Why Does Apple Allow Personal Hackintoshes?

by Chris Howard Mar 18, 2009

Note: Apple Matters is not providing legal advice here. At the time of writing, building a hackintosh involves breaching the OS X EULA. If you are concerned, or have additional questions please discuss this with a lawyer. 

After last week's article and some intense debate, one thing became clear to me: Apple is willingly* and demonstrably allowing the hackintosh community to flourish.

Why? What's in it for Apple?

Apple is one of the most pro-active companies on earth for protecting its copyright. If you take a bite out of an apple and stop for more than 10 seconds to look at it, an Apple lawyer will be tapping you on the shoulder with a cease-and-desist about unauthorized replication of its logo, giving you the hurry up to take a second bite.

Ask any of the many websites that sprang up after the launch of GarageBand with the word "garageband" in their title.

Ask Pystar. It breached Apple's rights and got the big tap. Understandably too, because Pystar is profiting from that breach of the EULA.

And yet, Apple has stood by and done almost nothing about the personal hackintoshers. Why?

Solve it with DRM
One of the respondents last week suggested Apple could be planning to address it in Snow Leopard with some sort of DRM to prevent installing OS X on non-Macs.

But that doesn't make sense either. Why go down the path of pain and abuse? If Apple puts DRM in Snow Leopard the proverbial will hit the fan. And Steve Jobs will look the total hypocrite after publically pushing for the removal of DRM from music.

So, no, it's unlikely you'll see DRM in Snow Leopard. And even if you do, someone will crack it before long, which then makes Apple's efforts wasted. Remember the worldwide effort that went into getting Windows to run on the original Intel Macs?

A "cease and desist" letter would be significantly easier and less costly for Apple. Plus is the obvious and usual course of action. At first you write a polite letter that says "Cease and desist or we'll have your first born."

And Apple could go after the source, that is those websites who hackintoshers depend on for the latest info about hackintoshing, thus cutting off the flourishing hackintosh community at the knees.

Is personal hackintoshing okay?
To my knowledge, there are two big sites in the personal hackintosh world. Hackint0sh.org and InsanelyMac. Each provides extensive information on building your own hackintosh. To the best of my knowledge, Apple has never issued so much as a friendly jab in the ribs to them.

However, Apple did go after Wired when it published a video and article on building a hackintosh netbook. Yet, our own Hadley here at Apple Matters published a similar article and received nothing from Apple. What's the difference?

It seems the difference is Wired originally told readers how to access and install a modified version of OS X, which essentially means you'd be pirating it.

Wired has removed the video and the reference to the pirated OS X. It's also added the following explanation:

The video described in this article has been pulled in response to a complaint by Apple. In addition, the article has been edited to remove instructions about how to find a modded, pirate copy of OS X. Wired.com does not condone or endorse software piracy.

Hello! What do we have here? Wired saying it doesn't condone piracy and yet it breaching the EULA is clearly an unlawful act. Now, of course, you know from last week's article that I'm with them. Yes it's hyprocritical but when Apple so obviously allows it, I don't feel so guilty.

Apple jumped on the original article quick smart when that article and accompanying video suggested using an illegal version of OS X, but it has now been more than two months and Apple has not asked Wired to remove the revised article. The article is still there for all to see - and follow. It's inarguably clear that Apple only had a problem with the pirating of OS X, not the breaching of the EULA.

How much more proof do you need that Apple doesn't mind if you install OS X on a PC for personal use - provided you buy and use a legitimate copy of OS X?

So what's in it for Apple to allow the hackintosh community to flourish?

The first and obvious answer is it doesn't look the bad guy. Yeah sure that has not always bothered Apple in the past, but that was when it had a small but insanely loyal bunch of followers. Nowadays Apple's users are not steeped in loyalty from years of fighting in the trenches. Upsetting them could be rather nasty. For instance, look how quickly Apple moved to pacify the digruntled herd when it cut the price of the original iPhone several weeks after its launch.

Apple has an image and a market, and it wants to protect both.

Free help
Second, a flourishing hackintosh community means the hackers are doing all the ground work for Apple if it should ever decided to legally allow hackintoshes, or even license OS X to other vendors.

