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Brothers launch attack of clones

From their hole-in-the-wall office in Doral, brothers Rudy and Robert Pedraza are waging war onSilicon Valley.

The 24- and 22-year-old computer whiz kids are undercutting Apple by building "clone" computerswith Mac software and selling them for less money than the tech behemoth. The daring move (clonedPCs are old news, but Apple has been vigilant against Mac imitations) has sent shock waves throughthe techie world. And with little business experience and nothing to lose, the two South Floridabrothers are relishing their revolutionary moment.

"It's like our Boston Tea Party of computing," Rudy Pedraza said, looking a little like Matt Damonas he walks around his company's office/assembly line. "We are challenging the establishment to makethe market better for everyone else."

The Pedrazas -- single, homegrown guys who like to play shoot-'em-up computer games like Quake 4-- are confident to the point of cockiness about their clones.

"It's never crashed on me, and that's not something I can say about any Mac or PC I've ever used,"said Robert, the younger of the two who sports a face full of scruff and slicked-back hair.

He and his brother grew up tinkering with computers. Their parents run a computer and IT businessand helped with the money the brothers needed for their startup, said family friend and lawyer JoseQuiñon.

Rudy, who also dresses the part of tech entrepreneur in jeans and a graphicT-shirt or three-buttons-open collared shirt, takes the lead on business decisions and mediainterviews. He's already talking about selling their clones in retail chains and investing in abigger headquarters.

But he's unwilling to pull back too much of the curtain yet, declining to talk about sales figuresor legal implications. There's even a sign on the company's front door informing visitors they'renot welcome to come in.

"We figure, it's better to leave some element of surprise, of suspense," Rudy said.

For about $550 -- about the same price as a bare-bones Mac Mini -- the Pedrazas will build a faster, morepowerful computer that runs on Apple's latest operating system, called Leopard.

Techies say it's a no-brainer for people looking for a cheap,custom-built machine but worrisome for those who want brand-name dependability and support.

"I just can't wait for an owner to call Apple tech support looking for help with their Psystarunit -- c'mon, you know it's gonna happen!" technology correspondent Adrian Kingsley-Hughes wrotethis week on his ZDNet blog, Hardware 2.0.

Kingsley-Hughes has been following the Psystar commotion and the user reviews that have beencoming online in the past few days.

He and other bloggers have questioned the legitimacy of Psystar based on a number of hiccups thecompany had last month.

First, the Pedrazas changed office locations for more space, and then they had to halt productionand shipments when their credit-card processors locked them out. People accused the company ofscamming to steal credit information. Not true, Rudy Pedraza said.

"We never expected to get so many orders so fast, and when we did, we had to ask the creditprocessors to handle the extra volume," he explained.

That problem is now solved, and Psystar is working to build and ship a backlog of computerorders.

There are legal concerns, too.

Apple has a licensing agreement that prohibits using itssoftware on non-Apple computers.

For years, Apple had allowed clones of its computers, but CEO Steve Jobs shut that down when hetook control of the company in 1997.

Despite the flurry of attention Psystar has received -- some bloggers posted Google satelliteimages and exterior photos of the Pedrazas' warehouse to prove it existed -- Apple has remainedquiet. Company reps have not commented publicly, and calls and e-mails to Apple's media office forthis article were not returned.

Experts predict it's only a matter of time -- days, really -- before Apple bites back.

"Theseguys are opening themselves up for a world of hurt," said Randy Friedberg, an intellectual propertyand technology attorney for Olshan Law in New York. "Apple is one of those companies, like Disneyand Coca-Cola, that doesn't screw around when it comes to protecting their IP. This will be aclassic David versus Goliath battle, and I don't know how the little guys would come out on top."

Is it a brilliant business idea from tech geniuses or a novice misstep from an inexperiencedstart-up?

Kevin Levy, chair of the technology law practice at Gunster Yoakley in Miami,said not to count out the Brothers Pedraza just because they're young and their business is new.

"Sometimes young people might not have an appreciation of the legal matters and the businessmodels, but they get the technology in a way others do not," Levy said.

Then, referring to computer icons Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, Levy said: "If I recall, therewere a couple of gentlemen no more than 22 years old who left Harvard and started a little companycalled Microsoft."