Psystar's Open Computer: A $400 Rotten Apple Scam?
If you're interested in buying a computer that's just like a Mac but will cost you a mere 400 bucks, you might also be interested in acquiring a sweet piece of slightly damp vacation property in Florida -- or your very own historic bridge.
News of a US$400 Mac clone on the market spread like wildfire this week -- only to be supplanted by suspicions that the offering may well be a giant fraud.
The first inkling that something was wrong came when a message appeared on the Web site of the mysterious vendor, Psystar, stating it could not take orders over the phone but only via the Internet. The Web site has been online, then off, and then on again, ever since news of the phenomenal bargain reached critical mass on Monday.
Attempts to reach the company, meanwhile, have resulted in a stream of odd statements turning up in press accounts, including comments from an employee identified only as "Robert," who basically said that Apple's grip on the Mac market constituted a monopoly, and that Psystar was ready to mount a legal challenge.
Later, other reporters were able to speak with the company's president, Rudy Pedraza. Pedraza apparently told Engadget reporter Nilay Patel that the Open Computer and quad-core OpenPro have been shipped to a few customers already.
Patel did better than his counterpart, who spoke with the elusive Robert. He cadged a promise from Pedraza to send him one of the much sought-after machines.
Other evidence points to the possibility of fraud -- or at least something seriously hinky going on with Psystar. The Web site began operating very recently. It is registered to a residence in Miami. Shipping costs for the computer are outrageously high -- close to $100.
As one commenter to the many articles posted about the Psystar offering stated, giving credit card information to the Web site was probably tantamount to sending it to Nigeria.
Even if one were to accept at face value that Psystar is what it says it is -- a small vendor overwhelmed by an onslaught of unexpected publicity and heavy demand -- it is hard to dismiss the serious legal issues the company would be facing if it were indeed selling Mac clones.
Apple's End User License Agreement explicitly states that its operating system can be installed only on an Apple-labeled computer.
"Apple has very clear license provisions that clearly prohibit what Psystar is doing," Tim Connors, a partner at the Cleveland-based law firm of Calfee, told MacNewsWorld.
Assuming the company is willing to challenge Apple on the grounds of antitrust, "it would need a very knowledgeable and creative antitrust counsel," he said dryly. "I would be very interested to hear what is [Psystar's] definition of 'antitrust.'"
Plus, the $400 would not be the full cost to the consumer, he noted. "You have to buy the operating system on top of that, for which you won't get any support. And you probably won't get support from Psystar, as Apple's legal maneuvers would crush them out of business."
Assuming they were in business to begin with.