Apple: The Time for Legal Clones is Now

The hardcore Mac fanatics will recoil in horror at the thought of their precious OS on commodity boxes. But economic hard times means the moment has come.
Posted December 8, 2008

Jason Perlow

Jason Perlow

Over the years, I've been a stalwart advocate of cloning Macintosh PCs. This has made sense ever since Apple moved from the PowerPC to the x86 platform, where the genetic distinction between "Mac" and "PC" was reduced to the flip of a single electronic chromosome – the use of EFI versus the PC BIOS to boot the OS.

Of course, switching to EFI was not going to stop the most dedicated hackers who wanted to run Mac OS X on their PCs. Since the very moment of moving the Mac platform to Intel chips, The "Hackintosh" community has been engaged in various underground activities to make the OS boot on standardized, off-the-shelf PCs. This has been accomplished using a variety of software modifications such as EFI emulators and patches and creating alternative install DVDs with hacked kernels based on pirated copies of Mac OS X such as "KALYWAY", "JaS" and now "BOOT-132," a specially patched bootloader which allows unmodified copies of Mac OS X to install on a large variety of PC hardware.

These "Hackintosh" efforts have now advanced enough that if you are absolutely determined to run Mac OS X on a PC, there's really nothing stopping you from doing it. Provided, of course, you have the wherewithal, compatible hardware, and the equivalent PC skill level that was needed to install Linux about 10 years ago.

Apple had largely ignored these small scale efforts to get Mac OS X running on PC clones, as most people wouldn't go through the trouble of using "KALYWAY" without any support infrastructure. All of this changed when Psystar, a tiny company in Miami, Florida, decided to sell their own Mac clones back in the spring of 2008. Apple has since started legal proceedings against Psystar, and Psystar's own countersuit has been dismissed. Of course, it's only a matter of time before Psystar is dead, and their court battle is relegated to the litigation Trashcan of history.

Apple's victory over Psystar may be pyrrhic, however. Since the sprouting of Psystar began actual shipments of their Open Computer, our economy has entered a terrible recession, and with it, many consumers have slowed their purchases of durable goods. For most consumers, a Macintosh computer is a luxury, when you consider that prices on comparable PCs have hit absolute rock bottom.

I myself purchase my PCs as if they were disposable items, from wholesale clubs like COSTCO, where quad-core 4GB DELL and HP desktops with 500GB hard drives can now be found on sale for $499-$699.

With roughly 60 percent of Apple's revenue derived from business outside of the iPhone and iPod, you can be sure that most of their "Insanely Great" target demographic are going to be doing a lot of penny pinching over the next few years, and that will subject Apple to a great deal of exposure. Let's face it -- iPhone and iPod alone are not going to get Apple through the recession. If anything, iPhone and iPod purchases themselves are likely to slow as well.

There's only one answer to this problem – Apple needs to start talking to OEMs about licensing the Mac OS on inexpensive PC clones. Oh, I can already feel the hardcore Mac fanatics reeling in horror from the very thought of their precious OS that distinguishes them from the "little people" and unwashed masses running on "cheap" PCs. To these elitist jackasses I say Get Over It. Take your vegan diets and your black turtlenecks and go shove them where the sun doesn't shine.

The time for doing this has never been clearer or more necessary. Consumer confidence in Microsoft's product has never been worse, with Vista being a complete marketing failure over the last 24 months and with the Windows 7 "do-over" less than a year from launch. With the economy slowing, Mac's worldwide market share is likely to reach a threshold of about 10 or 12 percent, and will probably stop at around 20 percent in the United States, without additional avenues or opportunities for expansion.

Steve Jobs and Apple need to get past their "not invented here" and elitist mentality and start thinking practically. From a traditional standpoint, everyone can appreciate that a certain quality level and polish is expected of a Mac machine. Fine – let's get over that, and begin talking about keeping Apple a viable company well into the next decade.

Apple needs to begin a Mac OS X OEM licensing program just like Microsoft does with Windows, with hardware validation labs as well as certification. Initially, this could be rolled out to just the Tier 1 manufacturers – HP, Dell, Lenovo, Sony and Toshiba, with future expansion to the Taiwanese and Chinese white-box mainboard and component manufacturers, such as ASUS, ABIT, GIGABYTE, and so forth.

I don't see any reason why Apple cannot continue to be profitable by having their own exclusive hardware line for its hardcore fans, while expanding their OS to the masses through the PC OEMs via a rigorously controlled licensing and certification program.

Yes, this will require a major attitudinal adjustment on the part of the company and a significant change in faith. But as of September 2008, I think it’s safe to say that the entire industry has had its "Come to Jesus" moment. Apple just hasn't joined the flock yet.

Tags: Apple, chips, Intel, Dell, HP

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