Friday, October 15, 2004

Web developer Crystal Kryeziu reviews Maui X-Stream's new VX30 product. The Lahaina-based business is a subsidiary of Paradise Television.

Maui firm ignites
Mac-PC firestorm

Hackers and potential buyers
go crazy over compatibility

A small Lahaina technology firm expected to generate at least a little buzz with new software that it says tears down the compatibility wall dividing Macintosh and PC systems.

But Maui X-Stream Inc. got way more than it bargained for.

"It's been the biggest nightmare of my life," Maui X-Stream software developer Arben Kryeziu said of the Internet passions and fraud accusations stirred by its claim and which have forced the company to delay selling the product over the Internet.

Maui X-Stream, which is primarily a developer of video streaming software, said Tuesday that it had devised a $49.95 "emulator" software system called Cherry OS that allows Apple's Macintosh operating system to be used on non-Apple PCs.

The very idea sparks heated emotions within the fiercely loyal community of Macintosh devotees who swear by Mac superiority and either chafe at Apple's refusal to make it more compatible with non-Apple PCs or oppose any mixing of the two worlds with a geeky militancy.

The response to Maui X-Stream's announcement was swift and heavy.

Online software communities filled with messages accusing Maui X-Stream of a too-good-to-be-true hoax or of pirating the code of another company. Meanwhile, the product's Web site at www.cherryos.com crashed after taking 300,000 hits a day from interested buyers and hackers alike, according to company President Jim Kartes.

"The hackers smashed it all to hell. We had a bunch of servers up for this, and they just destroyed them," he said. "The purists out there get their backs up about anything affecting Macs."

At the heart of the chat-room tempest is the claim that Cherry OS operates at 80 percent of the speed of the host PC's hardware, which would be a major breakthrough and a marked improvement on an existing emulator product called PearPC, which is free but known for its slow speed.

Tech Web sites such as www.macworld.com and www.wired.com seized on the speed claim in excited write-ups about the product before its release. Cherry OS soon became a hot topic in Web discussion groups with entries such as "CherryOS or CherryBS?" Most postings said the product was either a nonexistent scam or sounded suspiciously similar to PearPC's code.

The suspicions were fanned by Cherry OS's refusal to offer a trial version and by glitches that plagued the Web site -- which the company blames on the heavy volume -- as well as by a notice posted by Kryeziu stating that due to the site's problems, the developers had shelved plans to sell the system online.

The company now is asking buyers to submit pre-orders for later delivery once the site is back up. That could happen as early as today, said Kartes, who also is president of Paradise Television Network, which broadcasts information on Maui tourist attractions to the island's hotels.

The company is insisting the product is legitimate.

"There are thousands of PC makes out there, and I'll be the first to admit it may not run on all of them, but we believe the product works," said Kryeziu, the software's inventor, who adds that he is both "amused and saddened" by the tumult.

The company is likely to remain under fire until it can ramp back up and get the product delivered, said James Kerr, president of Honolulu computer services and repair firm SuperGeeks.

"Typically these emulators don't work that well, and the only way they're going to prove it does is by getting it into people's hands. The proof is in the pudding," he said.

Kerr says that if the product works as claimed, it is likely to find a huge market among computer users who prefer the Mac system but feel "forced" to buy PCs due to the higher cost of Apple computer systems.

The current uproar, in fact, could be due in part to Mac-heads viewing Cherry OS as too good to be true.

"The introduction of a new product would generate tremendous interest and maybe some resentment if the claims cannot be met," Kerr said.

Kryeziu says the company's site received "hundreds of thousands" of hits from interested buyers, compared with "25-30 people screaming their heads off online." But he acknowledged that Maui X-Stream miscalculated by underestimating the interest it would generate and was caught flat-footed by the demand.

He said the company originally did not offer a trial version out of concern the code could be pirated, but now says one is being readied.

But even if Maui X-Stream can get back on track, there could be other potential clashes ahead with Apple and PearPC if Cherry OS's code looks similar to its rival's.

Apple and PearPC did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Kryeziu says he is not worried.

"Our lawyers have looked at this and say we're in the clear. We wrote this from scratch and we're clean as a whistle," he said.



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