The recent news from Apple about modular design and the future of the Mac Pro, and our polls regarding this and long term hardware investment plans, seems to have re-opened discussion about "the third way" - the self-build that dare not speak its name in public - The Hackintosh.
A Brick Wall
I've made two forays into this forbidden land and noticed a stark difference between the two ventures. Around five years ago it seemed that every independent IT retailer was happy to offer you advice and help. It was always the case that they could not supply a pre-built system with OS X pre-installed, but now it seems there's a solid brick wall of silence. Why is this?
Apple-lead publications, dedicated blogs and re-sellers have been repeating the mantra, that Hackintoshes are "unreliable", "unstable", "unsupported" and worst of all, "possibly illegal". But what are the facts here?
The End User Licence Agreement
Or EULA for short. This is a really important document that most of us just skip to the end of and click "Agree". The first red flag is in the first paragraph....
The software (including Boot ROM code), documentation and any fonts accompanying this License whether on disk, in read only memory, on any other media or in any other form (collectively the “Apple Software”) are licensed, not sold, to you by Apple Computer, Inc. (“Apple”) for use only under the terms of this License, and Apple reserves all rights not expressly granted to you.
This means that you don't actually OWN your operating system. In comparison, Windows is generally licensed separately to the machine, and is not dependent on the equipment manufacturer. However, with macOS and OS X, Apple merely licence it to you, and therefore control its use. Which they do, in paragraph 2....
This License allows you to install and use one copy of the Apple Software on a single Apple-labeled computer at a time. This License does not allow the Apple Software to exist on more than one computer at a time,and you may not make the Apple Software available over a network where it could be used by multiple computers at the same time. You may make one copy of the Apple Software (excluding the Boot ROM code) in machine-readable form for backup purposes only; provided that the backup copy must include all copyright or other proprietary notices contained on the original.
macOS (or OS X) is no longer available to purchase separately from a computer like Windows or Linux are. So if you are in possession of a copy of OS X or macOS, it must have come from the licensed account of an Apple labelled computer owner. By installing it on a third party computer you are breaking both the first and second sentences. They go on to say....
This License is effective until terminated. Your rights under this License will terminate automatically without notice from Apple if you fail to comply with any term(s) of this License. Upon the termination of this License, you shall cease all use of the Apple Software and destroy all copies, full or partial, of the Apple Software.
There are quite a few terms that you have to be mindful of. One particular one that is relevant to Hackintosh builds is this.....
You may not rent, lease, lend, redistribute, sublicense or transfer any Apple Software that has been modified or replaced under Section 2B above.
In order to get an Apple OS to boot up and install on third party equipment, the boot sequence and drivers need to be "tweaked", or "hacked" as some may put it. By doing that, you are modifying and replacing Apple code. They further clarify this here....
No Reverse Engineering. You may not and you agree not to, or to enable others to, copy (except as expressly permitted by this License or by the Usage Rules if they are applicable to you), decompile, reverse engineer, disassemble, attempt to derive the source code of, decrypt, modify, or create derivative works of the Apple Software or any services provided by the Apple Software, or any part thereof (except as and only to the extent any foregoing restriction is prohibited by applicable law or to the extent as may be permitted by licensing terms governing use of Open-Sourced Components).
Microsoft blocks the opportunity of "multiple-machine-installs" by registering the unique serial number of your core hardware when you activate Windows. Windows has to be connected to the internet (or a phone line) to activate and unlock all the features, and when it does this it checks that no other hardware has the same licence number software registered against it. If you upgrade your hardware and reinstall, Windows notices and requests that you re-activate.
Isn't This Actually A Good Thing?
Apple is a hardware manufacturer who also writes the operating system that runs on their devices. You buy hardware from them, and built into the price are the operating system development costs. Microsoft is primarily (apart from the occasional foolish dabble) a software developer, whose products can be used on a wide variety of third-party branded equipment.
Macs are rightly famed for their reliability. "It just works", is what I hear most from Mac owners. There's a good reason for this. When you build the hardware and also write the operating system, you have a level of control much higher than that of purely a software company. This doesn't just apply to Apple, but to any company that makes both hardware and the software that runs on it.
The downside of that is that third party equipment support can be a long time coming, if at all, and can suffer from the same potential problems as when any manufacturer outsources development. The third party equipment that works best with Apple devices tends to be made by their development partners. It's no secret that AJA video devices work better on Mac Pro Tools than others, and it's no coincidence that they're development partners.
So be careful what you wish for. If Apple suddenly had to support the almost infinite possible hardware combinations that Microsoft have to, it doesn't take a genius to work out that reliability would suffer.
Where Does Pro Tools Expert Stand On This?
That question is simply answered by this part of the EULA....
The grants set forth in this License do not permit you to, and you agree not to, install, use or run the Apple Software on any non-Apple-branded computer, or to enable others to do so.
Note the "or to enable others to do so" bit. If we gave you detailed instructions on how to setup a Hackintosh, we'd be in breach of this section. So, we can report that we understand it's possible, but like independent IT outlets, we'd open ourselves up to the risk of trouble if we told you how.
There's no legal precedent on this particular issue, but personally, I'd say that given the relatively recent acceleration in the quality of third party equipment and the easy distribution of software and ideas that the internet brings, it may not be too long.
We at Pro Tools Expert feel that we're much more service to you without this sort of trouble, hence our position.
Do you think Apple should "do a Microsoft" and make their operating system open? Please let us know in the comments.