OS X 10.6.2 update breaks Hackintosh netbooks

Editor’s Note: The following article is reprinted from the Biz Feed blog at PCWorld.com.

Users who want the Mac OS X experience on a netbook budget have figured out how to hack the Mac OS X operating system to force it to work on netbooks based on the Intel Atom processor. The latest update to Snow Leopard removes support for the Atom processor and puts an end to the “hackintosh”—at least for now.

Why would Apple do such a thing? Is Apple so bent on maintaining draconian control of the Mac OS X software and the hardware platform it runs on that it would risk the customer backlash that might come from breaking hackintosh netbooks? Well, yes and no.

What may seem like some sort of overbearing Napoleon complex by Steve Jobs from the outside is mainly Apple’s attempt to protect the Mac experience. Apple has achieved and maintains relatively high customer satisfactions ratings for its products as a result of managing virtually all aspects of the experience from the hardware devices, to the software that runs on them, to the environment at the stores and feel of the web sites where customers purchase them.

Viewed from that perspective, the move to squash the use of Mac OS X on unauthorized hardware makes some sense. Apple has built its reputation on providing a solid user experience, and if users start modifying the Mac OS X operating system to work on alternate hardware Apple can no longer guarantee the same environment. Users may have issues and start complaining about the Mac OS X operating system when the problem is really the fault of the untested hardware.

Does Microsoft care if you want to run Windows 7 on your Macbook? Not at all. Just make sure that your Windows 7 is a legally licensed and paid for copy of the operating system and you are good to go. Microsoft does not deal in PC hardware and it has decades of experience working to ensure that every new version of Windows and all of the service packs and updates in between will be compatible with a virtually limitless combination of hardware possibilities.

There is a method to Apple’s madness. It is willing to stick to its principles in terms of maintaining control of the experience from end to end, and sacrifice market share to do so. By restricting the hardware options the way it does, Apple pretty much ensures that it will never grow much beyond the 5 percent market share it currently has. But that 5 percent will be customers who are very satisfied with their operating system and hardware and will remain dedicated and ardent supporters of Apple.

The economy is down and unemployment is up. Netbooks offer a much more cost-effective hardware platform than the pricey Apple hardware, and the explosive growth of netbooks has led to record processor sales. But, to embrace that movement and claim the increase in market share that Mac OS X could experience as a result, Apple has to be open to ensuring that future updates and revisions will work on the diverse platforms to maintain satisfaction with the operating system. Welcome to Microsoft’s world.

This is probably not the end of the hackintosh story for Apple, though. They hacked it before, they’ll hack it again. Apple can look forward to a tug-of-war similar to the dueling updates it has been going through with Palm over syncing the Pre with iTunes. But if Apple wants to maintain the user experience, perhaps it’s a small price to pay.

[Tony Bradley tweets as @PCSecurityNews, and can be contacted at his Facebook page .]

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