Hackintoshing: How To Be A Mac And A PC

Can you be a Mac and a PC? It turns out you can — but it'll take a lot of work. Meet a couple of "hackintoshers" — people who've worked out ways to get their PCs to run an Apple operating system.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

And it's time now for All Tech Considered.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: Anyone in the market for a computer has to answer the big question and I'm not talking about desktop versus laptop, I'm talking about Mac or PC. But a practice making the rounds on the Internet lets you have both. It's called Hackintoshing.

Kaomi Goetz explains.

KAOMI GOETZ: You've seen the Apple commercials, the smug Mac user reigns superior over his uptight PC counterpart.

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Mr. JUSTIN LONG (Actor): (As Mac) Hello, I'm a Mac.

Mr. JOHN HODGMAN (Actor): (As PC) And I'm a PC. You know, we use a lot of the same kinds of programs.

Mr. LONG: Yeah, like Microsoft Office.

Mr. HODGMAN: But we retain a lot of what makes us...

Mr. LONG: You should see what this guy can do with a spreadsheet, it's insane.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HODGMAN: Oh, shucks.

GOETZ: But if you could be both? Rob Kelly is. He manages Web projects in New York City. He's also a Hackintosher. Kelly has Apple software on his Dell PC laptop. He learned how from an online tutorial. It wasn't easy.

Mr. ROB KELLY (Web Project Manager): If you make a mistake, you basically wipe over again. You know, so I was, like, oh, I made a mistake in this installation, I'd start over. I'll go get some coffee, come back in 20 minutes. Oh, I made a mistake, go get some coffee, come back in 20 minutes. It was a weekend.

GOETZ: He says it was worth it, though. His converted Dell laptop cost half as much as a MacBook. He also wanted the choice of being able to work in either a PC or Mac world to blend his work and home lives better.

Mr. KELLY: And then it (unintelligible). You know, but you walk into a place and, you know, you're working on your computer and people, like, stop, like, oh, it's a Dell. Oh, it's an Apple. Wait, what is that? That's a funny feeling, you know, that's fun to talk about.

GOETZ: It's not for everyone. You have to like solving things. Kelly says it's kind of like working on the car.

Mr. KELLY: It's a tinkerer's joy, you know. It's, like, okay, I'm going to actually make that Apple icon or Apple screen show up on this non-Apple computer. I think I can do it. And sure enough, yeah, there's a great feeling of, like, I did it, when it finally comes up. And you're, like, oh my gosh. And the keyboard works and the screen works. And people who love that feeling I think are the right type of people to try this out.

GOETZ: Most people listening to this story would probably rather go to their nearest Apple store and buy the product they want. But that's partly why Hackintoshing really got going.

Two years ago, lightweight MacBook computers came out, but Apple didn't offer one. So tech geeks decided to make their own. Wired magazine writer Brian Chen was an early adopter. He posted a video on how to Hackintosh until Apple forced him to take it down because the demo used pirated software. Chen says Hackintoshing is just a natural response to popular DIY culture.

Mr. BRIAN CHEN (Writer, Wired): Like, say for example, it's more obvious with people with cars. They like to oftentimes buy different stereos or speakers to get a better sound than with stock equipment. But with computers, in particular, gets a little bit more interesting because people start doing things with computers that they couldn't normally do.

GOETZ: Apple wouldn't comment for this story, but it clearly doesn't like Hackintoshing. For starters, it violates Apple's end user license agreement, that forbids using Apple software on non-Apple branded hardware. It isn't going after individuals, but has sued companies like Size-Star(ph) for not playing by its rules.

But now the battle's being waged on smartphones. Manufacturers are trying to lock consumers down to one system. But Chen says the tech rebels are hacking phones like they did computers to create the mobile gadget of their dreams.

Mr. CHEN: It's like a resistance to conformity. And it's kind of beautiful in a way.

GOETZ: For NPR News, I'm Kaomi Goetz in New York.

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