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Summary:

This past Friday, your future ability to upgrade your Mac may have been significantly restricted. Psystar, the company that tried to create “open” Macs by running OS X on non-Apple hardware, suffered a quick defeat in its effort against Apple’s OS license restrictions. No question this […]

This past Friday, your future ability to upgrade your Mac may have been significantly restricted. Psystar, the company that tried to create “open” Macs by running OS X on non-Apple hardware, suffered a quick defeat in its effort against Apple’s OS license restrictions.

No question this was a long shot and Psystar was going for the Hail Mary. Nonetheless, Apple’s arguments and victory in the case could have a chilling effect on any modification of Apple hardware and software. Will your next Mac be as locked down as the iPhone?

We euphemistically call gaining the ability to install any software on a iPhone “jailbreaking.” This allows you full administrative access to your iPhone to modify the software as necessary for your own use. You already purchased the iPhone hardware and a license for the Apple software necessary to run your iPhone–but are restricted in its use? Apple locks you out of making certain changes to your iPhone; every aspect of iPhone usage is controlled by Apple, yet Apple’s fickle and inconsistent App Store policies further complicate matters and virtually beg people to jailbreak their iPhone.

Unlike with the iPhone, we can pretty much do want we want on our Macintosh computers. Installation of hardware and software is unrestricted and Apple exercises no control over how we use our Macs. We can circumvent functions in the operating system and enhance it without a problem. We are virtually unrestricted in upgrading or enhancing our Macs. Manufacturers can write kernel extensions to modify the operating system so their hardware can work. Don’t like the Apple monitor? No problem, go out and buy your own. Apple charging too much for RAM? Go out and buy third-party RAM. Want to add new functionality to your Mac? Buy and install third-party software that enhances the operating system.

The Psystar ruling reminds us that we use our Macs only with the consent of, and the pleasure of, Apple. Even though you “own” your Mac, your ability to use it can be modified, restricted or revoked by Apple without recourse. As Macs grow in market share and more third-party developers come to the table, we’ll be presented with options for our Macs that Apple’s own team can hardly imagine. If Apple starts losing revenue due to such enhancements, Apple can simply disable it. Any attempt to circumvent Apple’s restrictions could be seen as a violation of the DMCA. For example, to increase sales on iTunes, could Hulu be disabled by a future Apple OS? Legally, yes. We are one Automatic Software Update away from an Apple Kill Switch for our Mac.

Conspiracy Theory? Think Again

Before you blow this off as a conspiracy theory, note that similar actions have happened other times in Mac history. The most memorable was back in March 2001, when Apple issued a firmware update that disabled most third-party RAM. Apple RAM worked just fine, but other RAM was suddenly considered “out of spec.” Historians will debate whether this was deliberate or accidental. Eventually it all worked out when manufacturers swapped out RAM and other users avoided the update. In 1999, Apple disabled G4 upgrade cards in Blue and White G3s via another firmware updates. The original iMac had the ability to support a floppy drive, but later Apple purposefully disabled that function. Previous versions of iLife only worked with Apple-supported optical media.

Obviously, Apple is going to vehemently fight to prevent non-licensed Apple clones, and while it may be in the right here, the arguments used could be applied to any modification to the Macintosh OS, especially those used to enable non-Apple hardware to work with OS X. While I agree that the odds are low of waking up one morning and finding your Mac unable to boot due to a “DMCA violation,” Apple consistently argues it is its right to do so and it has exercised that right in the past. How very Microsoft of Apple. Just ask XBox 360 owners.

The iPhone is proof of its desire to lock the consumer out of any unapproved modifications. What’s stopping Apple from doing this with our Macs? Financial interest? Goodwill? You tell me.

  1. Scary

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  2. I see where Apple is coming from, but I think it is a poor move still. I mean, we purchase their products out the yin yang at a major expense.

    It is ours and we have purchased it. Sure when we clicked that little check box or submit button agreeing to their T&C, we said okay do to us what you will. But in the end it is still something we have purchased and own outright.

    That would be like buying a car, throwing a new performance muffler on, and then the Manufacturer saying, nope you can only use a muffler made by us. At what end will all this BS stop.

