"It was nothing special visually, but from a performance standpoint compared to the price, it was great," says Rich Brown, a writer for CNET.com who checked out a Psystar last year. "We were pretty surprised. A few of our web guys upstairs actually bought one after trying the review model."

This past May, Psystar filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company, Rudy says, "needed some breathing room" as it worked to develop new models and fight off the legal onslaught. The company emerged from bankruptcy in August.

Psystar's bankruptcy filing shows the deep personal risk Rudy Pedraza is running by taking on Apple. The bankruptcy listed a $120,000 personal loan from the 25-year-old programmer — and Rudy admits that is just a fraction of the debt he has incurred fighting Apple in court. Psystar, at the time, owed its first law firm — Carr & Ferrell — $88,464 in back fees.

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 Photography
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.
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.

"There's no question I'm investing a lot of money," he says.

The immense cost of fighting Apple has led to conspiracy theories on the web that Mac rivals such as IBM and Microsoft secretly fund Psystar. Not true, Rudy says. "I'm the secret funder. It's just me."

Psystar has no plans to fold, Rudy says. From the firm's tiny headquarters, tucked next to a T-shirt-filled warehouse and the Koen Pack Co. in a bland industrial complex off NW 107th Avenue in Doral, Rudy and fewer than a dozen other employees still churn out new computers.

Last month, when Apple released its Snow Leopard operating system, Psystar responded the next day with Snow Leopard-enabled clones.

The defiant move came a little more than a month after Psystar filed its own lawsuit against Apple, an antitrust claim in U.S. District Court in Miami arguing that Apple, in essence, runs an illegal monopoly.

The case argues that because Apple sells a unique, "premium computer," it shouldn't be allowed to corner the market on its operating system by requiring purchases of the company's hardware. "By tying its operating system to Apple-branded hardware, Apple restrains trade in personal computers that run Mac OS X, collects monopoly rents on its Mac­intoshes, and monopolizes the market for 'premium computers,' " the company argues.

It's a position that echoes the massive decision against Microsoft in Europe in 2004, when a court found that the software giant broke competition rules by tying the Windows operating system to its media player. Microsoft was forced to allow rival programs and pay $794 million in damages.

"There are some genuine issues in that argument," says Ury Fischer, an intellectual-property lawyer in Coral Gables. "Apple clearly doesn't have a monopoly in the computer world, but they do have a defined niche. The question is if they abuse that position."

Apple hasn't responded to the Florida suit. But the brothers won their first real legal victory this past September, when the judge presiding over Apple's suit in California refused Apple's motion to combine the two cases.

If Apple and the blogosphere expected Psystar to fold after Apple struck back, they've been sorely disappointed.

Instead, just last month, Psystar slapped the computer giant again. The Pedraza brothers began selling software that allows users to install Mac OS on their own PCs.

Pretty much anyone with basic computer knowledge can make a cloned Mac for just the cost of a full tank of gas in an SUV. "It's important to question authority and buck the system," Rudy says by way of explanation.

He and his brother have given the software an apt name: Rebel.

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