company such as PsyStar can just put together a machine using off-the-shelf parts, and can offer products virtually indistinguishable from a real Mac in user experience (according to CNet) then it does raise the question: how long will Apple be able to stop more companies from doing so?
In The Netherlands, we have a saying: “als er Ã©Ã©n schaap over de dam is, volgen er spoedig meer”, which loosely translates into “if one sheep crosses the water, more will soon follow”. Apple better do something about this quick, or else the clones will sprout everywhere. Which is good for competition, but bad for Apple.
To determine if this is a bad thing for Apple or not we need to consider a number of things. Firstly in the article you talk about companies putting together off-the-shelf clones to run MacOS. This is true to a certain degree – but these clones still use the same chipset, graphics sets, etc that are available in current Macs. This may change, but for the moment that means that the suggestion that Apple’s claims about how they keep the system stable being untrue is itself not quite correct.
Secondly, we need to consider how much Apple actually make from hardware. Due to the scales involved and type of materials used in Apple’s manufacturing it is no doubt costing them a little more than the cost of your average clone to build a Mac, so the argument could be raised that they really make most of their “Mac” money from the OS and Apps – which they are still doing with the Pystar clones out there. So to some degree it would be more advantageous for these clones to exist.
Thirdly, I think we are missing something in this whole mix – Knowledge Navigator. That is where Apple want to be. Look at the concepts in that video then look at iPhone. They aren’t there yet, but make no mistake they will be – maybe not exactly as per the original concept, but I believe that is the place Apple want to be. The desktop market the way we know it will ultimately die, so I don’t believe this is as big a threat to Apple as hype would want us to believe. I don’t think we will see Apple do anything about Pystar because I think its actually good for them.
Only time will tell…