Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Maui tech company
denies stealing code

Its Macintosh emulator has code
from another program, critics say

Lahaina-based Maui X-Stream Inc. denied fresh accusations yesterday that it stole an existing software code and passed it off as its own in a case that has chat-room junkies around the globe on the edges of their swivel chairs.

The controversy over the company's CherryOS software system, touted last week as the missing link in Mac-PC compatibility, remained one of the top news and discussion items in global software forums yesterday.

Leading techie sites such as Wired.com, Macworld.com and Slashdot.org -- which bills itself as "news for nerds" -- have been inundated in the last few days by messages pointing to allegedly striking similarities between CherryOS and a freely available open-source code called PearPC. Those sites have accused Maui X-Stream of outright code theft.

"La Polemique (Controversy) de CherryOS" -- as one French-language site referred to it -- has caused Maui X-Stream to take its Web site offline and postpone selling the $49.95 system via download, but its developer insisted yesterday that the product was no rip-off.

"Why would we try to pull a scam like this? To hurt ourselves?" software developer Arben Kryeziu said. "If we did something like that, it would ruin us for life."

Maui X-Stream, which primarily creates video-streaming software, stunned the software community last week when it announced that CherryOS would allow Apple Computer devotees to run the Mac operating system on a standard PC at 80 percent of the host PC's speed -- a huge improvement over PearPC, a bare-bones system which runs at about 5 percent speed.

If it works as billed, CherryOS would represent the holy grail for many Mac users who love the software system but want the option of using it on cheaper non-Apple hardware, something that Apple thwarts via compatibility limitations and restrictive end-user license agreements.

However, one of the few people to actually get their hands on a copy of CherryOS said there is little doubt it was lifted wholesale from PearPC's software code.

"There are whole passages of PearPC code that are reproduced verbatim in CherryOS. It's suspicious, to say the least," said Dave Schroeder, a senior systems engineer with the University of Wisconsin's computer sciences department, who said CherryOS is a dressed-up version of PearPC.

Schroeder, who was given the software by Wired.com for testing, said his tests also showed that the software did not live up to Kryeziu's performance claims. He said he ran CherryOS and PearPC side by side on two computers, and they performed at the same slow pace.

"But they've actually done some work on it," he said. "They've written a whole graphical interface that makes it easier to use."

Kryeziu said CherryOS still had plenty of "bugs" to be fixed, but attributed any similarities between the programs to the fact that they were designed to perform similar functions.

If the code similarities are borne out, it is unlikely PearPC's developers could sue Maui X-Stream for a cut of any profits since open-source codes are protected more by an honor system than any legal basis, says Wired.com senior writer Leander Kahney.

But CherryOS would be guilty of a cardinal sin in the open-source community, which altruistically makes software code freely accessible online so that it can be improved by others. The catch is that anyone who advances an existing code and seeks to make money off of it must acknowledge the open-source origins of their product.

But Kryeziu is sticking to his guns. The cherryos.com Web site, which was crashed by heavy traffic after the company's announcement last week, has been taken completely offline for now as the company switches to a new Web host that Kryeziu hopes will be more stable.

He said the new site could be up by tomorrow, and vowed that the product eventually would be released and the doubters proved wrong, though he would not give a timetable.

"I really can't say. There are too many bugs in it right now," he said, adding that last week's announcement was meant more as a "soft launch" and that he had intended to refine the system over time.

Such backtracking is likely to fuel still more suspicions that the company is retreating after being found out, Kahney said.

By charging for CherryOS, he adds, the company could run afoul of Apple.

Though PearPC has not drawn Apple's ire since it appeared earlier this year, it is not a commercial product that could take sales from Apple, whose end-user agreements require that each $129 copy of its Mac operating system be used only on Apple hardware.

"That hasn't really been tested in court, but if a small Hawaiian company goes up against Apple, who do you think will win?" Kahney said.

Maui X-Stream


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