The backlash began in earnest a few days later. "Psystar Exposed: Looks Like a Hoax" trumpeted Gizmodo, a cheeky blog owned by Gawker. "Who are they and why are they so shady?" the site demanded. By the end of the week, the site's writers confidently proclaimed that "these guys are obviously clowns." Gizmodo then posted photos of Rudy's house in Kendall. "Ass-hat scammers," one commenter scoffed.

"Having some dude walking around your house is scary," Rudy says.

It didn't help that Rudy changed Psystar's official address three times in the company's first week, shifting it from his Kendall home to the current headquarters in a Doral industrial park. Or that Psystar had to suspend sales for a few days while it switched credit card processors — the brothers weren't equipped to handle the hundreds of orders pouring in.

Robert Pedraza hacked into Apple's operating system on a whim before his brother talked him into selling the computers online.
C. Stiles
Robert Pedraza hacked into Apple's operating system on a whim before his brother talked him into selling the computers online.
Copycats around the world, including Rashantha De Silva's Quo Computer in Los Angeles, are selling Mac clones and betting that Psystar will prevail in court.
Ted Soqui
Copycats around the world, including Rashantha De Silva's Quo Computer in Los Angeles, are selling Mac clones and betting that Psystar will prevail in court.

"We were just not prepared for this kind of reaction," Rudy says. "And the violence of the backlash was just shocking to us."

For nearly three months in 2008, Psystar sold hundreds of generic PCs with Intel chips, two gigabytes of memory, dual-core processors, and the Mac operating system. Driven by heated coverage in the tech press and blogs, hundreds of consumers bought Psystar's first models, which ran for as low as $399.

On the web, meanwhile, debate raged over whether the brothers were brave rebels or Blackbeards. Nary a sound came from Apple Inc.'s palatial headquarters at 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino, California.

That changed July 3, 2008, when Apple dropped a 35-page lawsuit against Psystar in the Golden State's Northern District. Psystar, the lawyers complained, was selling computers loaded with "modified, unauthorized versions" of Mac OS. "Psystar's actions harm consumers by selling to them a poor product," they claimed.

It was exactly the kind of response the blognoscenti expected from Apple, which has become known for ruthless legal assaults against potential competitors — a strategy that clashes with the firm's carefully groomed image as a laid-back Silicon Valley haven for hipsters.

The hypocrisy is especially clear when you consider the company's history. It was founded in April 1976 by two 20-something college dropouts — Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak — who had developed their computers in Wozniak's parents' Los Altos garage. Before they ever sold a desktop, they made money building "blue boxes" — illegal devices that hacked into free phone lines.

Apple burst onto the commercial market in 1984 with a legendary Super Bowl ad that depicted an Orwellian IBM world smashed to bits by a rebel Apple innovator wielding a sledgehammer. The message was clear: PCs were the status quo; Apple was the alternative.

The firm had some early success, but by the mid-'90s, it had laid off scores of employees. In 1995, Apple began allowing a few companies — most prominently Power Computing in Austin, Texas — to sell Mac clones, cheaper PC hardware running the operating system.

In 1997, Jobs — who had been ousted from Apple during a 1985 power struggle — returned as CEO and immediately put a stop to the program. His plan: Make more money with expensive hardware and nonstop innovation.

It worked. The company introduced the iPod in 2001 and the iPhone in 2007 and has been vacuuming in cash ever since. Despite the global recession, the company posted its best quarter in history this past October, raking in $9.87 billion in revenue and $1.67 billion in profit.

So why is a company with that kind of bank going after a flea like Psystar?

Apple doesn't comment about ongoing litigation, and a spokeswoman in California who wouldn't give her name declined to comment for this story other than to laugh and say, "Who asked you to do this story? These Psystar guys pitched you on it?"

Fact is, they didn't pitch us. And if Apple isn't concerned, it should be. The larger firm is fighting because — believe it or not — it's worried about Psystar.

"Apple is so successful because they integrate all their hardware and software," says Andrew Beckerman-Rodau, a law professor and intellectual property expert at Boston's Suffolk University. "They've always gone hard after anyone who threatens that. Psystar, in their minds, is a threat."

Head east from downtown Los Angeles along the San Bernardino Freeway toward Alhambra, a blue-collar neighborhood just south of Pasadena. At the corner of West Main Street and Primrose, on the ground floor of a two-story brick edifice with a red tile roof, is the reason the Pedraza brothers have Apple's executives sweating through their socks and Birkenstocks.

From a small showroom, 44-year-old Rashantha De Silva sells PCs with Mac operating systems at his new firm, Quo Computer. De Silva has been a Mac fanatic since the company's earliest days. He remembers eagerly reading about Psystar's business plan and thinking, This is the future.

"Competition is important," he says in a lilting Sri Lankan accent. "I'm afraid [without it, Apple is] going to end up another Microsoft. People will buy bad computers just because that's all they can get."

De Silva's storefront business, which opened in June, is just a hint of the tsunami that might follow if Psystar wins its court battles against Apple. Copycats such as the German firm PearC and the Moscow-based RussianMac are betting the Pedrazas pull out a legal victory.

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