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Summary:

Writing on Fast Company, Farhad Manjoo says that not long ago, he got his hands on “one of the slowest, ugliest, and least-user-friendly Macintosh laptops the world has ever seen” — and he loves it, since it sports a couple of features that others can’t match. […]

Writing on Fast Company, Farhad Manjoo says that not long ago, he got his hands on “one of the slowest, ugliest, and least-user-friendly Macintosh laptops the world has ever seen” — and he loves it, since it sports a couple of features that others can’t match. It’s tinier and lighter than Apple’s pricey MacBook Air, and even better, having cost him only about $500, a third of Apple’s tariff for the most inexpensive Air.

This laptop is of course a “Hackintosh” — specifically a 9-inch Dell netbook Farhad has hacked to run Apple’s Mac OS X. He notes that since Apple adapted its elegant OS to run on Intel’s processors, hackers have been diligently breaking down the walls between Macs and PCs.
My daughter, a lifelong Mac fanatic, is one of them, having been happily running OS X — currently Leopard — on a 2.6 GHz Pentium 4 desktop box for the past three years and finding it more than satisfactory. I’ve tried out this machine, and it’s impressively fast. However, my daughter is an accomplished computer tech who’s been able to deal with the necessary tweaking and technical tedium of getting OS X up and running reliably on her bargain basement Dell.

Not for the Faint of Heart

Farhad Manjoo notes that, no surprise, Apple doesn’t look kindly on the Hackintosh movement, but this evidently hasn’t slowed the movement’s momentum, and Mac hackers, some on constrained budgets like my daughter, have discovered that they can build precisely the features and products they want into a custom desktop or laptop model of a type and price point Apple doesn’t choose to offer and save a boatload of money in the process.

“We don’t know how to make a $500 computer that’s not a piece of junk, and our DNA will not let us ship that,” CEO Steve Jobs observed last October. That may be all well and good, but there are an awful lot of folks out there these days who want a $500 computer, or indeed in today’s snakebit economy simply can’t afford a higher price of entry, or who really want a netbook-sized laptop, which is one of the market categories Apple has chosen not to serve, at least yet. And its an exaggeration to insist that all sub-$500 computers are necessarily “junk.” Legions of satisfied netbook users contend otherwise.

Manjoo warns, and my daughter’s experience underscores this, that Mac hacking is not for dilettantes or the faint-hearted, and there are plenty of potential technical hurdles and pitfalls to be overcome, but there is support available from the fraternity (and in some instances sorority) of experts populating online forums who’ve probably encountered — and solved — the problems that may be your current stumbling-blocks.

But is it Ethical

There is of course the ethics question. Installing OS X on a non-Apple computer is a direct violation of Apple’s End User Licensing Agreement. My daughter has been encouraging me to get a PC laptop and let her install OS X on it for me, but while I profoundly disagree with the thrust, extent, and spirit of current copyright regulations, especially the execrable and draconian DCMA, it’s still the law, which I personally prefer to stay on the right side of, although I don’t pass any judgment on those who are exercising civil disobedience against what they (and I) consider unjustly excessive intellectual property end user restrictions.

I also understand and appreciate that if Apple were to have a change of heart and authorize the Mac OS for installation on non-Apple PC hardware, it could very well spell the end of Apple-branded computers. This very nearly happened in the mid-’90s with previous Apple CEO Gil Amelio’s near catastrophic experiment with Mac OS licensing to third-party clonemakers. The latter made some very attractive machines. I still have a UMAX SuperMac S-900 that was a formidable piece of work in the context of the era, in many ways outdoing the Apple PowerMac 9500 and 9600 that competed against it at higher prices.

So this is definitely one of those matters where the “be careful what you wish for” axiom applies. It would be neat to be able to buy a Dell or Asus laptop, some models of which I personally find quite enticing — and not just because of prices. However, I would hate for the ability of Apple to keep rolling out sublimely elegant and delightful machinery like my unibody MacBook to be compromised because of a bleeding away of Mac OS users and profitability to cheaper PC boxes.

How about you? Do you think Apple should license Mac OS X? How about the ethics of hackintoshing?

  1. Not only NO but HELL NO !

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    1. +1

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  2. I think Apple should say, “Looks- if you really want to run our software on your crappy hardware, go ahead. We give you no support, though. You can’t coming whining into an Apple store with tales of how your machine is bricked through a software upgrade. And no selling it to make profit either.”

