It's all spinning wheels and self-doubt until the first pot of coffee.

Locking down Mac OS X for Intel

I just read this post on Think Secret about the new Intel-based developer Macs:

Sources have indicated that Apple will employ an EDID chip on the motherboard of Intel-based Macs that Mac OS X will look for and must handshake with first in order to boot. Such an approach, similar to hardware dongles, could theoretically be defeated, although it's unknown what level of sophistication Apple will employ.

The thing is though, really, who cares? I have to admit, I might spend a weekend day trying to get OS X to run on a random PC, if I've got nothing else to do. (Which doesn't happen very often, nowadays.)

But, that's just because I'm a nutter unlike most people--and even I'll be buying a new Intel-based Apple computer eventually, anyway. As for everyone else, it'll likely be made just hard enough to be worthless to anyone seriously trying to get anything done. It'll be a curiosity, nothing more--and certainly nothing to endanger Apple's bottom line.

It's the whole package deal, stupid. And it seems a bell-curve-ish theory of DRM: You won't get absolute 100% control over what happens to your stuff in the wild, but you'll get most of it or at least enough to matter.

It's also somewhat reminiscent of hidden iPod directories and iTunes FairPlay: Just make it hard enough to not be worth it to anyone who doesn't have time to put up with crap. And, make it just hard enough that anyone who does have an inclination to deal with crap has to continually tweak their hacks to keep up.

While I do despise DRM barriers in principle, at least this seems less odious than most. And, well, there are plenty of other much more tinker-friendly operating systems available for plain vanilla PCs.

So, in the end, who cares? Buy a Mac, or don't buy a Mac. Or, enjoy perpetual tinkering for its own sake. But, don't expect to get a seriously usable OS X system on anything other than what Apple supports.

Archived Comments

  • I think Apple would benefit strongly from not trying too hard to force people onto their hardware. The IT admins of tomorrow are the kids with more time than money of today. They'll be happy to buy a mod chip for their Dell that will allow them to dual-boot between Windows and OS X. Then, in theory, they'll love it so much that when their parents get them a computer for college OS X will be a requirement, and guess who will get that sale? After college when they're wrangling a bunch of desktop users and are asked what to buy, they'll be familiar with OS X and be able to recommend it where it makes sense. OS X on the enterprise desktop in 5-10 years, if kids are able to pirate OS X at home next year.
  • I honestly think if it's possible to patch the installer in such a way that the dongle is totally taken out of the equation, it might hurt Apple's bottom line. Yes, lots and lots of people pay for Windows when they buy a new machine, but I also know TONS of people who hook up their non-techie friends/family with pirated copies on a beige box. MS is trying to fight the piracy of Windows in Asia and other markets. If it wasn't hurting their bottom line, they wouldn't give a shit. I was kind of hoping they'd introduce some sort of really funky architecture that would make it impossible for the OS to run on anything else. Overpriced as it is, I've always loved the fact that Apple "owned" the hardware, and everything just works. From what we've seen from Steve, I'm 90% sure this will continue to be the case (whether or not people start installing it on beige boxes), but I still worry about the possibility of Apple having to cowtow(sp?) to the latest trends in Intel architecture, making it not "just work" anymore. I have to admit, the fact that people can install XP out of the box on the dev machines makes me a bit nervous.
  • peter: I'm not worried about Win-on-Mac and I still don't think OSX-on-Beige is a problem. Apple *does* still own the hardware configuration, even if it's composed from off-the-shelf parts. And, since they're not catering to anyone but themselves, Apple will only write drivers and offer support for their narrow bands of hardware configuration. Windows may run on it, but that's actually one of its Achilles' Heels: Windows has to support every off the wall jumble of whacky hardware. It's in Windows job description to not be picky about hardware. But, unless you manage to assemble the particular combination of components which make up an Intel Mac, you're sunk with respect to OS X. And, in the end, putting together *that exact PC config* will likely be just enough trouble to most people to make it worth just buying a ready-made Mac. Sure, some enterprising tinkerers will find ways to hack the DRM and make drivers for their favorite components. But, those drivers will always be unsupported, and they'll ultimately suck. You'll always have that one motherboard that it never runs on, and that other video card that'll never go above 800x600, that sound card that won't do anything but make shrill whistles, and so on. And these are all the things I left behind when I gave up attaching monitors to my Linux boxes.
  • george: Hmm, yeah, that's a good point. Using the Sun servers at school and installing early versions of Linux on a borrowed laptop is how I got hooked on the whole UNIX thing... Although, Mac Minis seem so cheap that I'd think Apple's getting close to heading Dell off at the college kid pass. And never underestimate the branding power of an lecture auditorium full of glowing apple logos beaming down on you :)
  • Apple needs some special hardware to force people to use its hardware rather than any other manufacturers'. However, this is shortsighted. I went through some of the numbers here: Jun 07 Profound Market Change, which analyses why and how Apple could completely redefine their global market via wider Intel compatibility.
  • hmph. noticed, in the ohnosecond between pressing the button and the screen refreshing, that the link had been eaten. here: http://go-blog-go.blogspot.com/2005_06_01_go-blog-go_archive.html#111814108565637359 but... on re-reading it just now, i realise the actual example numbers which more clearly illustrate just how quickly apple could double its profits, are sitting offline in a subsequent mailing list. i'll retrieve them and post them tonight or tomorrow. but the article is still worth reading.
  • "Platformization" works against the driver problem. All devices except graphics are now integrated into the chipset, and there are only two serious graphics vendors. Also, Think Secret has demonstrated that they don't know what EDID is.