Want to eliminate Psystar? License Mac OS X

Apple is still battling the maker of a computer using its operating system. Might its conflict be resolved if it simply dumps the lawsuits in favor of a licensing plan?

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
4 min read
License if you want to kill Psystar Psystar

Psystar, the homegrown computer vendor selling its brand of Open Computers with Mac OS X installed, is back in the news this week, thanks to another court filing claiming that it can do whatever it wants, courtesy of the first-sale doctrine.

Psystar contends that because it bought copies of Mac OS X from Apple and its partners, it has every right to install that software into its own brand of computers and sell the hardware to its customers.

Does it make sense? Not really. Much like Psystar's contention that Apple was operating a monopoly and abusing its copyright, the small firm's pleas to courts have been suspect, at best.

And yet Apple continues to play the legal game with Psystar and pay its lawyers to engage this annoyance in court when Steve Jobs has more pressing issues (like running a public company) to address.

Say what you will about the Psystar's court battle with Apple, but there's really an easy solution to all this, if you're Apple: license Mac OS X.

Before I get into why Apple should license Mac OS X to eliminate Psystar and change its strategy, I should mention that Steve Jobs has consistently said licensing Mac OS X is out of the question, since he considers the software a competitive advantage. I should also note that Apple licensed Mac OS while Steve Jobs wasn't at the company and that the licensing strategy almost led to its ruin at that point.

But everything is different today. Licensing Mac OS X would make sense on a number of levels, and if you ask me, it would probably help Apple's bottom line.

Let's face it: Apple isn't happy that it needs to deal with Psystar. And why should it be? The company is a costly nuisance that needs to be dealt with swiftly. But if the court battle lasts too long--or worse, if Psystar finds a way to win, Apple will be forced to deal with a slew of similar Mac clones that will only make maintaining its stranglehold on Mac OS X that much harder.

That's why Apple should license Mac OS X to Hewlett-Packard and Dell, the world's top PC manufacturers. By doing so, it will be able to eliminate the threat Psystar and its clones create, since no one will trust an Open Computer from a no-name compared to Dell and HP. More importantly, it will expand its presence in the PC business and finally get to a place where it can compete on the same level as Microsoft.

Why would HP and Dell accept such an idea? It's simple: both companies are extremely displeased with Microsoft, after the Vista fiasco, and their enterprise customers don't want anything to do with their computers, if Vista is installed.

Worse, consumers don't trust Vista, which is why HP and Dell were forced to "downgrade" customer operating systems to XP. Beyond that, both HP and Dell know how highly regarded Apple is, and just having the opportunity to sell Apple software on their own computers would be enough for them to offer Apple a sweetheart deal.

And that's how Apple can capitalize. I'm not saying the company should license Mac OS X to every single hardware vendor in the business--that would be a mistake. Instead, Apple can play HP and Dell off of each other and engage both companies in a software-licensing deal that would prove extremely beneficial. I don't doubt for a second that HP and Dell would be willing to give Apple a meaningful portion of their income, just for the chance to sell Mac OS X.

That said, Apple needs to hurry. With Windows 7 around the corner, promising a much better experience and curb appeal than Vista, Apple's advantages over HP and Dell could significantly diminish, once Microsoft's latest operating system hits store shelves.

As I mentioned, Steve Jobs believes that licensing Mac OS X would mean that Apple would lose its competitive advantage. I disagree.

Years ago, that sentiment would probably hold true, but today, we're living in a much different environment, and Apple is widely considered the most appealing company in the industry. In other words, more than enough consumers are buying Apple products simply because they're from Apple. What makes anyone think that just because HP and Dell have Mac OS X running on their own machines, suddenly all of Apple's customers will move to competing hardware?

Would Apple lose some hardware customers in the process? Sure. But I believe that it can make even more money than what it would lose by licensing OS X to HP and Dell, so the net effect puts the company even further into the black.

So what does Apple gain by licensing Mac OS X? It gets its software in front of millions of new customers, it has the opportunity to take a slice of the profits from its competitors, it will be able to compete more effectively against Microsoft, and it finally kills off Psystar and any other Apple clones that may be in the works.

For all that good, it loses Mac OS X exclusivity. Big deal.

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