    Honestly, I think that most people who are interested in OS X are not interested in putting together a machine that is somewhat clunky- it’s geeks and people interested in netbooks that this hacking appeals to. I for one want to build a Hackintosh just so I can say that I have done it.

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  3. You can get cheaper Macs – refurbs, or used ones on ebay, craigslist, kijiji, etc. A few years ago I picked up a 1 year old used Mac for half the price of new with 2 years of Apple care left. Just have to be a smart shopper.

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    1. I bought a used g5 for $1400 from a reputable apple reseller and it is an absolute nightmare. A gigantic piece of crap! Everything is breaking. First the graphics card went (it was a nightmare replacing that) and no the machine just shuts down for no reason. Could be the power supply or the mother board. Either way it will cost me more than I want to pay to fix it. I only bought it as a back up machine. I have a friend who made a hackintosh and it works just fine. The same as the other macs we have and i have used macs since 1991.

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    2. JoeJoetheidiotpet Friday, October 2, 2009

      James,

      That is a tough break! This is another reason why hackintoshes are so appealing. I don’t know what you spent but I am sure it was a pretty penny since you bought from a reputable dealer. I am sure they sold you on the fact that it was a Mac. Did they forget to mention that it had the discontinued Power PC Chip inside or did you already know that?

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  4. Hmm. Well, I’m just a n00b but here’s my take:

    1. I’d like to sit down with the author and have him show me what he does on this netbook. There’s such a thing as objective commentary where you write in a way to prove your point. It’s against journalism practices but doesn’t stop seasoned reporters from doing it. Ah, the freedom of op-ed. Anyway, I’d like to see how he and his daughter use these computers. I doubt that he has a rich experience on a Dell Mini 9. I know because I bought a mini 9 and a 10 before finally just getting a MacBook Air. They’re not “junk” but throwing Mac OS 10 on any Hackintosh is only to save money NOTHING ELSE. You don’t get any more freedom or flexibility and the only reason to have a hackintosh is dollar signs. If there was a $799 Apple computer and a $799 beige box and both are running Mac OS, no one would buy the beige box.

    2. You can purchase a perfectly capable 2Ghz 17″ G5 iMac on eBay for around $500-$750 dollars. It’s going to be nearly as fast as that 2.4Ghz Pentium the girl is running.

    3. You can buy a 1.8Ghz MacBook CoreDuo and it’ll be just as fast as that Dell Mini 9. and will cost the same price and it’ll be able to run Snow Leopard, no hax or no fooling around with drivers.

    4. Licensing the Mac OS won’t be the death of Apple computers but it will offer choice and that’s not what Apple is about. Choice is not what they do at Apple, Inc and they’ve flourished because of it. Furthermore, the sale of Apple computers drives Apple in so many ways. the high profit margins are passed down to the customer every day. Cheap software like iWork, free software like iLife, Mobile Me is a steal at $99 a year and not to mention all of the updates, upgrades, Apple store service and never having to speak to someone who’s native language isn’t english. Apple makes crap loads of money on the sale of Macs and a large percentage of that money helps Apple invest millions in R&D to create awesome products like the iPhone. I’d rather pay the premium and enjoy the benefits of what Apple is delivering to the tech world than put OS X on a Toshiba Satellite.

    5. Finally, I’ve used PCs and own a few of them. I do tech support and server installs and I’m a geek on both sides of the fence. I’m happy with Apple’s hardware. It is a premium. Sony used to compete pretty closely but that’s a thing of the past now. Apple has the best hardware in the industry. If anything, I’d buy an Apple computer just to put windows on it (and I have). My point is, we’re not getting duped here. Yes there’s a high markup and yes Apple kinda whispered that they would be able to charge less for Macs after moving to Intel and that never happened but now that Dell is entering into the “fashion computer” market with Adamo and their new latitude series, it’s clear that Apple isn’t that expensive. Dell’s offerings aren’t even shiny and are costing more than Apple’s laptops. So sure you can buy a notebook for $399 from Dell but their “premium” machines start at $1899 and go upwards of 3K with customizations. Apple isn’t raping us here, they’re giving us what we paid for and I respect that.

