It appears that a new version of Mac OS X for the Intel Transition Kits is out. As I expected, it has new protection measures in place. (Note: I don’t have a transition kit and would be under NDA if I had one, so all this is speculation based on publicly available data…)

There’s still very little information out on what they actually changed regarding use of the TPM chip. Of course, the previously published patches don’t work on the new version; this also confirms my idea that Apple is using the pirates as a test bed for their protection algorithms. Also, it seems that applications compiled for the new version won’t run on the old version, as the ABI (Application Binary Interface) has changed. This was to be expected; it also happened several times before Mac OS X 10.0 came out; the fact that it also makes the patched systems out there useless for most practical purposes is just a positive side-effect for Apple.

Most comments I’ve seen from the PC user’s side show a lack of information about the TPM chip’s capabilities; they either have an unconditional faith that it will be hacked in a few days, or that it will kill their firstborn. As I’ve said before, my opinion is that it will be very hard to hack – maybe even impossible in practice – but that Apple won’t press its use beyond the one of protecting their intent of restricting Mac OS X to Apple-built machines.

There’s one further misconception to be addressed. Some people say that, once they buy a retail copy of Mac OS X, the part of the shrink-wrap license that says that they can run it only on Apple-built machines need not be obeyed. While I’m not sure if such restrictions have ever been tested in court, there are a few ways that Apple can strengthen its position.

For one, they could simply stop selling retail licenses of Mac OS X; a copy of the system would be included with every machine and they would sell only updates separately. Remember that the only reason that retail copies of Mac OS X for PowerPC were put on the market was to entice users to upgrade from Mac OS 9; it’s not like Microsoft selling retail copies of Windows for generic PCs. And of course I don’t believe that Apple will make Mac OS X available for generic PCs in the foreseeable future…

The first Mac, in 1984, had most of its operating system contained in ROM; the boot diskette contained the Finder and a System file which consisted essentially of patches to the ROM. Apple’s ROMs were jealously guarded – relatively easy as they were part of the hardware – but boot diskettes were freely distributed. With Flash memory capacity going up, Apple might even return to this model.