Is Apple getting dragged (kicking, screaming, or suing?) into licensing OS X?

Summary:Are humans just naturally driven to want what they cannot have?Apple may be resisting the OS licensing model that has traditionally worked so well for Microsoft and perhaps that resistance is finally paying off as Macs nibble away (albeit very very slowly and from a distant blip in Microsoft's rear view mirror) at the market share of Windows-based PCs.

Are humans just naturally driven to want what they cannot have?

Apple may be resisting the OS licensing model that has traditionally worked so well for Microsoft and perhaps that resistance is finally paying off as Macs nibble away (albeit very very slowly and from a distant blip in Microsoft's rear view mirror) at the market share of Windows-based PCs. Apple goes to great lengths -- usually through its digital rights management technologies (what I call C.R.A.P.) -- to tightly control the relationship between its software, its hardware, and, in the case of the iPhone, the relationship of both to carriers and the Internet (God forbid you should attempt to acquire new audio online for your iPhone -- music, ringtones, etc -- through anything but the iTunes Music Store).

But none of this seems to be phasing the tenacious mice (the hackers) who are managing to keep the Apple cat on its toes. Most recently, under the headline $399 Ultraportable Apple Laptop, Gizmodo has coverage of how OS X has been hacked to run on the Asus EEE PC. Based on the buzz around the Net, Hackintosh How-To author Adam Pash is already a folk hero in certain circles. But if a Hackintosh isn't your speed, then maybe the Torrenttosh is. There's apparently a pre-hacked version of OS X floating around on Bittorrent that takes most of the hacking out of Hackintosh. As I've said before, if I could have OS X running on a Lenovo Thinkpad (as a Trackpoint addict, I hate touchpads), I'd take it in a heartbeat.

But the best (worst?) evidence that Apple is losing the cat and mouse game with hackers is how the latest firmware update to the iPhone (1.1.2, now, finally being pushed through iTunes) is already "jailbroken."

Perhaps Robert Scoble characterized Apple's enigmatic ecosystems best when, this last Monday, he wrote:

Steve Jobs treats developers like crap. Doesn’t give them an SDK. Makes them hack the phones simply to load apps. And they create hundreds of apps anyway.

What other company has the problems that Apple has where the company is coming up with all sorts of restrictions (not just on the tech's functionality itself, but how much of it we can buy) and even still, cult-like masses are climbing all over each other to push and even break through those limits?

Back to OS X, perhaps its time for Apple to reconsider its Apple-hardware-only policy and once again look into licensing OS X. Clearly, now that the switch to the Intel platform is well behind us, and given the the success that hackers are having at "porting" the OS, there are no technical barriers. And, compared to selling hardware, selling bits is like printing money. There's no question the demand is there. And I'll bet that, given some of the moves that have been made by desktop/notebook systems vendors like Dell in the area of Linux support, that they'd jump at the opportunity to bring OS X into the portfolio. Apple could, if it wants, roll the program out on a limited basis. For example, it could pick one or two other hardware partners (eg: Lenovo, who could give Apple huge access to the Chinese market) and work exclusively through them in a way that those vendors shoulder the lion's share of supporting users.

Related: Adam Pash benchmarks his Hackintosh against the real McCoy.

Topics: Software, Apple, Operating Systems

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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