Connection to the Hacker Ideology

written by Micheal Hudson

The term “hackintosh” declares the status of installing a Macintosh operating system on unprivileged hardware as a hack, but what classifies an act as a hack? I would argue this widely accepted definition: modifying something in order for it to function in a manner that it was not originally intended; ideally, this function would be an improvement of functionality, though this is not a necessity. The term “hacker” first arose, when MIT students self labled themselves such and their story is told by Steven Levy in Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. The importance of such early hackers comes in their establishment of many trends and themes related to the hacker ideology.

First, the above definition itself was established by the the college students, when they ran various tests and experimentations on the IBM predecessors to computers. For example they wrote “code”(in a little bit different format than we would now think of software) to make one of these IBM mechanism into a calculator…a million dollar calculator, which relates to the above statement that hacking does not necessarily constitute and improvement on the original device. Over and over, Steven Levy points out that the hackers were not interested in using the IBM machines in the traditional manner, but rather he states they were more focused on the inner workings of the machine and understanding how it works and how programming works. This whole idea of using an object outside its intended use directly applies to our project, as Macintosh OSX was not intended to be installed on PC hardware (which is essentially non-Mac declared hardware, though the hardware differences are minimal). We are modifying the settings of our hardware (analogous to the “inner workings” of the IBM) and using Kexts and drivers (analogous to the “programming” of the hackers) to allow the OS to function properly.

Another idea principle to the ideology of hackers is the tendency towards rebellion, which may be intermixed with the above theme, in that hackers reject the given function of a device and institute their own. However, I am referring to the rebellion against the norm or the standard way of doing things, and more specifically in the case of the hackers and our own project, rebellion against the corporation or business. The hackers were insistent on disregarding the rules that IBM established regarding the protocols of use of their IBM computers. Often to their own dismay, the hackers proceeded to do whatever they so desired, apparently without ever considering the consequences of their hacking. One of the main reasons that I am interested in the idea of the hackintosh is that I despise the controlling, closed manipulations of Apple. This also ties into another principle of hackers that is not specifically addressed by Steven levy, which is the belief in the free flow of information, which Apple fights endlessly. Apple tends to keep their software and products very protected and inaccessible to users, and wisely so, it allows them to make millions on things like the app store and just their products (macbooks, ipods, iphones, ipads, etc.), but in a way it also limits their capabilities, namely hardware limitations on their personal computers, which we specifically tried to overcome in our project. Just like the hackers at MIT we went against the corporate limitations and succeeded in creating a powerful computer.

Lastly, I wanted to mention a principle of hackers that is only briefly addressed by levy, and that is the lower importance of the law in limiting choices that hackers make. Typically citizens abide by most of the laws of this country, local, state and federal, with a few exceptions such as speeding. I refuse to say that hackers disregard the law, because I still believe that they consider the consequences of their actions, but more often than not, they do not let law limit the progress of technology or even just progress itself. Evidently many principles connect to one another and this is no exception. Hackers believe in the free flow of information and while  sharing(downloading,uploading) music or other media is illegal, hackers do not let this limit their widely successful endeavors to do so, though the motives here, might not be so remarkable, still the principle holds. With our project, we were certainly aware that the legal situation of our project was not as white as snow, and we proceeded with the project knowing that it was in the gray area, and thus fulfill the hacker premise of deprioritizing the law. By the way, the details of the legal

Importance of Tutorial

Our actual artifact, the tutorial for building your own hackintosh, reflects many themes of hacker culture as well.  For example, the artifact is an embodiment of the Hacker Ethic, as described in Steven Levy’s “Hackers”.  Point #1 of the Hacker Ethic states that “access to computers—and anything which might teach you something about the way the world works—should be unlimited and total.  Always yield to the Hands-On Imperative!” (Levy 40).  The tutorial is a way to spread knowledge and information about the world of the hackintosh.  It is a relatively simple, step-by-step guide to creating your own hackintosh, which describes a build that embodies the ‘hands-on’ initiative explained in the Hacker Ethic.  Point #2 is that “all information should be free” (Levy 40).  Our tutorial, which is posted up on our blog, is free to anyone with access to the Internet (which, in this day and age, is a huge percentage of people).   The third and last point is to “mistrust authority—promote decentralization” (Levy 41).  The hack in and of itself is sort of our way of thumbing our noses at Apple and its restrictive policies in terms of the limits in uses for its products.  By building a hackintosh (and distributing a step-by-step tutorial that allows others to do the same), we are showing our disapproval of the inaccessibility and protected nature of Apple’s products.

