Worms in the Apple

Two rebels take on America's most beloved computer company.

Exact details of the bust are unclear, but two years later, a jury convicted him of unloading at least a pound of cocaine. On Feb. 22, 1993, a judge sentenced him to 10 years in federal prison.

Soon after that, Rodolfo boarded a bus for the Butner Federal Correctional Complex, a sprawling penitentiary in North Carolina. It was home to President Ronald Reagan's would-be assassin, John Hinckley Jr. Today, it houses disgraced financier Bernie Madoff.

The sentence devastated Rodolfo's two young sons. Not long after their dad left for prison, the boys and their mother moved to a small home on Jose Canseco Street, just a few blocks west of Miami Coral Park Senior High School, which both brothers would attend several years later.

The brothers declined to discuss their father's arrest, except to ask it not be included in the story. "It doesn't define our lives at all," Robert says. "We were just little kids. We had nothing to do with it." Their father rejected an interview request.

Rudy admits he began rebelling against his mother after losing his dad to jail. "I'm an independent person," he says. "I can't live with rules that well."

Despite that adolescent rebelliousness, Rudy excelled at high school. By his senior year, he wore a serious expression and a businessman's no-nonsense haircut, and was active in Future Business Leaders of America. His adviser, Nelly Odio, remembers him as perhaps the best computer whiz to pass through the school. "He was extremely smart, just leaps and bounds above everyone else when it came to computers and programming," she says.

Robert began attending Coral Park High School a year after Rudy. He also stood out in the classroom, Odio says. She remembers Rudy hanging out with a group of smart kids, doing well in class, and even volunteering to design Coral Park's Web site for free. He also worked long hours after school, designing computer systems for businesses around Miami. Rudy declines to name them, but Odio confirms he pulled in serious cash even as a 16-year-old. "He was making tons of money in high school as a computer consultant, probably more than I do today," she says, laughing.

Maria and Rodolfo divorced in 1996, two years before he earned early release from federal prison — a move that only threw the Pedrazas' lives into more disarray. The parents soon began battling over custody of their children, according to court records.

By 2000, Rudy's sophomore year of high school, he had moved out of his mom's house and in with his dad. In 2001, Robert joined them. "Our dad just gave us a lot more freedom to do our thing," Rudy says.

In custody papers, Rodolfo wrote that "verified allegations of child abuse or neglect [had] been made" in the case. Maria denies this in her filings, claiming there had "never been any verbal or physical abuse." She says she allowed Rudy to "live temporarily with his father" in late 2000, but a few weeks later, "it became evident the former husband was not providing a safe, secure, and appropriate home."

The boys mostly stayed with their dad after that. Rudy graduated in 2002 with grades good enough to get him into the University of Florida. "That was the happiest I'd ever seen him, when he got accepted," Odio says.

Robert, in contrast, transferred out of Coral Park after his sophomore year and attended a nearby high school. He never graduated.

Through all the conflict, the brothers realized their passion for computers. In the mid-'90s, they talked their mom into buying a computer. It was a clunky PC that could barely run word processors.

With their mom pulling in only about $600 a week as a legal secretary and their dad struggling to return to life outside the pen, the Pedraza brothers couldn't afford better.

Rudy moved to Gainesville in fall 2002 and enrolled in the University of Florida's college of liberal arts and sciences. His plan was to study computer science, but records show he was an English major. Either way, the point was moot by the end of his sophomore year, when he was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery on his mouth. "I had a serious cancer scare," Rudy says, pointing to the left side of his mouth. Most of his bottom teeth are missing on that side, and he talks with a pronounced lisp. "It shook me up, so I dropped out of school for a while."

By 2005, he was back in Miami, living in a rented one-story house on a quiet street. He and Robert, who had been working as a computer consultant, decided to join forces in a tech firm.

For a year and a half, they worked on small freelance projects. In July 2007, they formally incorporated Psystar Corp. It was a meaningless name, Robert says, adding, "Trust me, in hindsight, I wish we'd picked something people could actually pronounce." (It's pronounced sigh-star.)

They converted Rudy's two-car garage into a home base, filling the space with desks, computers, and — in a back corner — a workshop where Robert could tinker.

In the afternoon rush-hour chaos of the Palmetto Expressway, Rudy Pedraza weaved his Honda through the frantic traffic. He'd been home from college for more than a year. He was recovering well from surgery, though he'd lost a lot of weight.

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