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    1. For me, the appeal of the Dell Mini running OS X is this:

      * The form factor: I go to school two nights a week and haul my 13″ MBPro in to take notes. it’d be nice to have a laptop the size of a hardcover

      * Licensing: I have two copies of Leopard and Snow Leopard. While it’s against the EULA, I’m not pirating the OS from a license standpoint. Also, I *believe* the licenses for iWork and Office are “in use on one computer a time” so I feel I’m on the moral road there. Were I to keep it WIndows, I’d need to purchase Windows versions of that software.

      In the end, I decided against it because my MBP gives me almost 6 hours of battery life and the keyboard is a dream to work on.

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    2. Adam: What a wonderful post which simply says it all. In my estimation, Macinhacker’s feel that STEALING from a company, from individuals, who worked hard to bring Mac’s to life and have worked for over 20 years to continue to envision/create & build the world’s most elegant and useful computers, etc., is OK.
      For me, I’m tired of thieves and their arrogance. I’d much rather pay Apple because quality is long remembered after price is forgotten. We have three computers. A MacMini, a Macbook (aluminum) and a Dell. Two of the three are used daily. The last one has not been used in 18 months. You already know which one.
      Again, thanks. Elegant and valuable post you did.

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    3. A Macbook Air is THIN but not SMALL. It’s too big to be a netbook. There is nothing in the Mac lineup that’s as small as a netbook, so of course people are gonna want them. Anyone who says netbooks are useless doesn’t have to commute on a train or bus to work/school. My Acer Aspire One is the only laptop I have that’s actually usable on a train. I tried using a Macbook Air for a couple weeks to do the same thing, and it was just too BIG.

      Also, to “Tom Lawson”, it’s not STEALING when you’ve bought the OS.

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    4. JoeJoetheidiotpet Friday, October 2, 2009

      Tom Lawson ,

      “The last one has not been used in 18 months. You already know which one.”

      You should turn it into a Hackintosh and breath new life into it.

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  5. No they shouldn’t. OS X works so well because it works with the hardware, Its designed to work with it.

    With Windows you’ll find that due to a thousand hardware manufacturers, it’ll never have the same stability/performance across similar specced systems.

    Should they license it? No, they don’t need to. It’s a simple answer!

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  6. Apple doesn’t have a problem with the Hackintosh community, just those who wish to profit from their R&D and investments. They just don’t make a nice installer for someone to put OSX on their Dell/Lenovo/HP/etc. They don’t offer support if you have it on a Hackintosh already. I think this is all perfectly normal and acceptable. If you want to play with OSX on your non-Apple-branded hardware, no problem, just don’t expect Apple to give support if you have some problem.
    If I install the SONY PS3 OS onto a XBox360, I don’t think SONY would help me if my controllers didn’t function properly. Ya think? Or even Microsoft? Nope.
    As far as the comment..”And its an exaggeration to insist that all sub-$500 computers are necessarily “junk.” Legions of satisfied netbook users contend otherwise.” is erroneous. The “legions” of netbook owners are an increasingly frustrated bunch of users. Many people have purchased these netbooks, thinking they could do everything a “normal” computer could do just at a lower pricepoint have found quite the opposite. Choppy video to unplayable video, one-trick ponies and sluggishness whenever they try to do anything beyond check their e-mail is pretty common. They even advertise these netbooks as “one application at a time”. Now, yes different people have different experiences (There will most likely be someone who will disagree) but they have Atom processors, shared video and an architecture designed for longevity of use, not power of ANY sort…I mean ANY. So these “legions” pruchase because they are cute and cheap, but many users become frustrated when they hit the wall very early on in their computing experience. Hey, I like netbooks…a lot…but you have to know what they are designed for and unfortunately most people purchasing them do not, so the “legions” is a misrepresentation of the validity of these computers.

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    1. True to a point. I am a MacHead, and I am a Netbook user. My Dell Mini 10v is hackintosh-able, but I’ve not done that b/c it works terrifically as is.

      There are many, MANY, MANY very happy netbook users. Those who are not happy only have themselves to blame for not doing their research before purchase. EOS

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  7. They should do what they do now. No effort to support it, no worry or objections to anyone that wants to do it.

    Apple is very easy going to deal with, not at all like MSFT who are constantly treating you like a criminal.

    Apple hardware is the best bargain in the computer industry, assuming you are not on food stamps/public assistance. The Dell Adamo is a joke, nearly as funny as the Win7 launch party video.