For instance, Dell Vostros are said to be OS X compatible already. I imagine quite a few hackintoshes have been built on Vostros.

Imagine if Apple comes out tomorrow and says, "Ok, starting July 1st, Dell can now sell PCs with OS X pre-installed." So much debugging and groundwork has been done by the hackintosh community that Apple knows the Vostro is a better bet than whatever Acer, for example, are making. And Dell calls out to the hackintosh communuty for feedback. Bloody brilliant! How's that for cheap R&D and testing?!

The hackintosh community puts Apple in a much better position of understanding PCs and the inherent complications if it should ever decide to licence OS X to other vendors.

Spreading the word
And then there's sales. Do personal hackintoshes hurt or help Apple's bottom line? Linux wouldn't exist today if it wasn't for the hacking community. And I mean hacking in the positive sense of the word. People hacking away into the wee hours building device drivers and refining Linux.

The same is already going in the hackintosh world. It is the geeks and nerds who wield the power in the IT world. If they take to OS X, then you'll really see it take off. And the best chance for them to experience it is in their favourite environment - a hacked one. Why buy a Mac when you can go through all the fun of building one?

It's unlikely the hackintosh community makes barely a scratch on Apple's bottom line. But, once those geeks and nerds come to appreciate OS X, the ripple affect will spread right to the top of the organizations they work for.

But, very importantly, those organizations won't buy or build hackintoshes because those would not be for personal use, instead they'll go for the real thing. Genuine, 100% Macs. Then you'll see the halo effect of hackintoshes.

What do you think?
Apple clearly doesn't mind you building a hackintosh for personal use (and I can't stipulate that part strongly enough - don't try building half a dozen to run your business) and as long as you do it with a legitimate copy of OS X.

So what other reasons can you see for Apple to be allowing the hackintosh community to flourish?


* After much spirited debate over this and my previous article, I do not believe Apple is willingly allowing the hackintosh community to flourish, but more likely, does so reluctantly.


Note: Apple Matters is not providing legal advice here. At the time of writing, building a hackintosh involves breaching the OS X EULA. If you are concerned, or have additional questions please discuss this with a lawyer.


  • And it also means anyone reading this deserves an explanation.

    As lodc discovered, breaching a contract in the US is not illegal. This would make pursuing anyone breaching the EULA more trouble than it’s worth to Apple, as anyone breaching will just scoff and say “I’, not doing anything illegal”.

    So a cease-and-desist is insufficient, it must be taken to a civil court.

    This would explain why Apple didn’t push Wired to take down the whole article, only the clearly illegal bit.

    Therefore, in response to my piece, it can be seen Apple is “allowing” the hackintosh community to flourish because the action to prevent it would be much too costly.

    Which is good! We got the answer to the question “Why does Apple allow personal hackintoshes?”

    And as UrbanBard suggested, Apple’s best approach to stifling the hackintoshers would be DRM.

    BTW As Beeb points out, others said in last week’s discussion that breaching a contract isn’t illegal, but their arguments got lost in the noise. Sorry,

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 19, 2009 Posts: 1209
  • Beeb said: “I don’t buy their ridiculously priced RAM, which also undercuts their profits.  Is that theft too?”

    Or, how about, I buy a secondhand Mac instead of a new one, thus depriving Apple of a sale. Is that theft too? Or what about if I buy a Windows PC coz I can’t afford a Mac? Is that theft from Apple too.

    Or what if I buy a Windows PC (with no intention of buying a Mac) and a copy of OS X (again with no intention of buying a Mac), and never install it? Is that theft too?

    If I pirate a copy of someone else’s OS X, then that I’m okay with being called stealing.

    I’m okay with being told breaching the EULA is unethical, but stealing? I don’t think so.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 19, 2009 Posts: 1209
  • Firstly, let me state that I own a G5 Power Mac, which cost me a considerable amount of money (approx. $6,000 at the time), so I’m not a thief, okay UrbanBard? But I do have an interest in Hackintoshing a Dell Mini 9 with a (store-bought, and not already installed elsewhere) copy of Leopard.

