Apple’s clone

SAN FRANCISCO -(Dow Jones)- Psystar Inc., a Miami company, has begun selling a $400 computer based on Apple Inc. (AAPL) software. The move, as brief as it may last, hints at what life would be like if Apple made its software available to other computer makers.

What Psystar is providing is a blank slate of a computer with all the bare essentials, and which comes pre-loaded with Apple’s Macintosh Operating System, version 10 or above. Operating systems are indispensable software used to operate key computer functions.

This is not the first time Apple has faced clones, cheaper knockoffs based on Apple’s Macintosh software. The last big wave occurred in the late 1990s when Apple was licensing its software to computer manufacturers.

What’s different with Psystar’s new $400 computer is that it appears Psystar has not licensed Apple’s software to distribute in this way, nor does it appear Apple’s begun after more than a decade to sell its software to manufacturers.

As a consequence, rumors are rampant that Apple will try to stop the company for allegedly violating Apple’s rules about distributing its software.

Apple may have already stepped in. The Psystar computer was introduced Monday under the name Open Mac. But by Tuesday morning, and for reasons that neither company would confirm, the computer’s name was changed to Open Computer. The activity suggests Apple applied some kind of pressure, legal or otherwise, but a source at Apple could not confirm that.

Meanwhile, the Psystar computer has helped fuel new debate about the merits of buying a Mac clone. On the one hand, they are much cheaper. At $400, the Psystar box is a quarter of the cost of Apple’s Mac Mini, the Apple computer most like Psystar’s.

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