This is a guest blog post by Sherman Nicodemus. This is my third post in a series this week on “Moving at the Speed of Creativity.” If you have questions about this post I’ll be glad to answer them via comments here.

The word hackintosh (or Hackint0sh) is:

…a portmanteau of the word “hack” and the name of Apple’s main brand of computers, Macintosh.

A search on the English WikiPedia for “hackintosh” redirects to the article, “OSx86,” defined as:

… a collaborative “hacking” project to run the Mac OS X computer operating system on non-Apple personal computers with x86 architecture and x86-64 compatible processors. The effort started soon after the June 2005 Worldwide Developers Conference announcement that Apple would be transitioning their personal computers from PowerPC to Intel microprocessors.

Interest in creating hackintosh computers has ostensibly risen thanks to the proliferation of inexpensive netbook computers. If a person purchases a netbook computer with hardware supporting required hackintosh installation software, it is possible to now have a functioning laptop computer running the Macintosh OS X operating system on hardware costing just $200 – $300 U.S. As I’ll discuss in greater detail in this post, it’s important to note while this is TECHNICALLY possible, it is currently not LEGAL.

Dell Mini 10v 09
Creative Commons License photo credit: charliekwalker

As an obliquely related aside, I found it interesting reading the Wiktionary definition of “portmanteau” one etymology of the word is traced back to 1872, when it was invented by Lewis Carrol in “Through The Looking Glass” to describe the words he coined in Jabberwocky:

Well, “slithy” means “lithe and slimy.” “Lithe” is the same as “active”. You see it’s like a portmanteau–there are two meanings packed up into one word.

This reference to the Jabberwock has more significance to me after recently seeing Tim Burton’s cinematic rendition of “Alice in Wonderland” and reading Kevin Hodgson’s post, “Losing the Jabberwock.”

Investigating the world of “hackintoshes” may naturally invite comparisons to Alice and rabbit holes. The OSx86 Project homepage (www.osx86project.org) provides two different destination options, referencing Morpheus’ choices for Neo in “The Matrix:”

  1. Take the blue pill and return to the classic OSx86 Project wiki. Wake in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.
  2. Take the red pill and discover our new news and forum portal, InsanelyMac. Stay in Wonderland and see how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

If you’d like to peer a bit down the rabbit hole of “hackintoshes,” you’ve come to the right place– at least for the next couple of days as I continue to guest-blog here.

Who is that on the other end of the tube ?
Creative Commons License photo credit: jpockele

The fact that it’s been possible and remains possible to create a “hackintosh” computer is controversial because Apple has made the process illegal. According to the “Legal issues and Apple objections” section of the OSx86 article in the English WikiPedia:

Apple does not authorize the use of the Mac OS on any x86 PC other than the ones it has developed itself. The company used a Trusted Platform Module, or TPM, to tie Mac OS to the systems it distributed to developers after announcing its switch to Intel’s chips.

The Mac OS X EULA forbids installations of Mac OS X on “non Apple-labeled computers”. On July 3, 2008, Apple filed a lawsuit against Psystar Corporation for violating this restriction, among other claims. Apple claimed Psystar “violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) by dodging copy-protection technologies Apple uses to protect Mac OS X. “Apple employs technological protection measures that effectively control access to Apple’s copyrighted works […] Defendant has illegally circumvented Apple’s technological copyright-protection measures.” Specifically, Apple charged Psystar with acquiring or creating code that “avoids, bypasses, removes, descrambles, decrypts, deactivates or impairs a technological protection measure without Apple’s authority for the purpose of gaining unauthorized access to Apple’s copyrighted works.” This brief revealed that Apple considers the methods that it uses to prevent Mac OS X from being installed on non-Apple hardware to be protected by the DMCA.

In yesterday’s post, “Ripping Personally Owned DVDs for iPhone or iPod Viewing: Legal and Technical Perspectives,” I reflected on the irony that “legality” when it comes to creating backups or compressed versions of legally purchased DVD movies continues to be defined by geography, rather than the inherent ethics of the act. As far as I know, it is not “legal” to create a hackintosh in any country or territory on our planet. Through their operating system EULA, Apple has decreed it taboo worldwide.

One sign of the sensitivity which surrounds the topic of “hackintoshes” was visible over a year ago in January 2009, when Brian Chen (a writer for Wired’s Gadget Lab blog) had his video taken down on the advice of Wired’s legal team after they were confronted about it by Apple representatives. In his article for CNET, “Wired takes down Hackintosh video,” Tom Krazit noted:

Apple has appeared to gently tolerate the “Hackintosh” community that sprung up after the company decided to adopt Intel’s x86 processors for the Mac, so long as the project didn’t advance much beyond science fair mode. But it has shown a clear interest in protecting its licensing agreements for Mac OS X this year, through its legal battle against Psystar, a clone maker selling generic desktop PCs with Mac OS X preinstalled.
In its article, Wired admitted that the practice is illegal, requiring the installation of hacked software, linking to well-known torrent site The Pirate Bay to provide a source for the software. It also offered the following disclaimer: “Disclaimer: The following process potentially violates Apple’s End User License Agreement for Mac OS X. Please ensure you own a copy of Mac OS X Leopard, if you wish to follow the procedure.”

Apple does continue to sell 5-user “family packs” of its latest Mac OS X operating system, but officially a hackintosh installation cannot be made legal through the purchase of a software license. Apple’s EULA makes no exceptions for non-Apple hardware running OS X.

If, despite the legal realities, you’re still interested in creating your own hackintosh, a number of websites are available with helpful information. Hackintosh.com offers:

…links to everything you need to build your own Hackintosh and get Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard” or Mac OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard” running on an unsupported computer — instructions, step-by-step “how to” guides, and tutorials — as well as installation videos, lists of compatible computers and parts, and communities for support.

Your laptop hardware manufacturer may even provide user forums with helpful tips. The Dell Mini 9 and 10 netbooks support Hackintosh software, and the Dell-sponsored mydellmini.com site includes forum groups specific to hackintoshing, like its Mac OS X forum. Total posts in that forum to date (49,051) far outnumber the total number of posts in all the other forums on the entire site combined. It is fascinating to see how some college students are supplementing their income with periodic hackintosh code development.

The hackintosh rabbit hole is deep indeed.

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4 Responses to What is a hackintosh?

  1. Gatis says:

    Does the similar rule applies to iphone when we jailbreak it?

  2. Danny Rose says:

    I’ve always been intrigued by (and a little infuriated at) Apple’s business plan regarding their hardware. When they went with the Intel CPU’s they actually made the drivers available for those who wanted to boot camp Mac OS and Windows XP on their machines. I am old enough to actually recall seeing an ad for a Mac clone – one that Apple licensed and then withdrew from what I understand.

  3. howarddavidp says:

    Once again, someone makes the mistake to call this “illegal”. It may be illegal to make and sell hackintoshes, but it is only a violation of the Apple EULA, and not any state, local, or federal laws. You will never see someone go to jail if they install OS X on their netbook, sheesh that would suck.

  4. Michael Douglass says:

    But what if you never have seen/agreed to Apple’s Terms of Use?

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