On Psystar, Apple And Conspiracy Theories


I was listening to this week’s TWiT on my commute in this morning when one of the TWiTs mentioned that they were taking a pass on the Psystar Open Computer (essentially a gray box hacked to run OS X Leopard) because the threat of an Apple lawsuit putting Psystar out of business is simply too great. As the discussion ensued, a question popped into my head: why hasn’t Apple sued Psystar into oblivion at this point? They’ve shown that they will file take-down notices/lawsuits against anyone running product info leaks, so why should a company making money off of illicitly-installed Apple products be free to run its business. Then it occurred to me: What if Apple actually wants Psystar to keep making “Frankenmacs”?
Follow me here. One of Steve Jobs’ first acts after returning as CEO of Apple was to kill off the Mac clone business. He essentially wanted to manage the brand, image and soup-to-nuts experience of Macintoshes and the only way to do so in a reliable manner was to make sure that all things related to the core Mac experience flow through Cupertino. As gatekeepers of the Mac platform, they could eliminate so many of the problems that the exceedingly heterogeneous PC platform incurs — badly written drivers, wildly varying hardware, multiple manufacturers, etc. Now, since the PCs of the mid-90’s were all running on x86 and the Macs of the time running PowerPC chips, no one took much notice. No dedicated Windows 98 user would even think of trying to run Mac OS on his PC — it was just plain impossible.
Then came Mac OS X and the Great Intel Switch.
All of a sudden, PC users took note of OS X. “Hey, it runs on Intel, why can’t we have it too?”, they wondered (“they” even including Dell CEO Michael Dell himself). Apple has never really made too much of a public fuss about the prospect, generally assuming a silent, stoic stance, ignoring all pleas from Vista-beleaguered PC owners.
Add into this mix the Psystar Open Computer. By all accounts, OCs are loud, generically appointed and unable to run standard Apple software updates. They also require a return trip to Psystar’s offices (and at least a $50 surcharge) should anything go wrong. Users cannot install Leopard by themselves (although none of the OC reviews make it clear whether this is by license or by some hardware hackery on their part).
So here’s my conspiracy theory: Apple, Jobs, et al., have decided to let Psystar live on, unmolested, as an object lesson to all PC users desirous of running OS X on their beloved mutant configurations. It makes the unified, well-oiled experience that is Mac OS X running on proper Macintosh hardware seem that much more attractive by comparison while simultaneously exposing folks that might not (initially) want to pay the premium prices legit Macs command. What better way to upsell geeks onto the Mac as a platform than to allow them a taste of OS X, albeit in a gray market, unsanctioned fashion?
The truly deep conspiracy theory, of which I have absolutely zero indicators or proof, is that Psystar is actually operating under the express permission of Apple in order to accomplish the above.
Call me crazy (in this instance, I likely am), but it makes at least a smidgen of sense to me.

6 Comments

  1. Just as Microsoft sees and learns from Apple, so Apple is seeing and learning from Psystar. Once Apple sees that Psystar has hit a dead end and, if it learns anything new regarding the running of OSX to a PC, then it sues Psystar for intellectual transgression and soon gets all of its intellectual property as a result of the juridical transaction. What better way for Apple to subsume another without appearing to do it blatantly?

  2. @Lino, surely you jest! Do you really think Pshyster has any IP that Apple would want?
    Right now, there’s no threat from Pshyster. Its Frankenmac is barely cheaper than a Mini. The Mini has been shown to be virtually equal to the Frankenmac if you put in a fast harddrive for normal usage. There really is no appeal to a Frankenmac except for gamers who may want a fast GPU but don’t want to buy a MacPro, or for people who like to tinker, but then, they could have built their own Frankenmac instead of buying one.

  3. Doug, I’ll take you one step further:
    Psystar IS Apple. Think about it. Odd warehouse-based company that NO ONE can keep tabs on, located on the OPPOSITE coast from Cupertino? This is a case of stealth market-testing. Apple gets to see how well their software holds up in the wild on non-fruit-based hardware.
    Jobs knows that Apple can not be the gadget company forever – their core (HAH) competency is still computers, albeit they have transitioned into more of a boutique laptop shop more than anything else in that arena. But – their designs and technology are very expensive in the US market, let alone markets around the world. To expand, they need to dress down a little. Psystar is how they do it…

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