Mac clone maker Psystar dupes Apple’s updates

Editor’s Note: This story is excerpted from Computerworld. For more Mac coverage, visit Computerworld’s Macintosh Knowledge Center.

The Florida-based Mac clone maker that first attracted national attention last month has posted several updates to Apple’s Mac OS X 10.5 for its users, including some that appear to be copies or modified versions of Apple’s own security updates.

Psystar, a Miami company that sells Intel-based computers with Mac OS X 10.5 pre-installed, has added 13 Leopard patches to its support site.

“Safe updates, as well as bug fixes and workarounds, are now available in our Support section,” the company said in a message posted earlier this month. “We have released a couple of fixes for things like Time Machine as well as a fix for DHCP issues that some customers are having.”

Those updates, said Psystar in the same message, have been rolled into an update added to the factory-installed edition of Mac OS X that users can order when they configure one of the company’s clones. Psystar sells two different Mac clone models starting at $399 sans Leopard, or $554.99 with Apple’s operating system installed.

“We will begin releasing safe updates through the operating system’s Automatic Updates and will require all of our existing users to download a small update manually and install it to enable this functionality,” the company said.

Several of the 13 patches on Psystar’s support site look like direct copies of Apple’s own updates, including some security fixes. Among them:

  • Security Update 2008-002 v1.1 , which Apple released March 26.
  • QuickTime 7.4.5 for Leopard, which Apple unveiled on April 2.
  • Java for Mac OS X 10.5 Update 1, which Apple debuted April 29.

Others Psystar patches appear to be specially-crafted updates, and don’t have corresponding Apple-made fixes. The “Realtek NIC Update + DHCP Fix,” for instance, was touted by Psystar as “an update for the Realtek NICs used in the Open Computers [that] fixes DHCP issues with AirPort Extreme routers as well as DHCP issues after wakeup.”

Apple’s End User Licensing Agreement (EULA) doesn’t expressly forbid others from posting the company’s software updates, but it does ban others from copying or modifying its software. “Except as and only to the extent permitted by applicable licensing terms governing use of the Open-Sourced Components, or by applicable law, you may not copy, decompile, reverse engineer, disassemble, modify, or create derivative works of the Apple Software or any part thereof,” the Mac OS X 10.5 EULA says (download PDF).

Searches of Apple’s Web site revealed no documents spelling out a policy that would bar others, whether a company like Psystar or individuals, from posting Apple updates on non-Apple servers. However, other operating system vendors, such as Microsoft, have taken a dim view of the practice, and have actively quashed unsanctioned updates and warned users from obtaining updates from unofficial sources.

Last August, for instance, Microsoft forced AutoUpdater, a popular alternative to Windows Update, off the Internet, citing copyright infringement.

Questions were raised last month about Psystar bundling Apple’s operating system as soon as it announced it would start selling clones, since the Leopard EULA specifically bans users from installing the OS on non-Apple hardware. “You agree not to install, use or run the Apple Software on any non-Apple-labeled computer, or to enable others to do so,” the EULA reads. Although Computerworld repeatedly asked both Apple and Psystar to comment on the practice, neither responded.

On Wednesday both Apple and Psystar failed to reply to requests for comment on the latter’s posting of the former’s operating system and software security updates.

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