Mac Clones: Where Does Apple Draw the Line?

With all the hoopla surrounding Psystar these days, a few other companies have jumped on board the Mac clone bandwagon. In some cases they’re using somewhat, shall we say, unique, methods. Still, the intent is clear: skirt Apple’s EULA and sell a solution that allows Mac OS X to run on generic PC hardware. In other words, swipe Apple’s IP.

Wired has a piece that discusses the cloning and how Apple may be powerless to stop it. 

What bothers me most about cloning is the sheer hutzpah of those doing it. For example: 

“We certainly don’t want to get into a legal battle that’s over a couple thousand dollars,” an EFIX USA spokesman said. “Potentially Apple could have a legal issue there. They may not have a legal issue, but with all the money they have they might try to make one.”

Apple could have a legal issue? Oh please. 

Translation: We know what we’re doing is wrong, and have no legitimate defense for it in court, but we’ll try to make Apple sound like the bad guy and grab some Apple-basher press. 

And of course they bring up money. When in doubt, always bring up money. It’s a great way to obfuscate the issue; Apple is big and rich while they’re small and poor. Forget that money is one thing they’re likely in it for. Yet just as Psystar thinks their EULA is sacrosanct while Apple’s is bogus, EFIX USA thinks their money is OK and Apple’s is somehow wrong.

What’s funny is that the company making the dongle EFIX USA is selling knows it’s wrong: 

“We get somewhat mixed signals on what [Art Studios Entertainment Media] would really like to accomplish,” an EFIX USA spokesman said. “They produce the device and want to sell it, but somehow they don’t want it to come out that the primary function of the device is that it allows people to run OS X on generic Intel hardware.”

Ya think? Here’s a free tip for you: When the product you’re selling has to be all hush hush, with a kind of whispered admonition to “ixnay on the rimarypay urposepay,” something is definitely wrong. 

The Apple EULA, for all its complexity, says you’re not allowed to run the Mac OS on a non-Apple system. No matter how clever the cloners think they’re getting, or how much railing against The Man, or hand-wringing they perform, they’re nothing but a bunch of snake-oil hucksters selling what isn’t theirs. 

And spare me comments about how Apple’s business model is “wrong”, how they should allow the Mac OS to run wherever you want, how they’re forcing you to buy a Mac, etc. It. Doesn’t. Matter. I can respect your opinion, but those arguments are emotional, not legal, and a waste of time. Wishing won’t (and shouldn’t) make it so. Apple’s business model is just fine, thank you. Any glance at their quarterly reports makes that abundantly clear. 

Further, Apple forces no one to buy a Mac, they’re simply setting the conditions upon which they’ll sell their work. You don’t like it? Get a PC and run Linux or Windows. I’ve run every version of Windows (except server) from Windows 3.0 to Vista, and if Apple closed their doors tomorrow I’d be just fine. Still, the advantages of the Mac OS to me are easily enough for me to agree to Apple’s terms, just as I agree to Microsoft’s when I run their OS. 

As for how Apple can stop cloning, I see no evidence that they try to shutdown the occasional hacker. Unlike the RIAA, Apple isn’t suing grandma because she had the wherewithal to get a Hackintosh running. 

But there’s a world of difference between the average one-off geek assembling a Mac clone and a corporation (no matter how small) doing the work for you and making it widely available. The difference between the two scenarios should be obvious to anyone not shilling for the competition, or Apple-bashing, or looking for a page-hit headline. 

Clearly, Apple is going after firms with a business model that includes Apple IP the firm isn’t licensed to sell. Despite the alleged legal arguments or loopholes from closet “attorneys” on various message boards, it’s difficult to see any legal leg for these firms to stand on. I think the Psystar case makes that clearer with each passing day. 

Sadly, there’s collateral damage caused by these hucksters. While I think most customers probably should have known better, there are undoubtedly those who bought in good faith. These people don’t follow this topic like readers of this blog, and had no idea they were buying something questionable. I certainly don’t think Apple owes them anything, but I wish the legal system could stop clone sales until the question is definitively settled. Of course, that opens up another can of worms so the bottom line is these hucksters will screw over some honest people. The hucksters will tell you they’re trying to help users by making a “Mac” more affordable, but how many of you believe that when they lose in court they’ll do anything to make it right with the users they bilked? 

Finally, the Wired article concludes with the following: 

…Apple’s clone problem is unlikely to go away in the near future. As long as OS X runs on Intel hardware, and as long as the developers behind OSX86 continue their work, it will be difficult for Apple to stop cloning altogether.

I think Apple’s pursuit of cloning is right where it should be. No sense in going after the occasional user, but they should not allow any widespread business to spring up around their IP. I’m not sure any other course would make much sense.