Is jailbreaking a crime or an infringement of consumer rights? Apple would likely say jailbreaking removes protections to mobile networks and the mobile itself; the Electronic Frontier Foundation would retort that it is "corporate paternalism" and harms consumers and the environment.
When the car salesperson tells you to touch only the yellow things and leave the rest to proper servicing, a mechanic would surely scoff. (Credit: Mazda)
For the technically minded though, it's a chance to unleash the potential of a device you already own.
Allow me to set the scene: while trawling through an RSS backlog, I happened upon the story of having Google's Android OS run an X11-based desktop. I shrieked in glee and wished to know the ins and outs of this momentous jump in science — my colleagues scorned and asked: "What's the point of that?"
The answer to such a question can be traced back to George Mallory, who when asked "Why do you want to climb Mt Everest?" replied with: "Because it is there". This is the same mindset that drives firmware flashing and jailbreaking of many devices.
Of course, running LXDE on top of Android isn't a mission for greater usability; if it made any sense I'm sure that Google would have done it itself. It is, however, a chance for greater functionality; such as the ability to bittorrent while on the move, albeit at a lower performance than it would be if completely native.
With jailbreaking there is also the increased feeling of sticking it to the man. Google and Apple will typically patch any holes that allow jailbreaking in their mobile operating systems, sending the developers of jailbreaking software into a scurry until the latest update is broken.
With jailbreaking there is also the increased feeling of sticking it to the man.
It's easy to see why people do it: the hardware is capable of so much more than the vendors allow; artificial restrictions on functionality never wins geek cred. If I choose to upgrade the engine of my car, Holden will not recall it at some point in the future to restore its default configuration. Yet to most users, this behaviour is perfectly acceptable for devices.
Consider the reasons on why a mechanic may tinker with their car: increased performance, a feeling of ownership and an ability to put one's knowledge to use.
Now extrapolate that to a geek choosing to put NetBSD on their toaster. Let it not be said that you haven't lived until you have overclocked your toaster — it can be done.
When you think the question is "why?", you should be asking "why not?"