I could have sworn that only Apple was making Apple-compatible computers. I remember well the era in which Apple famously granted—then revoked—licenses to Motorola and others to manufacture hardware that would run Mac OS.

As I read today that a company called Psystar Corp. (www.psystar.com) was selling “an alternative to pricey Apple hardware,” I thought the rules had changed while I wasn’t looking. Or did they?

Unfortunately, the whole thing appears to be a complete scam, and one that almost every media outlet that covered it fell for hook, line and sinker. Googling “psystar” returns about half a million hits, mostly of web-only news sites, bloggers and rumor mills, giddy with the prospect of a low-cost Mac. Most coverage ignored completely Psystar’s Linux, Windows and high-end models.

The company, which its Web site locates it in Doral, Fla., hosts an extremely convincing-looking Web site offering the Open Computer, an “OSx86 compatible hardware platform that is capable of running ‘vanilla’ OS X Leopard kernels,” for US$399.99. And for purchasers of OS X 10.5 for US$155 more, the company “will even preinstall Leopard for free.” Other operating system options according the site’s configurator include Ubuntu Linux 8.04 (no extra charge), Windows XP Pro and 32- and 64-bit Vista Home Premium (add $150).

Still not convinced it's a hoax? There’s more. The $400 base unit includes a 2 GB DDR2 RAM, a Intel Core2Duo 2.2 GHz processor, 250 GB SATA hard drive and an Intel GMA 950 video circuit. Apple’s cheapest model, the Mac Mini, costs $599 and is significantly less equipped.

My advice to anyone looking for low-cost Mac hardware would be to stick with Apple.com and eBay.