Apple has shown great success in the past in its Macintosh, iPods, and other iconic Apple products.  In a way, this is what has allowed it to get away with putting such limits on its products, such as creating apps that only works on Apple products. The success of the original product, such as the iPhone, leads to success in iPhone-based products, such as apps, because the apps are only available for the iPhone.  This may be a genius move from a marketing perspective, but it is restrictive from a societal perspective. Another thing that has allowed it to get away with these limitations is what Elizabeth Anne Moore calls ‘lovemarks’ in her piece “Unmarketable” (Moore 22).  Lovemarks are advertisements’ way of reaching beyond reason into emotion.  Brands and trademarks now no longer simply represent the product—they are “marks of trust and quality” (Moore 23).  By playing off people’s emotions, people develop a much more loyal, albeit it more unreasonable, connection to the product.  This has allowed Apple to exploit its customers, as it continues to create products that are incompatible with anything that is not Apple.  Our tutorial allows people to sidestep this trap, by allowing people to continue their use of Apple products, but on their own terms’, not on Apple’s terms.


The Legality

Hackers and the Law

Since the concept of “hackers” began developing itself, a particular aspect or characteristic of the group seemed to consistently reappear as more and more occurrences of “hacking” took place. This characteristic is the inattention of hackers towards legal boundaries. This is not so much as complete disregard for the law, but a different set of priorities than non-hackers, with law much lower than the norm. The harm in such negligence of the law is somewhat obvious in that hackers who break the law must suffer the consequences, whatever they might be. However the benefits of such varied priorities, might be a little more difficult to see, but it strikes down barriers and limitations that hackers might otherwise have, giving them free space to allow their creativity and ingenuity to expand and explore the possibilities of cyberspace and computational technology. This concept is highlighted in Steven Levy’s Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, when he talks about the MIT students who had little regard for not just the law, but any authority, whether it be corporate, academic, or the government.

Our Own De-prioritizing of the Law

In hindsight, I can see that we began this project with minimal regard for the legality of the project. Albeit we are studying at a public institution and were at least somewhat concerned that it was not blatantly illegal. However, I still do see the hacker characteristic mentioned above present in our own thoughts as we progressed forward with the project as you might be able to discover when I recap our understanding of the legality as we went along. In this I mean, that we wanted what were doing to be in the gray area. We certainly knew that it was not white, by principal alone, but used rationality to reason the legality of our project into the gray area.

The Beginning

As we read through the guidelines for our “being a hacker” project we noticed that it had to be safe, abide by the school’s network policies, and be lawful, etc. Here we first started to consider that building a “hackintosh” might not be the most lawful activity; therefore, we did a little research.

Law Suits

We found only a few law suits, most of which dealt with people or companies who specifically altered the MAC OS DVD to run on there BIOS settings, and in doing so Apple sued them for “dodging copy-protection technologies Apple uses to protect Mac OS X.” However, because the method we used to install OS X is different than this, by altering our own hardware to appropriate to the MAC OS, we rationalized (putting our project in the gray area) that what we were doing was legal. Furthermore, this whole law suit developed out of the issue that the defendant, Psystar Corporation was trying to sell the hackintosh  unit and make a profit on it. We were neither trying to sell, nor make a profit on our hackintosh. Through both of these rationalizations we continued through construction and installation believing that our project was primarily legal, with may be a foot in the gray area.


Another area we looked into before really delving into the project, was Apple’s End User License Agreement (EULA) which specifies their regulations for use on there software. We did come across a clause mentioning the prohibiting of using MAC OSX on any non-Mac-specified software. Though we could not come up with any formal reasoning, we once again made our claim that Apple could not determine what we did with the OS once we had purchased it, which we have, a legitimate copy of Snow Leopard. We though, “How can Mac say what hardware we can and cannot put this software on; they do not have that right. However, we had been making excuses once again, trying to keep our project in the gray area, when all along it was really most likely in the black, so to speak.


However, recently, post-construction and post-installation, I went to my Business Law professor (a lawyer himself) and gave him the background on our project, and he clarified to me that Mac Operating Systems are considering Intellectual Property as their many lines of code are easily duplicated like sentences comprising a book. Therefore, they can legally enforce the clause in their EULA specifying selectively permitted hardware usage while prohibiting other hardware. Thus making our hackintosh, a OSX Snow Leopard on custom hardware, pretty much illegal as a copyright infringement, from what I understand at this point in time.


Theoretically Mac could probably bring up a law suit against us or any other of the hundreds of hackintosh constructors, but they would only being doing so to set an example. As we are college students, they would not be able to obtain a whole lot of cash off of us, so they probably would  not bring up the suit. Additionally, we avoid legal troubles, in that we are not trying to sell our hackintosh, nor do we ever intend to. We are merely building it for the sake of this project of “being a hacker” as well as its technical capabalities.


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