Apple takes bite out of Hackintosh

For the London Free Press - December 14, 2009 Read this on Canoe

COMPUTERS: In a hardware-software legal war, the company reaches a partial, $2.7-million US settlement with knock-off computer maker

Apple's business model is to sell hardware with software on it. It does not intend for its operating systems to be installed on hardware it doesn't make and its software licences expressly forbid it.

But that hasn't stopped people installing Apple operating systems on non-Apple machines, dubbed Hackintoshes, from "hacker" and "Macintosh." The main attractions are lower prices and wider selection of hardware.

Several companies have created bargain-priced, knock-off computers able to run Apple software. The most widely used is the OSx86 project, which runs the Mac OS X operating system on non-Apple computers with x86 architecture-compatible processors.

Apple software licences strictly prohibit use on computers that aren't "Apple-labelled." But companies such as Psystar and PearC have released products that let consumers use Apple software on non-Apple computers at considerable savings.

Apple has fought back in several ways.

The latest Apple OS version 10.6.2 added code to prevent it being used with the Atom chip used in most netbooks, a common Hackintosh platform. But within a week, a Russian-based hacker had circumvented the code.

Apple also has taken its Hackintosh battle to the courts.

On July 3, 2008, Apple filed suit against Psystar Corp. for violating the licence and breaching Apple's copyright-protected technologies.

The end-user agreement for Mac OS X reads: "You agree not to install, use or run the Apple software on any non-Apple-labelled computer, or to enable others to do so."

Psystar began selling PCs hacked to run Apple software -- and priced more than $2,000 lower than an Apple notebook -- in April 2008. After the suit was filed, Psystar kept selling systems and even created new ones.

Last month, the U.S. District Court judge trying the case found Psystar had violated Apple's copyrights and anti-circumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Two weeks later, Apple filed a motion against Psystar seeking statutory damages of between $500,000 and $4.5 million US, plus attorney's fees and costs. Apple also wants Psystar permanently enjoined from continuing a business causing "irreparable harm" to Apple's business, brand and goodwill.

In the most recent development, a partial settlement has been reached. Psystar agreed to stop selling Hackintoshes and pay Apple about $2.7 million in damages in return for dismissal of some Apple claims. But Apple can't collect until appeals are complete, which may take years.

Though this is a success for Apple, it remains to be seen what effect it will have on the Hackintosh phenomenon as a whole.