Are Hackintoshes Illegal?

by Chris Howard Mar 11, 2009

Note: Apple Matters is not providing legal advice here. If you are concerned, or have additional questions please discuss this with an lawyer. 

After last week's article about possibly building a hackintosh, I had the unsettling thought of doing something illegal. I usually avoid illegal behaviour, especially pirating software, music and movies, as that is depriving someone of their legally entitled income. But who is missing out if I build a hackintosh for my personal use?

As I want to focus on on the issues of you building your own hackintosh, I'm not about to discuss the Pystar situation, short of saying, if it simply sold an OS X ready computer, Apple wouldn't have much of a case. If you are interested in that argument, there is a very good discussion on the Pystar case over at OSNews.

If I build a hackintosh it would be done using a purchased retail off-the-shelf version of Mac OS X. That is, the full version OS X, not any pre-installed version from a Mac. So there's no pirating or breach of copyright there.

Some folks will argue off-the-shelf Mac OS X is an upgrade version so can only be used on existing Macs, but that is not the case. Nowhere in the End User Licence (EULA) or on the packaging does it indicate that it is an upgrade version. Nor does it behave as such. For instance, an upgrade version of software would normally look for an earlier version before installing. So, whenever I buy Mac OS X off-the-shelf, no one is losing any money, least not Apple.

Apple might claim that if you build a hackintosh it loses money because you're not buying a Mac. That is flawed on two counts.

First, every retail copy of OS X sold doesn't equate to a Mac sold, and probably rarely does, as it will instead be used to upgrade an existing Mac. Over the years I've bought Panther, Tiger and Leopard without buying a new Mac. So in fact, Apple's selling of OS X encourages you not to buy a new Mac.

Second, this restriction discourages people from switching to Macs. Imagine if you're a Windows user and Apple comes out tomorrow and says "We can't and won't provide technical support, but from now on we don't care if you install OS X on any PCs that will support it." This is why Linux has garnered the success it has. It allowed people to try it out without having to buy a new computer. Although, as an unsupported machine, the hackintosh market is always going to be very limited, mainly to geeksters and nerdiacs, so it's not like it's going to massively dent the Mac market.

That said, the uptake begins with geeks and nerds. If more of them got OS X on their PCs, we might see the walls built by bigotry towards Macs break down and the flow on effect could be quite beneficial to Apple to say the least.

Software aside, is there a precedent for the restrictive licence? Do car manufacturers restrict what roads you can use you car on? Fridge makers, do they say "I'm sorry, your kitchen is too ugly, you can't use our fridge in it."? Can any manufacturer control how their product is used? "I'm sorry, your going to priz. It clearly says on our shampoo's label only to be used on blonde hair."

The astute among you will be pointing out that these are all products you buy outright, whereas software you buy a licence to use. Man, whoever came up with that scam is owed big time by the software industry!

So lets consider software. MS Office does have limitations in its EULA, but all you who are defending Apple, how would you feel if Microsoft decided to change Office's EULA so you could only use it on Microsoft branded computers? Or ditto Windows? Or maybe if MS showed some compassion and limited it to only Dell and HP?

I trust there'd be many Apploids who'd be screaming for Microsoft's binary blood to be spilled.

Apple's view
Anyone who's looked at the mess the Windows world is in because of driver and compatibility issues will understand why Apple doesn't want to go down that path. Apple would do better to turn a blind eye to hackintoshes, and to some extent it has. Hadley has not been asked to take down his articles on building an OS X netbook, and nor most others who've done the same.

Am I breaching some other hidden clause if I build a computer capable of running OS X? Apparently not, as according to research on the web, many Dell computers are already OS X compatible. (Makes you wonder if Dell is up to something.)

When all's done and dusted, you shouldn't be made to feel like a criminal because you installed OS X on a non-Apple computer, should you?

So, are hackintoshes illegal? Well, Apple would like you to think so. Technically, selling a hackintosh is illegal simply because you're selling an illegal product. But for you knocking one up in your back yard, provided you're using a legit version of OS X and only on that machine, it's not worth Apple pursuing it. So go for it! And let us know how it goes.

Note: Apple Matters is not providing legal advice here. If you are concerned, or have additional questions please discuss this with an lawyer. 


  • nitroburner77 said”

    “Too funny, Hackintoshes are a means for Apple to increase it’s market share, indirectly AND directly.”

    When has Apple, since 1997, shown any direct attempt to gain market share? 

    How Apple has competed is to deliver an attractive hardware and operating system which is increasingly superior to Linux or Microsoft Windows. Apple has expanded its niche positions by delivering quality. It is using its consumer based hardware to infiltrate the enterprise and government markets. None of this is a direct confrontation with Microsoft.

    The reason, that the hackers want to misuse Mac OSX’s license by installing it on cheap PC’s, is that Apple’s competition is so lacking. 

    Snow Leopard 10.6 is a major inflection point for Apple where it discards most of the past. PowerPC G5 processors which are only four years old will be left behind. Carbon API’s will be relegated to 32 bit only apps and will become legacy within five years.

