Advice from an Apple Tech: BitTorrent and older OS X installation discs, revisited

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In the wake of my latest Advice from an Apple Tech article that focused on the use of BitTorrent to acquire older OS X installation disc images when the required OS X installation disc was unavailable, some points of clarification need to be made.

The article was in no way intended to advocate software piracy of any sort, even where out-of-print and otherwise unavailable OS X installation discs are concerned. To this end, I devoted a previous column as to how to legally find and secure Mac OS X installation discs that Apple may not be selling through venues such as eBay, Craigslist, local vendors, and local user-group meet-ups. There’s always someone with the installation disc you need and they’re always willing to discuss a fair value price for the item on hand.

It’s also been brought to my attention that Apple does keep out-of-print OS X installation disc images available via its developer download page, which requires a fee of $99 per year. This may be the best answer to the issue at hand and solves the legal and ethical questions in one fell swoop.

The intention was to discuss mission-critical deadlines where there’s literally next to no time to find the OS X installation disc in question. Yes, it’s always better to find the software you need legally, but there are also deadlines in which a legacy piece of software must be supported that can only be run through an older version of OS X, the installation DVD is out of print and a task must be completed.

I did not intend to advocate piracy in general, nor should that be the final takeaway of the article. Software is honest work and people make a living from it. I explored a BitTorrent acquisition of an out of print OS X installation disc as the result of an extraordinary set of circumstances and time limitations on hand. Only so many of these disc are available, and most users wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to travel to the store and pay for them. Sadly, this is not always possible.

Acquiring older OS X disc images is a last resort, and there are valid security concerns to be addressed. This, like any computer usage, puts the responsibility in the hands of the user; if software looks suspicious or seems to offer too much for free, listen to your gut and delete it. Malware is out there—even malware on the Mac—as the iServices, Java exploits, and Flash-based hacks have proven. Conversely, excellent protection software such as ClamXav is available, but it’s still the user’s choice as to what steps to take.

Finally, the technique for acquiring an installation disc was not the best, most legal, most secure or most ethical solution, nor should it be common practice. But in situations where a deadline is about to expire, a system using an older version of OS X needs to be brought back to life or data needs to be recovered, this may be the one of the few remaining options available.

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