Apple Beats Psystar: Is It a Win For You?

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Apple Beats Psystar: Is It a Win For You?
Mac-clone maker Psystar was dealt a deathblow on Saturday after a federal judge said the company infringed on Apple's Mac OS X operating system copyright. A court case will still proceed to trial in order to settle a few other issues, but it's clear that Psystar's days of selling Mac OS X on non-Apple computers are over. That's a big win for Apple, but is it a victory for you?

What Psystar Did

According to Judge William Alsup's explanation in his summary judgment (PDF), Psystar obtained a Mac Mini running Mac OS X, and then copied the OS from the Mac Mini onto a PC. The non-Apple computer then became an "imaging station" where Psystar modified key pieces of the OS X software meant to prevent the OS from running on non-Apple computers. From that point, the "imaging station" would mass-produce the modified version of OS X for Psystar's line of Open Computers. Alsup determined that Psystar's actions constituted copyright infringement.

Apple Still Not Microsoft

With Psystar on its way out of the Mac OS X game, Apple regains full control over its products, and for the foreseeable future only Cupertino will decide which hardware its operating system will run on. If Psystar had managed to win, Apple may have been forced over time, either by the courts or market pressures, to support a wider range of possible hardware configurations as Microsoft Windows does. Now, however, Apple can continue as it has developing products tailored specifically for its operating system.

Is a Closed Apple a Good Apple?

How does Apple's total control over its OS impact me? On the one hand, you know what to expect when you buy a Mac computer. You know you are getting a high-quality device that requires little maintenance and is ready to go just minutes after you take it out of the box for the first time. You also have a fantastic support service through Apple's retail stores across the United States and throughout the world. But you're going to pay a premium to take advantage of all the Mac has to offer. Apple's cheapest desktop model that includes a monitor, keyboard, and CPU is the 21.5-inch iMac for $1200. Psystar's base desktop bundle with OS X starts at $600, the same cost as Apple's Mac Mini, which doesn't come with either a keyboard or monitor.

And that's really the crux of the whole debate. A lot of people may want to own a Mac, but Apple's high prices make it hard to justify spending $1000 on a 13-inch laptop, when you can buy a similar Windows machine for two-thirds that price--albeit with downgraded specs.

Personally, I'm happy with my Mac computer and although I've had a few minor problems, I can't really say I'm unhappy with Apple's significant control over my computing experience. But then again, isn't there something instinctively wrong about accepting a system or product, regardless of its quality, that reduces consumer choice? Especially when it comes to a device that is so integral to our daily lives? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Connect with Ian on Twitter (@ianpaul).

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