    SL 10.6 is much slimmer than Leopard 10.5 and be over twice as fast on the same hardware.

    Most of SL’s vulnerabilities will be removed. It is likely to sandbox applications as it does, now, on the iPhone. The level of Apple’s control will be vastly increased. This means that applications or web sites can be hacked, but still be incapable of taking over at the root level.

    Unless you have root access you cannot install an operating system on any hardware. If the installer is sand boxed, you are out of luck.

    Moreover, SL 10.6 gives increased flexibility by providing software which makes it easier to program multiple threads and multiple cores in the CPU—Grand Central. The quad processor cores on Apple equipment are not being efficiently utilized now. What happens when Intel develops 8, 16 and 32 core processor chips in a few years?

    Yes, Intel is developing software to handle this, but so is Apple and many other companies. Apple is working with NVedia on software (CUDA or OpenCL) which allows using the multiple cores on the GPU for computations.

    Much of this will be open source, because it makes sense to spread the technology as widely as possible. But, it will not be the FOSS community who will be developing it. But they will be a beneficiary.

    Naturally, it will take a number of years before applications take advantage of these improvements. It will take time to persuade the computer market that buying Wintel means buying cheap, but slow.

    Since Apple is completely reworking SL’s API’s, I believe it will include the security methods in Vista and beyond.

    Why did not Apple improve Leopard’s security before? First, because Apple is not under attack the way that Microsoft Windows is, so it can afford the time to get things right before the software is released. Next, the 32 bit Unix security in Mac 10.3 and above has pretty good. But, it needs to be better than that to attract the interest of the IT specialists in big businesses. The 64 bit security in SL 10.6 will allow many activities which Leopard’s 32 bit security now precludes. The 32 bit OS places system operating files in predictable locations; 64 bit OS does not.

    Allowing the Mac OS to be installed on PC’s is a security risk that Apple will eventually tackle. When? Who knows? We shouldn’t assume that Apple never will because it isn’t taking action now. Nor should we believe that we have rights to activities which Apple may tread on at any time in the future.

    UrbanBard had this to say on Apr 09, 2009 Posts: 111
  • We’ll see soon enough, lodc.

    UrbanBard had this to say on Apr 09, 2009 Posts: 111
  • Not sure if anyone will see this, but found this article interesting while crawling the internet. Then read the comments and decided that I should comment.

    Just to clear some misinformation up here:

    1. OSX 10.5 as it stands now, uses at least 2 dozen GNU applications within its framework, that I know of.

    2. Linux is not an OS, its merely a Kernel that can be used in GNU, but not the only one.

    3. Apple is not “far and away” the largest corporate supporter (giving code) to the Open Source community, that would more than likely be Big Blue (IBM) who has for many years longer than Apple been highly active in GNU, and even in the Linux kernel. In fact they have a long running dispute with Linus’ vanilla Dev team over how Linux implements certain things, and thus don’t use that kernel.

    4. Hate to break the news, but SL is already working on Hackintoshes, Several SL dev copies have made their way to testing with success. I don’t think Apple is planning anything against this community with the upcoming 10.6

    5. Even “IF” Apple wanted to shutdown sites like insanelymac, and, I’m pretty sure they would run into Free Speech Rights (One can discuss nearly anything online if its done for educational purposes). Assuming they are hosted in the US.

    But lets face it why would Apple want to shut them down. What the Apple Fanboy fails to realize is these communities give Apple an International group of sophisticated PC users with the ability to code UNX/LNX. Why is that important to Apple, well besides thousands of free hours of man power, and code sniffing, they effectivly provide “Free R&D;”, giving the Apple Dev’s a huge knowledge base to work from.

    EXAMPLES of this:

    A. GFX support for cards which are just coming to market or announced for the MAC. They have been long running in the hackintosh. (IE., Nvidia GT 265 / ATI 4870)

    B. The lastest Nvidia chipsets found in the Mini’s. Amd/Nvidia CPUS/Chipsets have been working in the hackintosh for awhile now, seems very logical that once they saw how the AMD/Nvidia’s were working in a hackintosh that they decided to try it out.

    In short these immoral, unethical, crimminals provide a great free R&D;base. Thinking that Apple doesn’t surf those sites is foolish to say the least. The Personal Use Hackintosh benefits all MAC users, so please stop hating on us.

    auksjunkie had this to say on May 13, 2009 Posts: 1
  • It seems all of my comments have been removed from the thread here.  Not sure why, I don’t think I violated any of the TOS.  Oh well.  At least the inaccurate, alarmist and just plain weird responses from UrbanBard to my comments still remain.  Anyhow, just checking in to announce I am now running Snow Leopard on my hackintosh.  Runs great!  Cheers, LodC The Invisible.

    lodc had this to say on Aug 29, 2009 Posts: 1
  • @lodc, I got no idea why yours disappeared. We certainly had no reason to censor them.

    Regards the SL on hackintosh - great to hear! Seems Apple is still happier to tolerate the hackintosh community and its benefits, than get bad publicity for DRM and lawsuits.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Aug 29, 2009 Posts: 1209
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