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By 2005, he was back in Miami, living in a rented one-story house on a quiet street in Kendall. Rudy and Robert, who had been working as a computer consultant, decided to join forces in a tech firm.
For a year and a half, they worked small freelance projects. In July 2007, they formally incorporated Psystar Corp. It was a meaningless name, Robert says, adding, "Trust me, in hindsight, I wish we'd picked something people could actually pronounce." (It's pronounced sigh-star.)
They converted Rudy's two-car garage into a home base, filling the space with desks, computers, and — in a back corner — a workshop where Robert could tinker.
In the afternoon rush-hour chaos of the Palmetto Expressway, Rudy Pedraza weaved his Honda through the frantic traffic. He'd been home from college for more than a year. His body was well recovered from surgery, though he'd lost a lot of weight.
A pickup truck suddenly flashed into his peripheral vision. Rudy only had time to register that it was barreling across the five lanes of traffic toward his passenger-side door. Before he could move the wheel, the impact smacked the Honda off course and sent it careening toward a guardrail.
He glimpsed the 50-foot drop from the overpass and imagined his car slamming through the fence and plummeting to the ground. He wasn't wearing a seat belt. Just before contact, he braced his arms against the steering wheel and screamed.
The front of the car crumpled like a Styrofoam cup. An airbag exploded into Rudy's face and scalded his arms. His car skidded for a half-mile. Miraculously, it didn't flip. The guardrail held. He survived.
"I still don't know how, honestly," Rudy says. "Adrenaline, I guess. But I can say without a doubt that crash was the moment when Psystar was truly born."
For the previous few months, while the brothers did consulting work for a company that sold storage units, Robert had spent hours of free time at the cluttered table in Rudy's garage. His pet project was Mac's OS X operating system.
The system, whose first version debuted in 1999, is widely considered one of the user-friendliest ever invented. Though the software sold for $100 or less, it was programmed to run only on Mac computers — and the cheapest fully equipped models usually sold for around $1,000, almost three times the price of the cheapest PCs on the market. (Windows, by contrast, can run on nearly every kind of computer, including Macs.)
"Like a lot of people, I'd always loved Apple's interface," Robert says. "But there's no way we could afford that stuff growing up, so we always felt sort of excluded from the company."
Robert set about learning how Apple's OS operated and then figured out how to trick it into running on a cheaper PC. He was hardly the first to do so. For nearly five years in the mid-'90s, Apple actually licensed a host of companies to make authorized clones. Today there's an entire online culture — called the "Hackintosh" community — devoted to decoding Mac programs for other systems and sharing their secrets.
In fact, members of one such group — the "osx86project" — have since claimed the Pedrazas used their work to hack into Apple's hardware.
Rudy scoffs at the idea he borrowed from the Hackintosh scene. "The first thing you have to do is unlearn everything you've read online about how to make this work," Rudy says, "because it's all wrong."
Robert says he found his own way around Apple's built-in security devices. The breakthrough meant that, among other things, the cheap machines were virtually immune to viruses and hackers.
But not until Rudy's near-death experience did the brothers decide to do anything with the pet project. "It's a common misconception that we set out to challenge Apple," Rudy says. "I kind of wish we had, because we probably could have approached this from a much more logical starting point. But that's not how it happened."
Instead, Rudy remembers telling his brother inside Psystar's garage-turned-office a few months after the accident on the Palmetto: "Look, we're going to sell this thing online."
"I was much more reluctant to do it," Robert says. "I guess I'm just more conservative than Rudy. I wasn't worried about Apple, really — I just didn't think it was ready to sell."
But Rudy was tired of waiting. "I almost died! And that was not even from a risk I had taken; it just happened," he says. "I realized you can't wait for tomorrow. You just have to go."
In April 2008, the company went online. Almost immediately, everyone — from Apple bloggers at sites such as MacRumors.com to tech writers at newspapers as far-flung as the Guardian in London and the New Zealand Herald — wanted to know about this mysterious South Florida company that dared to offer Macs at PC prices.
At first, the reaction was split neatly into three camps: those applauding the idea, those vehemently opposed, and those convinced the entire thing was a fraud. "Please, God, let this work out," wrote one of the first posters at MacRumors. "This is almost insulting," wrote the next.