By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Details of the bust are unclear, but two years later, a jury convicted Rodolfo of unloading at least a pound of cocaine. On February 22, 1993, a judge sentenced him to ten years in federal prison and fined him $250,000 plus court costs.
The brothers declined to discuss their father's arrest. "It doesn't define our lives at all," Robert says. "We were just little kids. We had nothing to do with it."
Their father rejected an interview request, and their mother's last listed address, a West Kendall townhouse, was abandoned and padlocked. Sister Michelle, now a student at Florida International University, didn't respond to an email.
Rudy admits he began rebelling against his mother after losing his dad to jail. "I'm an independent person. I can't live with rules that well," he says. "I needed to do my own things. My father understood that you can guide someone in the direction you need to guide them, but you need to let them make their own decisions. I don't know if my mother could accept that."
Maria and Rodolfo divorced in 1996, two years before he earned early release from federal prison. The parents soon began battling in court over custody of their children, according to records.
Through all the conflict, the brothers realized their passion for computers. In the mid-'90s, they talked their mom into buying a computer. It was a clunky PC that could barely run word processors. With their mom pulling in only about $600 a week as a legal secretary and their dad struggling to return to life outside the pen, the Pedraza brothers couldn't afford better.
Despite adolescent rebelliousness, Rudy excelled at Coral Park High. He graduated in 2002 with grades good enough to get him into the University of Florida. Robert, in contrast, transferred out of Coral Park after his sophomore year and attended nearby Felix Varela Senior High School. He never graduated.
Rudy moved to Gainesville in fall 2002. Near the end of his sophomore year, he was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery on his mouth. "I had a serious cancer scare," Rudy says, pointing at the left side of his mouth. Most of his bottom teeth are missing on that side, and Rudy talks with a pronounced lisp. "It shook me up, so I dropped out of school for a while."
By 2005, he was back in South Florida, 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 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. 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 the secrets.