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Mac Bloggers on a Psystar Feeding Frenzy

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Apr 18, 2008 4:00 AM PT

By far the biggest news this week has been the return of the Mac clones, courtesy of a tiny company in Florida doing business under the name "Psystar."

Mac Bloggers on a Psystar Feeding Frenzy

While Psystar has sparked the imaginations -- and disdain -- of Mac lovers by offering a US$399 PC capable of running Mac OS X, it hasn't been the only blog-worthy topic. It turns out that Amazon.com is not taking over iTunes customers; rumors continue to swirl around an iPhone nano and even an iPhone shuffle; Nvidia is shipping the coveted GeForce 8800 GT graphics upgrade kit, and Apple updated Safari to plug four security holes.

The Psystar Storm

Miami-based Psystar kicked the week off by purporting to sell a PC capable of running Mac OS X, all for $399. Then things got weird.

The resulting news coverage on Monday appeared to have crashed the company's little Web site, but it may have been some heavy-handed legal action by Apple that turned off the power -- at least temporarily.

While Apple did allow third-party manufacturers to license its operating system and sell their own "Macs" a little more than a decade ago, CEO Steve Jobs pulled the plug on the program well before the new millennium. Now that official Apple Macs use Intel processors -- the same processors used in many PCs -- it's not that hard to modify a PC to run Mac OS X. The problem is supporting it and keeping it up and running as Apple releases OS updates and new features.

The problem with Pystar's Mac offering wasn't so much that it would sell with dubious support and quality control. The rub lied in possibility that it might be illegal from a consumer standpoint to even install OS X on non-licensed hardware in the first place. While Apple's end user licensing agreement (EULA) might be draconian, Apple most certainly has some legal maneuvers ready to handle Mac-ready PC kits like the one Psystar was peddling -- especially one named "OpenMac".

When Psystar's Web site came back online this week, a Psystar spokesperson going only by the name "Robert" told Information Week his company's perspective: Apple, he said, is violating antitrust and U.S. monopoly laws. Apparently, Psystar is not ready to lie down and give up.

The company renamed the OpenMac to Open Computer and tweaked the marketing message of its OpenPro PC: "ANY consumer operating system can be installed and run on it," Psystar's site noted.

Charlie Sorrel made a revealing post in Wired's Gadget Lab blog, which also showed a satellite image of a suburban neighborhood that the Psystar company listed as its address, implying that the "sketchy" company might be little more than a guy operating out of his garage.

"Look, Michael Dell started out selling PC parts from his dorm room. If you could have Google mapped his shipping address back then, you would have found a similar situation. Whatever else Psystar is, they are obviously a startup. In this context, what relevance does it have if you've heard of them or if they belong to the chamber of commerce? None. So it's a bit premature to call them 'sketchy,'" Bernie wrote in response.

"Also, it's not unusual for a startup to throw a lot of product/service ideas out there and see what sticks. All I'm saying is, there's no reason to raise an alarm about these guys (guy?) until we get some proof that they're not delivering on product or service," the poster added.

Many blog posts and comments have focused on Apple's EULA, licensing terms and what does and doesn't constitute illegal monopolistic behavior. And while all this was going on this week, the Psystar Web site stopped taking credit card orders.

Explanations, Front and Center

Psystar, for its part, has now provided explanations for the suburban address -- the first posted address was an error. Working with a submission from a Miami reader, tech blog Gizmodo later posted a photo of the building standing at the amended address. The new location appears to be more industrial, but the sign over the front door reads "USA Koen Pack."

Psystar had more explanations for its other issues: "Psystar was, prior to this past week, not ready to handle the enormous production capacity demanded by the online community. Due to the incredible response we have now expanded to a larger commercial unit to handle the supplies and assembly of Open Computers. Thank You for all of your orders."

The company also explained the credit card processing problems: "Midday yesterday our store was not receiving any orders. This was due to the fact that our merchant gateway, PowerPay, dropped the ball on us and refused to process any more transactions from our company. We have reverted to Paypal until we can find a high-volume merchant. Apparently Powerpay was not ready to handle the community's demand for Open Computing."

Also, due to a "wave of orders," orders will require a 10- to 12-day build time.

"If anyone bothered to check their new location is a self storage unit ... hahaha ... Would you buy a 'hackintosh' made in a selfstorage unit in Miami ... not me," noted Jonathan on the Wired Gadget Lab post.

Legit startup? Hackintosh store? Unorganized organization that bit off more than it can chew? Or something worse? If Psystar is indeed selling boxes, it's only a matter of time until the reviews start pouring in ... or until buyers start noticing their credit card numbers have been ripped off.

