Mac clones, thought to be making a comeback thanks to a Florida company called Psystar, may once again be headed for the dustbin. Late Friday, a U.S. District Court judge awarded a summary judgment against the cloner at Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) behest, News.com reports.
At issue is Psystar's right to resell the Mac OS under the guidelines of "fair use." Apple has argued that the cloner has no such right. The court agreed, and it will decide what if any damages Psystar faces in a hearing scheduled for Dec. 14. Further charges of breach of contract and varying trademark violations could go to trial in January.
Investors might remember that Apple cultivated a crop of clones to better compete with Dell (Nasdaq: MSFT ) , IBM (NYSE: IBM ) , and other PC makers shortly before current CEO Steve Jobs returned to the company in 1997. Jobs ended the cloning program as one of his first actions as CEO.
Psystar's systems aren't (ahem) "authorized" clones like those made by Motorola (NYSE: MOT ) and Power Computing a decade ago, and they've received mixed reviews since coming to market last year. This isn't too surprising. You get what you pay for, and the Psystar systems -- while Mac OS-compatible -- don't benefit from the level of vertical integration that Apple provides.
"Psystar turns off the Mac OS's automatic System Update feature, so you need to download and install updates manually," wrote Macworld's James Galbraith about a Psystar desktop system he reviewed in May. "One might think that the company would send you a machine that's as up-to-date as possible, but that's not the case."
Now, thanks to the court, Psystar may not get a chance to improve its offerings. That's fine by me. In this respect, Apple is like Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) , Symantec (Nasdaq: SYMC ) , McAfee (NYSE: MFE ) , and every other software provider: It gets to choose how its code is sold and supported. There's a principle to protect here.
There's also the business to consider. Apple is a hardware company; Mac sales accounted for more than 37% of revenue during fiscal 2009. Can you blame Jobs for going after Psystar? The cloner's cheap hardware has allowed it to take free slices of Apple's massive profit pie, profits that belong to us as investors.
But that's my take. Now it's your turn. Should Apple take a lesson from its tussle with Psystar, and allow Mac clones again? Or is this a zombie issue that just needs to die already? Tell us what you think by voting in the poll below. You can also leave a comment to explain your rationale.