A Hawaiian company specializing in streaming video claims to have developed a $50 software emulator that allows a Windows PC to run Apple Computer's Mac OS X.

Maui X-Stream on Tuesday announced CherryOS, a virtual PC that mimics the hardware of a G4 Mac.

The company said it is already working on a stand-alone version that cuts out Windows XP. A stand-alone version of CherryOS would allow OS X to run on a cheap commodity PC without the added expense of Microsoft's operating system -- provided the emulator works and Apple's lawyers ever allow it to see the light of day.

Available as a 7-MB download, the CherryOS software emulates a G4 processor and includes the chip's multimedia-boosting Velocity Engine, formerly known as AltiVec. It also features support for USB, FireWire and ethernet. It automatically detects hardware and network connections, the company said.

"You basically have all the hardware," said programmer and designer Arben Kryeziu, who claims to have written the software from scratch in the last four months.

Kryeziu, a native of former Yugoslavia who grew up in Germany, said he developed the software initially on his own, but was persuaded to release it as a product by his boss at Maui X-Stream, Jim Kartes.

"It started as a personal project," Kryeziu said, speaking from Maui. "It was Jim's idea to sell it. If it was up to him, we would have charged a lot more. But you have to go out and buy OS X."

Apple charges $129 for a copy of its current version of Mac OS X.

A programmer, designer and web developer, Kryeziu said he settled in Hawaii after meeting his wife on vacation. There, he found a job with Maui X-Stream developing a streaming video player.

"It's not a hoax," Kryeziu added in response to widespread skepticism about CherryOS on the net. "We have a name and a reputation. We need to protect that."

Within hours of announcing the software, the company's servers were quickly overwhelmed.

"We're trying to set this up so we can take orders over the phone right now," said Kartes. "We had no idea there'd be this interest."

According to Kryeziu, CherryOS performs at about 80 percent of the speed of the PC host's hardware. The emulator uses up the other 20 percent.

Kryeziu recommends a 2-GHz processor, but said the software runs quite happily on a 1-GHz laptop. He said it is capable of simultaneously running Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, Internet Explorer and Safari, among other programs.

"It's like running OS X on my G3 laptop," Kryeziu explained. "There's some pauses, but it's not too bad."

Kryeziu said on a 3.2-GHz Pentium 4 desktop with 1 GB of RAM, the software is as snappy as native Apple hardware.

"On a fast system, it's just as fast as running on a Mac," he said.

Kryeziu said CherryOS runs to 36,000 lines of code and was inspired by open-source Mac emulator PearPC, but is not in any way based on it.

"There's a big difference," he said. "They are way slow."

The name is a play on Apple and Pear.

"The logo came to me in a couple of seconds," Kryeziu said. "A cherry is fresh and virgin."

Kryeziu said he developed it to help evangelize Mac OS X.

"I'm a Mac guy and a PC guy," he said. "I love Apple and the hardware. Apple is very strong but things are not going in the right direction. It's just ridiculous that Microsoft is more popular.

"A lot of people can try out OS X and see how beautiful the environment is," he added. "It makes it easier to spend money on the hardware if they see how beautiful it is."

Kryeziu said he has already started work on a stand-alone version of CherryOS that can be installed and run without Windows. He said Maui X-Stream has hired a couple of programmers to help.

"It will take a lot of development," he said. "We're looking at January or February next year."

Wendy Seltzer, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said Maui X-Stream may face legal challenges from Apple on patents or copyrights, but users are likely protected.

"If people running the emulator have a valid copy of OS X to run on top of it, there should be no problem doing that," she said.

Apple officials did not respond to requests for comment.