RealTime IT News

Apple Blocks Atom 'Hackintosh' Netbooks: Reports

Apple may be continuing its efforts to block unauthorized hardware from being able to take advantage of its software, if reports are accurate from early testers of an upcoming OS X update.

The move, according to reports, could be an effort to stamp out the "Hackintosh" phenomenon -- the unauthorized creation of PC desktops, notebooks and netbooks running a hacked version of OS X.

In particular, they claim to have dug up evidence in the upcoming OS X version 10.6.2 release that Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) may be working to block Mac OS X from running on Intel Atom platforms, a core component in many of today's netbooks. As a result, they claim that Apple is actively preventing Mac OS X 10.6, nicknamed "Snow Leopard," from running on the low-cost, low-powered devices.

The current Mac lineup runs on other processors made by Intel (NASDAQ: INTC). But Apple thus far has steered clear from offering a netbook of its own: "We don't do cheap," CEO Steve Jobs has quipped, in a jab at what he and other execs have said are the necessary design and usability tradeoffs required for tiny portable PCs like netbooks.

The company doesn't do licensing, either. And it's historically taken a dim view of companies that seek to use its software in ways it's not intended. That's one reason why Apple is engaged in a legal battle with a small Florida company, Psystar, which installs Mac OS X on PC clones -- and why it keeps blocking iTunes from synchronizing with the Palm Pre smartphone.

The rumors of Atom getting locked out caused the blogosphere to light up like a Christmas tree -- with fans claiming that Apple was out to kill the Hackintosh community.

"You can't help but suspect this move is Apple's attempt at shutting down the growing and popular Hackintosh Netbook community, since Apple has no product line that runs the Atom itself," said a report on OS X Daily, which broke the story.

"Maybe it's in effort to kill the Atom Hackintoh Netbooks in anticipation of the rumored Tablet? Or maybe it’s something totally unrelated?" the article continued.

Gizmodo, Apple Insider and The Unofficial Apple Weblog all reported the news, eliciting scathing and a few unprintable comments from readers. The general feeling was that Apple had once again moved to defend its tight control of both the Mac's hardware and its software.

Apple did not return calls for comment. But John Jacobs, an analyst with market research firm DisplaySearch and a former Apple staffer himself, sees it differently.

"First off, it is a hack, so who cares? The number of hacked netbooks that are running OS X floating around is not a concern of Apple," he told InternetNews.com. Instead, home modders are such a tiny percentage of the market that it shouldn't raise anyone's ire, he argued.

Control - but not "nefarious motives"

Secondly, Jacobs said, if there is one thing Apple is passionate about, it's making sure its users have a seamless experience.

"The reason they have so much control is having their hardware and their software working as seamless as possible," he said. "And they are not compelled by any stretch to support some hack of a third-party they have no involvement in."

Apple is also moving aggressively to keep the Palm Pre from synchronizing with iTunes by masquerading as an iPod. But while some might see that spat as another instance of Apple working to safeguard the relationship of its hardware to its software, Jacobs sees it differently.

To him, the issue with the Palm Pre likely stems more from sore feelings that former Apple exec Jon Rubenstein is now running Palm.

That, Jacobs said, "is a whole other can of worms."

Still, when it comes to the Pre or to Hackintosh computers, there's no reason for Apple to support a competitor's device -- the way Apple looks at both.

"One thing about my experience there is they are passionate about the end-user experience," Jacobs said. "It's not that they don't welcome competition -- they do. They think it makes them look better."

"They don't want their user interface showing up somewhere that the user will not get that true Apple user experience, that seamless connection between the hardware and the software," he added. "Is it control? Well, yes. Sometimes, people read too much into things that involve Apple because the company isn't as open as others, so they see nefarious motives."