Amazon.com Not Poaching iTunes Customers

As reported by AppleInsider, the NPD Group released a new customer survey report that found that only 10 percent of Amazon.com MP3 store customers said they had previously purchased songs from iTunes -- this despite the fact that Amazon.com appears to be the No. 2 seller of online music, after having only been in business for about 6 months.

One commenter to the AppleInsider post on the subject claimed to be a switcher. "I recently have started using Amazon's song service, because it works (adds songs automatically to iTunes), is cheaper generally (89/song), no blasted DRM (digital rights management), and the quality is the same to my ear," noted stevenoz. "Thumbs up!"

Tunes buyer chuckbo noted a dual-use scenario: "When I buy music now, first I check it out on iTunes and play the sample there to find what I want. Then I check to see if it's DRM'd or not. If it has a DRM, then I go to Amazon to see if I can get it there," the poster explained.

As for the research data, Russ Crupnick, vice president and senior entertainment industry analyst for The NPD Group, told MacNewsWorld, "The early data suggests it [Amazon] is growing mostly from its own base of customers, as very few iTunes customers have tried the Amazon store so far. There's both an opportunity to expand the base of digital music consumers, but most of today's digital customers are in the iTunes camp. So it's a combination of the two," he explained, adding, "It will be challenging to break into the Apple customer base."

More iPhone Rumors

Blogger Eric Zeman, posting on InformationWeek's Mobile Weblog Over the Air, got in on the upcoming iPhone model rumor news. He cited a Macenstein writer who said Apple envisions a line-up of iPhones, including a "Pro" version, the current version, and a smaller "shuffle" version.

Zeman notes that the Macenstein readers seem to think the news is "utter bunk," so Zeman said he was merely offering it up as "a source of amusement and fuel to add to the fires of 3G iPhone Rumorville."

The so-called iPhone shuffle, apparently, wouldn't have video playback. There have been persistent rumors surrounding an iPhone nano -- some smaller form factor of iPhone offered at some lower price point for the masses. Of course, a 3G iPhone is widely expected in June, too. So what's likely to come? How and when?

"What I have said would be likely, based on patterns we have seen with the iPod on its first iteration, is that Apple would keep the current models but lower the price and introduce new models with new features, such as 3G," Ken Dulaney, a vice president and mobile and wireless analyst for Gartner, told MacNewsWorld.

"This would not give them any extra work since continuing a current model is simply a manufacturing issue. Furthermore, as the supply chain gets more efficient, Apple can roll back prices on older designs," he explained.

Hot Graphics

Apple and Nvidia are now giving some graphic love to customers of the previous generation of Mac Pros -- the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT graphics upgrade kit will be available for about $279. New Mac Pro purchases have had the option to upgrade since earlier this year, but older customers were left waiting out in the cold until Apple could deliver a firmware update that would allow for the new card.

"Quite possibly the best video card in recent memory. The price isn't that bad either," commenter Eidorian succinctly noted on the MacRumors.com post on the subject.

Still, this new card might not be best for everyone. "So I thought this applied to me and called 1-800-My-Apple to order. Since I just wanted to justify the cost with better performance, they let me speak with a systems engineer who told me to stick with what I currently have (ATI Radeon X1900) since the apps I run are mainly Motion and FCP (Final Cut Pro). In fact, Motion was optimized for the ATI card," commenter usasalazar explained.

"WOW! They did not try and pressure me to spend $$$ -- and they soooo could have. I'm stupid, I would have bought it! Some will and should get this card but not everyone -- I was so blown away that they let me speak with a systems engineer who was honest with me," usasalazar said.

Apple Plugs Security Holes

In other big news this week, Apple has finally plugged the security hole first exploited by Charlie Miller earlier this year when he used a specially crafted universal resource locater (URL) to bust into a MacBook Air at the CanSecWest security conference.

Apple's software update contains four total fixes, all of which address URL and content-spoofing weaknesses. There are two fixes for Windows Safari users, as well as two WebKit fixes for both Windows and OS X -- only one of which, however, fixes the Miller exploit.

Commenter Mark, posting as sc_markt on the AppleInsider post on the subject, wrote, "I'm not liking this new safari 3.1.1. It's been doing weird things and it seems to hang."

The answer, apparently, may be simple. "I noticed that too until I reset Safari. Now much better," noted internetworld7 in response.

In other posts, there's been a variety of Web site issues noted -- most seem to be fixed by simply resetting Safari.

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