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  8. JoeJoetheidiotpet Thursday, October 1, 2009

    Charles,

    Great article, and you make some great points. I too am a lifelong Mac Head. I started with Mac on the very FIRST Mac ever created. It was my neighbors, but I got to use it. :) Then my father bought one of the first Apple Laptops that came out. I too remember when the clones hit the market. I do agree with you about them almost sinking Apple. Anyway here are my thoughts.

    I have a Hackintosh I built and am using for the last 2 years. I am currently running Snow Leopard.

    I don’t think Apple will license a version to run on PC. Like you said, that would probably hurt or worst yet, kill off them building there own Mac Hardware.

    OS X86 community just keeps growing and growing. They have already done the hardest part in that they have created a boot-loader that bridges the gap of installing Mac on a PC.

    Now, I believe this is a catch twenty-two for Apple. If they go back to making their own chip’s or switching to some unknown chip maker they will have the same problem as before, they will always be one to two steps behind Intel and the PC market, as was a huge deciding factor in switching over to intel in the first place in my opinion.

    They can’t shut the OS X86 community down, if they shut down one website, another would come up in it’s place. It is like file sharing, they have not been able to shut that down.

    Last, the ethics of running OS X on a PC, Called “Hackintosh”. Well, I justify it this way even though by their rules, I am breaking the license agreement. Since they built OS X on the open source community, and they took something that was given to the world for free, modified it and then re-packaged it with a new GUI, how can they determine what it is used for? I would say they can if, they didn’t build it on the backs of the open source community. They did not create nor invent the UNIX which is at the Core of Apple. If they had invent ALL the technologies that make OS X work then it would probably be something like “Apple’s OS 9″, and way behind where they are today. To say they have benefited hugely from the same people that have been instrumental in getting the “Hackintosh” working (Some of the same programmers that are involved in Open Source) would be an UNDERSTAMENT!

    These are just my thoughts, if you want to comment feel free.

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    1. Totally disagree with “Well, I justify it this way even though by their rules, I am breaking the license agreement. Since they built OS X on the open source community, and they took something that was given to the world for free, modified it and then re-packaged it with a new GUI, how can they determine what it is used for?”. This is the logic of a thief. Sure XEROX and (I think) Stanford Univ. labs were the first ones to develop the GUI for Apple and they modified it but if we use your logic, anything can be stolen, based on ‘there’s nothing new under the sun’. The difference between honorable people and dishonorable ones are ‘boundaries’. Honorable ones respect other ‘boundaries’, while knaves don’t. Just because someone ‘can’ do something, does not mean it is morally (another word knaves hate) correct. Apple spent millions of dollars in developing their products and since you and others of your ilk don’t care about their work, and their RIGHT to it, you feel ‘well, they didn’t invent it, so I can do whatever the hell I want with it). Sure, Apple didn’t invent it, but they sure did refine it, over a long period of time. Your statement “they did not create nor invent the UNIX which is at the Core of Apple. If they had (to) invent ALL the technologies that make OS X work then it would probably be something like “Apple’s OS 9″, and way behind where they are today’ is simply a lame excuse for your rationalization to use your arrogance in justifying NO BOUNDARIES.
      Look, just because you ‘can’ doesn’t mean you ‘should’. Our culture is falling apart because of the logic of what’s ‘your’s is mine’ because you didn’t…(fill in the blanks). I say, your arguments are puerile, immoral, unethical and dishonest. Caterpillar didn’t invent the diesel engine, the continuous track, or steel, but that doesn’t mean it is moral, legal or ethical to steal their intellectual property rights that went into creating a world class bulldozer (etc.) and setting up shop next door with the stolen ideas and drive them out of business, which your logic is arguing for.
      In closing, I admit that when I was younger, I stole stuff. As a psychologist, I found out that it hurt my soul to do so. Stealing anything hurts you. Using your conscience, if you have one, will tell you if you are, or not.
      You asked, I replied.

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    2. Do you understand the BSD license? Let me educate you: http://www.opensource.org/licenses/bsd-license.php

      The BSD license basically says, “you may use this code freely, modify it, distribute it freely or even profit from it”.

      Your basic argument that Apple owes the open source community does not hold water. As you say, ” they built OS X … and they .. modified it and then re-packaged it with a new GUI”. So, they I see it they added value that was not originally present.

      In that light, how does Apple’s use of the BSD license provide for your moral ambiguity?

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    3. JoeJoetheidiotpet Friday, October 2, 2009

      “Tom Lawson”

      Thanks for your insight.

      I agree that Apple should be able to sell OS X, I have never said they should not profit from there investment of time and energy.