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    1. More accurately it’s like buying a performance muffler and then the manufacturer saying we won’t support (warrant or repair) your vehicle now that it’s been modified which, by the way, is pretty much the way things are now.

      This is what happened with the G3 to G4 upgrade cards. The cards weren’t Apple gear and there was no warranty from Apple that stated they would work or would continue to work. Once you installed it you were no longer supported by Apple.

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    2. You mean as in the proprietary windshield wipers I needed to purchase on my 2006 Honda Civic that were $45 each because standard wipers wouldn’t fit?

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    3. Nah, it would be like putting a 3rd party car stereo in your car, then 6 months later the tranny blows, and car manufacturer refuses to cover it because you modified the car (even thought the stereo has nothing to do with the drivetrain)

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  3. Nah, you’re weaving a lot of conspiratorial nonsense here. Most of what you write is technically true, but you are putting it in a certain context and leaving out a lot of other info that would make it all seem less like 1984 or Brave New World. A real specific lack is that you talk about this as if it’s all Apple’s doing and Apple’s alone. Every company in the world does these kinds of things and they are nothing really that new.

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  4. This is scary. I don’t think Apple will actually lock down Macs this way, even if they have the legal right to do so, because there’s too much history there and they would get slammed if they tried (court of public opinion still has some power)

    But with new devices, where there is not that history, Apple clearly wants to lock things down and will do so…see the iPhone. I bet the new tablet, whenever it comes out will be locked down like the iPhone.

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  5. I agree with the general thrust of this post (closed + restricted = bad) but it conflates hardware modification, software licensing and the DMCA in a way that really muddies the water.

    The Psystar case is about breach of the OSX license (we license OSX from Apple (rather than own it) in the same way that we license any other piece of non-free software). That license only allows the installation of OSX on Apple hardware. The licenses for closed source software seem to be able to say whatever the hell they like and this is certainly a troubling trend.

    We do /own/ the Mac hardware we buy. The DMCA comes into importance at this point and does make modifications to that hardware illegal. For anyone not in jurisdiction covered by DMCA like laws it’s perfectly fine to do anything you want with the Mac /hardware/ and Apple can’t do a thing about it.

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    1. Kinda confused. How does the DMCA effect hardware like you say it does? Now it would be illegal to install hardware that circumvents copyright control, but installing third party ram is certainly not illegal although it might void your warranty.

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    2. The Psystar case was about software and likely fell afoul of the DMCA because of the anti-circumvention provisions. Don’t see where this would apply to Mac hardware.

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  6. Yet another negative story from TAB. I am amazed you have the will to get up in the morning.

    Never gonna happen. If you think this through for more than 10 seconds it’s so very, very obvious.

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    1. Dude, it already happened. Read the post or try to install unapproved Apps on your iPhone

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    2. It didn’t “happened”. The closed iPhone/iPod system existed out of the box from day which is completely different from the speculation here, which is that Apple would close an existing open(ish) system.

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  7. I have been using a Mac since 1986 and can truthfully say “It just works.” I have tried Windows and know lots of people who use Windows… if that’s the kind of freedom you want, then so be it. As for me, I still will buy what “just works.”

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  8. What?

    Really?

    You made the jump from Psystar’s court loss to doom and gloom for all Mac users? Wow…

    Psystar lost the case on one key point. They made a copy of OS X for use on their imaging machine to then use to build the clone Macs. That copy was illegally modified (per the EULA, so contract law violation), then redistributed (now running afoul of copyright law). Psystar tried to use the first sale defense, IE, an owner of a copyrighted work can legally sell the work unaltered to another person without the direct permission of the copyright holder and lost.

    Basically, it would be as if I bought the new Star Trek DVD, copied it to my computer, edited a few scenes, then resold the new version bundled with a shrink wrapped DVD. Selling the DVD isn’t illegal, however including an unauthorized modified version of the movie as part of the sale is.

    You can read more here:
    http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20091114101637997

    So, tell me, how does that spell the end for all Apple users? The key difference to all your Mac arguments is that Adding RAM to your Mac isn’t illegal, but Apple can legally decide not to support the machine if you bring it to them for a warranty claim and the 3rd party ram is at fault. This is no different then buying a Dell or HP machine. Or to jump into car territory, no different then Ford refusing to perform warranty work on an exhaust problem with a new car after the owner modified the exhaust system with third party parts.

