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.


  • I suppose Apple may be looking at this as a test market for a potential desktop consumer Mac.  Or its just wishful thinking on my part.

    jocknerd had this to say on Mar 18, 2009 Posts: 23
  • I think it is very savvy for Apple to not “attack future customers”. People building a hackintosh are usually
    a) aware what they are doing is breaking some rules
    b) technically savvy
    Often they are PC hobbyists whose pride has kept them from every actually buying “something with that apple logo” on it. Once they start using OS X on a daily basis, I would think quite a few would jump off the Windows platform. Reading the hackintosh forums seems to confirm this. PC hobbyists often have some cash around ($800 video cards?), so nobody is surprised when a real Mac makes it into their collection a while later.

    Smart move Apple.

    MK500 had this to say on Mar 18, 2009 Posts: 1
  • “I think it is very savvy for Apple to not ‘attack future customers’”

    Very well said, MK500

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 18, 2009 Posts: 1209
  • I wrote about this very subject a few months back:

    “...I see no evidence that they try to shutdown the occasional hacker. Unlike the RIAA, Apple isn’t suing grandma because she had the wherewithal to get a Hackintosh running.

    But there’s a world of difference between the average one-off geek assembling a Mac clone and a corporation (no matter how small) doing the work for you and making it widely available.”

    It’s not so much Apple letting the Hackintosh community flourish as it is not being worth the effort to try to stop it. Apple’s clearly smarter than the RIAA, though that’s not saying much.

    treestman had this to say on Mar 18, 2009 Posts: 1
  • Chris, I fail to see that you have made a single new argument. My rebuttal on the other website remains. The only people you wouldpersuade are thieves.

    Apple has a perfect right to disagree with you and to take any legal action it wants. Silence or a lack of action does not constitue agreement with the hackers. The hackers are not actual or potential Apple customers. I would not sell to anyone who has stolen from me before.

    There is a substantial difference between music and software. Apple did not own the music, so its ox was not gored. The legal case was that since RIAA was selling the same music on an unprotected format on CD’s it was unfair to expect that iTunes customers should be so penalized. Apple has not been against DRM, but against stupid and excessively onerous DRM.

    Since Apple’s marketing plan is to use Mac OS X to entice people to buy Apple hardware; either the sale of Mac OSX on a Dell or allowing Hackintoshes to be privately built undercuts Apple’s hardware profits.

    This is a pilferage problem. A tiny amounts of pilferage can be considered a business expense because it is too expensive to address. But, when pilferage is left unprosecuted, then it encourages a huge swarm of copycats to start to pilfer. Then, the only remedy is to prosecute in high profile cases. I am assuming that Hackintoses are a low pilferage case at present. How long it will remain so, is anyone’s guess.

    UrbanBard had this to say on Mar 18, 2009 Posts: 111
  • UrbanBard, you choose to ignore the black and white facts.

    - Apple sent Wire a “cease-and-desist” when it published an article and video on building a hackintosh.
    - Wired removed references to using an illegal version of OS X.
    - No further action by Apple.

    How hard would it have been for Apple to send a follow up saying, “Ah, no, we want the whole thing removed”.

    Of course, you might argue that then Apple would have to send such a letter to all offenders. Well, why not argue that Apple should send a letter to all who are promoting using an illegal copy of OS X - of which there are many?

    Why this one little effort by Apple, and one that only addressed the more serious illegal behaviour? And yet it is making the effort to go after Pystar.

    There’s a clear ambiguity here that clearly sends out a message to all hackintoshers that Apple will tolerate personal hackintoshing.

    You are yet to provide a reasonable explanation, simply hiding behind the argument “Apple can do whatever it likes” and then confidently telling us what you think Apple is doing.

    But there’s less substance to that than my interpreting Apple’s action towards Wired as allowing personal hackingtoshing.

    You know that if Apple had’ve made Wired pull the whole article that would have sent the message Apple won’t tolerate personal hackintoshing. The same letter to hackint0sh.org and InsanelyMac and personal hackintoshing is a dead duck.

    BTW Maybe no new argument, but certainly new evidence. (i.e. the Wired action and inaction.) Do you think that works in a court? That is, can new evidence be accepted for an old argument? (Lawyer: “Ok, your honor, I know it’s a tired argument about the murder, but I have new witness.” Judge: “Sorry, no new witnesses, let’s just get this case over with. You should have found them before we got started.”)

    And anyway, this isn’t a court, so, yep, new evidence is definitely permissible.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 18, 2009 Posts: 1209
  • Well said UrbanBard, but I still think the potential upside for Apple is greater than the loss from widespread hackintoshing.

    I also believe it allows Apple to keep their highly focused product line.

    Apple doesn’t make a mainstream desktop computer or a netbook. They must have good reasons for ignoring the second largest market segment and the fastest growing one because one doesn’t usually turn one’s back on hundreds of millions of potential customers unless you’ve determined that they’d be more trouble than they’re worth.