      I have conceded the point in other posts that according to “Apple’s rules” that they say you are not allowed to use their, “Software” on anything other than official Apple hardware.

      Here is where I differ and what I was trying to convey.

      Is it fair that they can take something that was given to the world freely to use, distribute and modify. Edit it, re-package it, then turn around and to the SAME people (they are part of the world) that buy their new product; Oh yea, by the way, just cause it was given to the world to use, modify and edit, we at Apple tell you that you no longer have that right to do that because, we have claimed it as our own??

      Therefore, fall in line!

      On a personal note, it is interesting to me how so many people throw the word “morality” around as some sort of weapon to invoke a response from people that they feel are in the wrong or on opposite sides of the argument. I guess it works because it has moved me to respond to this word.

      I just wish before people used that word that they examined themselves. Then, if they determined they have measured up,( I tell you a secret, no one measures up in this life) they put a disclaimer stating, “I have examined myself and I am a certified moron, I mean moral person. I am approved to correct based on my morality (all the questionable stuff I do when no one see’s me, well that’s my secret) and what I have determined to be right in my eyes. I will correct you.

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    4. JoeJoetheidiotpet Friday, October 2, 2009

      Khürt Williams

      “Your basic argument that Apple owes the open source community does not hold water.”

      That was not the point of my argument. My argument was how can they take something that was freely given and freely allowed to be modified and then tell everyone that since they have added there own GUI to it, that you no longer can do anything with it other than what we say you can?

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  9. I agree with Adam Jackson above in regards the “spin” on this article. I have seen OS-X run on lots of non-Apple hardware and while it’s a lot of fun, it’s not a “rich” or otherwise good experience on the whole.

    The only way to get OS-X to run as fast or as be as usable as it is on an Apple branded computer is to build a very special machine all of your own, and that tends to cost almost as much money (and time), as buying the Mac does in the first place.

    Also, the main thrust of this article seems to be the ethical point, but that’s just presented at the end as a sort of “what do you think?” question. How does it make sense to write an article saying “well, x is illegal, but what do you think?” and not provide any background or context other than the fact that the authors daughter does it.

    Anyone who has done any research into hackintoshes should know that while the EULA is certainly opposed to this, Apple the computer company has a history of turning a blind eye to the practice (amoung hobyists), and certain Apple employees have helped or even been a part of the hackintosh community from time to time.

    To leave out that detail, or to not even know it, is kind of lame IMO and skews the whole article. To bring up ethics without distinguishing between the hobbyist hackers and groups like Psystar (or to not even mention Psystar in the context of the article), seems purposely confusing as well.

    Finally, to talk about the “ethics of the hackintosh community” at all, without giving us any background on this community (it’s been in existence for many years), or any background on Apple’s reaction to it, can only lead to uninformed responses. You are asking us a complex ethical question, but not giving anyone the background they need to decide one way or the other.

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    1. JoeJoetheidiotpet Thursday, October 1, 2009

      I will give you some history, OS X comes from and has benefited from the Open Source Community (Some of the same type if not actual people that are responsible for the “Hackintosh”).

      “Apple the computer company has a history of turning a blind eye to the practice (amoung hobyists)”

      Question, what would you have Apple do? Are they to slap the hands of the community that helps them add new technologies to OS X?

      Question, how could Apple do anything other then what they are doing now? If they tired to brick the hackintosh on a update how would they make sure none of the quote “real macs” get affected? Not to mention the PR nightmare that would be?

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    2. JoeJoetheidiotpet Thursday, October 1, 2009

      Oh yea, forgot this one:

      “it’s not a “rich” or otherwise good experience on the whole.”

      I don’t know which “Hackintosh’s” you have had a chance to use, but mine is really, really stable.

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  10. Ashutosh Singh Thursday, October 1, 2009

    No I don’t think that apple should license Mac-OS, the simple reason is Macs great computer not just only because of the OS it’s also because of the hardware on which the MacOS is running, and I also think that this not ethical.

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    1. JoeJoetheidiotpet Thursday, October 1, 2009

      “I also think that this not ethical.”

      According to the autobiography of “Apple”.

      Was it ethical when Apple took the “Mouse Technology” from “Xerox”?

      Was it ethical when “Bill Gates” stole the GUI from Mac, created the PC behind Steve Jobs back and beat them to the market with the PC?

      I think you are confusing ethics with money?

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