Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Psystar fails at getting a bite out of the Apple.

When I first heard of the case of Psystar vs. Apple, I had mixed feelings about the matter. Psystar, funded by brothers Robert and Rudy Pedraza in South Florida, hacked the OSX operating system and proceeded to sell clone-pc pre-installed with Apple's OS, at half the price of a comparable Macintosh. They paid Apple for every copy of OSX sold. Of course, Apple was not about to sit back and enjoy the show, and counter-attacked with a 35-page lawsuit. And, unfortunately (or fortunately?) Apple won.

The brothers claimed that Apple was creating a monopoly, that they could not tell us how to use a software we bought. That once we buy a product we use it as it pleases us. If we buy a book, for example, we have the freedom to write notes, highlight passages, or even erase whole paragraphs if we liked to, and we could always have the freedom of selling the modified book. Apple claimed that when one "buys" their software one does not own it, but one is given a license, and doing what the brothers did violates such agreement. Of course, this is an oversimplification of the debate, but it is not my purpose, this time, to indulge in the details.

What I'd like to indulge in is in the "what if?" . What if Psystar had won the lawsuit? Let's review the positive of having numerous "hackintoshs". Maybe one of the reasons why Apple has a small market share compared to Microsoft is because they have very expensive hardware. Not all of us geeks (indeed, not myself) can delight in the luxury of overspending in a beautifully designed shell. In the end, what matters is the inside of the hardware, specially the Operating System. Granted, Apple has one of the most (if not the most) user-friendly OS out there. Its almost ("almost" a key word here) invulnerability against viruses is certainly a huge plus, and it even makes sense from a economical point of view to invest in a Mac since you wouldn't have to pay for an Anti-virus. On the other hand, Windows is getting more secure, and there are many free Anti-viruses (including Microsoft's own Security Essential) that can protect your computer without the added cost. So what are you paying when you buy the $1,000 plus price of a Mac? A status? A beautiful design? A membership to the hip and modern club of technology users? While certainly some buyers with enough money can spend their money for such vane reasons, many do so because of its OS. The rest of us without enough cash to join the party are left with only the desire, mildly brewed by the uncertain thought that "someday I'll save enough to buy one". And so, Apple is forced to a niche market. If they allowed themselves to open up, and let third parties companies to provide hardware, maybe they could potentially expand their market and be a more serious and threatening competitor to Microsoft. They could still produce their over-priced and over-prided circuitry beauty that could satisfy their niche market, while letting third parties make the mass-appealed hardware that we can all afford.

On the other hand, it can be argued that the niche market is Apple's market. If Apple let Psystar get away with their revelry, an almost certain flood will overcome the market with different kinds of "hackintoshs", and thus threatening the only market they have. And Apple is doing incredibly well with this market, so why try to fix what is not broken? Yes, the prospect of expanding its market is a tempting one, but not to the extend of harming the only one they have. They should hold to what they have, and continue to do the current profitable bussines instead of venturing out to uncertain territories. Besides it goes against Apple's philosophy of innovation, which is not only present in their software but in their hardware. They had become the leaders in these innovations, and the market seems to follow a trend invented first by Apple. If they let third-parties to produce hardware for their OS, the control they currently have on the innovation of both hardware and software can be damaged, and Apple may not be willing to take the risk. Of course, one can offer counter-arguments to these reasons, but I'll stop for now, and give the chance to the reader to express their opinion on the matter.

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