    If someone can’t afford a real Mac or is simply determined to have a netbook then it’s better for Apple to have that person buy OS X and become a fan of the OS than it is for them to continue using and recommending Windows XP.

    Likewise if you’re determined to have a tower so you upgrade your own components then Apple is better off getting $129 from you than having you continue to dual boot Linux and Windows. Unless and until Apple decides to expand their product line such a person is unlikely to buy a real Mac anyway, but having played with OS X on their PC they might start recommending Macs to friends or family members for whom the Apple product lineup is a better fit.

    Chasing individuals for breaking the EULA is way too expensive and only serves to scare away people who are curious about OS X.

    Bregalad had this to say on Mar 18, 2009 Posts: 14
  • “Apple has not been against DRM, but against stupid and excessively onerous DRM.”

    That DRM actually gave you more rights than you had with music on a CD. That DRM allowed you to install the song on 5 devices. How many devices are you allowed to copy a song on a CD to? How many copies of the songs on a CD are you allowed to make? In 2006, the RIAA said it was zero.

    “I would not sell to anyone who has stolen from me before.”

    So if you were Apple and someone came to you and said, “Look, I’ve been using your $129 OS X, but now I want to do the right thing and get that $2000 Mac” you’d tell them to get lost? Cut off you nose to spite your face? Don’t ever go into business, because none of your customers will be perfect.

    To be safe you should make that anyone who has stolen before, coz if they’ve done it once, they’ll most certainly do it again, so you don’t want them as your customer. While we’re at it, let’s ban anyone with a driving offence from driving, because you know they’ll do it again.

    I know you love using these strong and intimidating words like thief, and scofflaw, and criminal, and stolen, and hypocrisy, but really, unless you’re someone who’s never ever done *anything* wrong before , then you sit rather uncomfortably on that high horse. Unless of course, you’ve never taped a song from record to cassette, from CD to computer and/or iPod, or ever exceeded the speed limit or never willfully done anything that was technically unlawful (ignorance isn’t an excuse either).

    “The hackers are not actual or potential Apple customers.”

    Lol. You can prove that then? That no hackingtosher will ever buy a legitimate Mac?

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 18, 2009 Posts: 1209
  • “Since Apple’s marketing plan is to use Mac OS X to entice people to buy Apple hardware; either the sale of Mac OSX on a Dell or allowing Hackintoshes to be privately built undercuts Apple’s hardware profits.”

    I will repeat from last time that doing something Apple doesn’t like, such as undercutting their profit margin, is NOT the same thing as doing something illegal, as much as UB would like for it to be otherwise.  I don’t buy their ridiculously priced RAM, which also undercuts their profits.  Is that theft too?  It’s absurd.

    I agree with lodc.  I am happy for people like this to stay out of the Hackintosh community.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Mar 18, 2009 Posts: 2220
  • Nice plan, lodc, but I think the EULA covers that:

    ” You agree not to install, use or run the Apple Software on any non-Apple-labeled computer”

    So it’s the same situation. You’re breaching the EULA but it doesn’t seem Apple is going to come after you.

    As UrbanBard says, the most likely scenario is DRM in Snow Leopard - which I am starting to think Apple might just do. Although someone will hack it, so I don’t see the point of the wasted time, money and effort.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 19, 2009 Posts: 1209
  • LMAO - yes, I wondered if you could just stick one of those Apple stickers OS X comes with on the PC?

    Actually… I’ve got one of those on my car…

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 19, 2009 Posts: 1209
  • lol. It doe highlight the silliness of words. I’m surprised Apple didn’t use a more explicit word, like “branded”.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 19, 2009 Posts: 1209
  • “It is *not* illegal to breach a contract, at least not in the US. “

    Ahhhhhh! Now that could well explain why Apple didn’t go the whole deal on Wired!! Thanks, lodc!

    Which, of course, means my premise is shot to bits that Apple is allowing for other reasons. Oh well! And I guess gives weight to UrbanBard’s suggestion Apple will use DRM, since that now does look like the easier course of action.

    Tho I don’t think it will help much and will be hacked before year’s end.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 19, 2009 Posts: 1209
  • hey! That means I’m not a scofflaw then, yes? Yay!

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 19, 2009 Posts: 1209
  • “It is *not* illegal to breach a contract, at least not in the US.

    So… those comments here using the term ‘illegal’ to describe the hackintosh are technically incorrect.”

    This was covered to some extent in the other thread.  It’s not “illegal” in the criminal sense.  It sure as heckfire isn’t “theft.”

    It IS, however, enforceable in civil court, and most contracts do stipulate this.  But the burden of enforcement is on the contract holders.

    The bigger question, IMO, is whether the a EULA is a contract at all.  This is a matter still under debate in the courts, and the decisions vary from region to region.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Mar 19, 2009 Posts: 2220
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