    The question is, ‘why does Apple allow personal Hackintoshes?’ Well, I converted to the Mac in principle in 2002, but it took till 2004 for me to get a Mac as my exclusive work machine, and another two years before I could afford my own Mac. For many years before that, I was a PC user… I remember DOS 3.3, GEM Desktop and Windows 286, so it’s been a while.

    One thing I remember was that Microsoft never really chased users of their pirated software. Well, not in the pre-internet days anyway. Instead, they went after the distributors, especially those who sold counterfeited versions through the channel (in fact I remembr a supplier to our shop getting raided in 1999. He was unaware he was selling counterfeits). But the individuals? Not too interested. And why?

    The unofficial word was that, once they were on the Microsoft train, even if they were a stowaway, they tended to stay on it. Next time they bought a PC, it would have a Microsoft OS on it. If they needed to upgrade to use their CD-ROM drive, they’d go buy Windows 98 (Remember, this was when you could get Windows, BeOS, NextStep, various Linuxes (whose day had come, apparently) and even OS/2 to your PC). And if they started on MS Office, they’d stay with it too. Ability, Star Office, Word Perfect and the like? Not once they’d gone to MS.

    I think Apple is at the point Microsoft was around the launch of Windows 95. There is tons of competition and they are by no means ubiquitous, but they have the potential. They have a killer app (or at least, a killer OS with some killer apps bundled) and they will benefit more from exposure than bad press over a battle they aren’t guaranteed to win.

    evilcat had this to say on Mar 19, 2009 Posts: 66
  • “Would there be an empire if there were no rebellious insurrections do deal with?” -Robo

    Look at it this way, from the start Apple explicitly banned iPhone OS and even AppleTV OS from being unlocked and what have we got? A fluorishing iPhone/Touch developer ecosystem - legal and otherwise today. As for the TV there is Boxee/XBMC, PatchSticks, and more. If you ask me, it’s all for the good of the Mac community. All these bring creativity, stuff Apple had you believed were impossible (hint: video recording on the iPhone’s 2Mpixel camera)?

    So as we can see, The Hackintosh community do benefit Apple a great deal - in I.N.N.O.V.A.T.I.O.N. Without which we wouldn’t have the thriving AppStore to talk about today. Clearly, the iPhone jailbreakers showed Apple there was this huge pent-up demand for non-Apple developed apps at great prices.

    The TV will follow this same path as well. Do you believe me when I tell you that the G3 version will finally re-establish Apple as a home gaming platform company. It will. The same games that you can play with your iPhone/Touch will be playable on your big screen. A 6-axis accelerometer is already being prototyped. You will even be able to use your iPhone/Touch as the controller. How about that?

    So, Apple can surely benefit from these Hackintosh rebels. Apple just need to contain them in small numbers, not to completely eliminate the “scourge”.


    Robomac had this to say on Mar 19, 2009 Posts: 846
  • evilcat said: “The unofficial word was that, once they were on the Microsoft train, even if they were a stowaway, they tended to stay on it. Next time they bought a PC, it would have a Microsoft OS on it.”

    That’s a very good point, evilcat.  Converting files and data across to a new system is a major headache that you want to do as rarely as possible. Imagine having to convert all your iWork stuff across to Windows compatible, or your iMovies, iDVDs, iPhotos. I know when I came over from Windows five years ago, that aspect was something I felt I never wanted to do again in a hurry. smile

    It’s no wonder MS found that.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 19, 2009 Posts: 1209
  • As I said five posts and four days ago (and ironically the day before than being told I have trouble accepting the truth, lol) , I will state again, I do now believe Apple is not willingly allowing the hackintosh community to flourish. It is rather more likely doing so reluctantly because of the cost, difficulty and effort required.

    I had just now begun to edit in some sort of explanation/retraction into the end of the article itself, but found that would then require going into a lengthy discussion about why Apple sometimes does pursue or threaten legal action (Pystar and Wired promoting piracy) and sometimes doesn’t (Apple Matters and Wired promoting EULA breaches, any site explaining how to build a hackintosh), which is why I kept it short an simple. The arguments around all that are in these and last week’s comments anyway.

    I am also very much of the mind that Apple could introduce some sort of DRM in Snow Leopard, as UrbanBard suggests. And I’ll talk about that more in a future article.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 22, 2009 Posts: 1209
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