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  9. OK lets relax and use our brains for a second instead of just freaking out and using our emotions only. For anyone in favor of Psystar in this case, this has nothing to do with Apple being restrictive. Just think about it for a minute. Imagine if Dell suddenly decided they didn’t want to pay the licensing fee for Microsoft anymore. Instead they found a way to hack the machine to run Windows 7 without going through Microsoft. Do you think Microsoft would be pissed? What if I decided to build my own computers and install illegal copies of Windows 7 on it and set up a website selling them for a fraction of what Dell charges. Should that be legal? Imagine I decided I wanted to make an iPhone. I found a way to hack the iPhone and extract the software. I than found a manufacturer that could make the hardware for cheap and install my hacked OS on it. Should I be allowed to do that? This isn’t about Apple being restrictive and what would happen if they suddenly decide to limit everything anyone does on every machine they make. This is about the framework of American copyright and trademark laws. If judges had ruled in the favor of Psystar in this America as a whole would suffer.

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    1. I think you’re missing the point here. WHile this specific case was about Psystar violating Apple’s license (and I agree, they were, and should be shut down), the argument Apple made was much more expansive then just that — Apple argued they have the right to control ANY use of the OS, anywhere. Including on your (Apple manufactured) Mac that you already own.

      Legally, Apple could say that simply installing a kernel extension to support a 3rd party mouse violates your license. Not that they would…but legally, they could. That is what Apple argued, and won upon.

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    2. That’s NOT what Apple argued and won upon. Apple won because the modifications Psystar made (including the removal of Apple code) were not authorized and the redistribution of the non-authorized OS X with said modifications was infringing.

      That’s a lot different that a 3rd party providing a kext that is then installed by the end-user to support a new mouse.

      This doesn’t set any precedent with regards to the end-user.

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    3. Apple’s right. They do have that right. Its their OS and they have the right to control it. Now, based on the agreement that we all made when we bought our computers and installed our OS, they do not currently have the right to tell us we can’t install kernel extensions in the OS. They have the right to change that in a future OS but as of now they do not.

      Microsoft also has the right to decide they don’t want to license their next version of the OS. For all we know, the next versions of Windows could only run on hardware that Microsoft approves. Legally they have that right. Will that ever happen?

      Car makers could decide that its illegal to get oil changes on their 2011 models from anywhere but an authorized dealership. Legally they have the right to do so. Will that ever happen?

      Seriously, because something is legal doesn’t mean it makes sense. We are comparing computers to phones. As much as the iPhone is practically a mini computer, its still a phone. Lets be honest here, 5 years ago what truly “open” phones were there? We live in America (at least I do). Phones have been limited to carriers and features removed from certain carriers since the beginning. Apple is no different. They had the legal right to choose to limit it to AT&T and they had the right to require approved software. There is more and better approved software for the iPhone than there is open software for any other phone out there.

      People have been cracking and unlocking phones since the beginning as well. Its never been legal its just never been so in the limelight before. Apple has not sued people that jailbreak or unlock their phones. Legally they have the right to do so, but they haven’t. If they choose to do so thats their right.

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  10. The RAM thing in 2001 was a technical thing, and only illustrates that Apple tends to use the best RAM available. Good quality 3rd party RAM was NOT AFFECTED.

    This is a very STUPID article that is only meant to paint Apple in a bad light. The iPhone has to be ‘locked’ so that it doesn’t become a huge security risk.

    The Mac is the most open platform available. They do want you to actually buy a Mac to use the OS X software, but the barely even enforce that. Your assertions are ludicrous.

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    1. The Mac is open? That’s a joke.

      Both Apple and Microsoft are closed OSes. Use linux if you want an open OS.

      I like the Mac, as the UI is a true pleasure to use, but don’t pretend Apple is some great, open, loving company. They are just a small version of Microsoft with much better designers (and Steve Jobs!)

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    2. A) Linux is a kernel, not an OS. B) The OS X kernel is open.

      So OS X is as open as Linux :P

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