Opinion: Apple Takes The Hacked and Makes It Available to All

BY Tris Hussey

Published 13 Jan 2013


Earlier this week I posted about an ingenious person getting Rhapsody OS to run on a jailbroken Microsoft Surface Tablet (Surface RT, it should be noted). I also mentioned how Microsoft appeared to be generally okay with the hack (only for the time being it turns out), commenter Kraken followed up on this idea and I thought I’d dig into the topic a little more.

First off, regarding the hack, TNW quotes Microsoft’s initial response as:

“We are actively investigating this and will take appropriate action as necessary,”

and later (same link as above) a longer statement:

We are aware of a social engineering technique that could use a tool to bypass an app restriction in Windows RT devices. This issue is not a security vulnerability, and we have not seen attempts to take advantage of this social engineering technique. In order for this social engineering technique to be successful, a user would need to be lured to click on a malicious link, and also click through an additional security alert. As always, we encourage all customers to avoid opening suspicious links and emails. We continue to appreciate the work of researchers, and we will take appropriate action to help protect customers.

Backing up a bit, the jailbreak for Surface RT is essentially a clever way to flip on a software switch to allow unsigned ARM desktop apps to run on the Surface RT. When the jailbreak was first announced, and Microsoft responded, the process for letting you install and run these apps was a little beyond most folks’ comfort levels, later the same week and easier tool was released and I think that’s when Microsoft really started to pay attention.

But, unlike Apple, paying attention in a good way. When was the last time we read Apple “appreciating” or applauding the work of hackers who are doing something with their stuff they didn’t explicitly allow for?

I’d say never.

Heck, when the Kinect was hacked to do a lot more than Microsoft originally intended, they (eventually) embraced the whole effort. We even saw Kinect-iPad Hacks for Augmented Reality surface. Last I heard the Kinect hacking scene was still going strong, and even with Microsoft’s blessing.

Apple? They don’t embrace the hacking culture. I don’t know if they ever really did in the first place. I remember back in my lab days one of the grad students asking me how to get to the command line on one of the Macs in the lab (this was pre-OS X). I responded “There isn’t one, it’s all through the GUI.” The grad student who was very much tied to the Windows world was aghast. She knew all the commands for mass copying, making directories, deleting, finding… I even back then the idea of “hacking a Mac” was a little oxymoronish. Sure there were tricks you could do with Resedit, but they were limited.

If you wanted to hack, you used a PC or a UNIX terminal (I don’t think Linux had quite been invented yet…nearly though).

These decades later, nothing has changed. Sure OS X is easier to hack than earlier versions. And you can certainly do things like figure out how to use BootCamp to post into an Ubuntu install (that’s on my list to try some weekend), but, meh, that’s it. Microsoft, Linux, they both remain abundantly hackable. I think Apple likes it this way though. Although lots of folks I know, heck most folks I know, use Macs (and well beyond the “creative set” it used to be), the people who are trying to do stuff at the edges of computing aren’t.

Will this hurt Apple in the long run?

I don’t think so. I think Apple works off the idea that let other folks break a lot of new computing ground, then come in, and take it to the next level. I see Apple’s place in the world as making the hacked into beautiful things we can all appreciate and use.

Frankly, I’m good with that.

Just as I’m good with people hacking the Surface RT. Eventually that work will filter down to the rest of us.

Through Apple, of course.

Hackintosh photo from Flickr by InfoMofo.