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Why is O'Reilly Condoning iPhone Hacking?

To run the code described in the book, readers would need to jailbreak their iPhones, which violates their license agreement

Being knee-deep in iPhone Web Development at the moment, I find myself typing the word 'iPhone' into google quite a bit. Also, for giggles, I tend to check Amazon.com frequently for keywords for upcoming books I would like to see. The main reason for that is Amazon seems to know about newly registered ISBNs well before inventory tracking systems from brick-and-mortar stores do... so searching there seems like a logical choice.

The other night I was looking to see what people were doing with regard to iPhone development and I saw a title from O'Reilly entitled "iPhone Open Application Development". From the description of the book,it describes how to create native applications for the iPhone using existing open iPhone application development frameworks. What the book description doesn't tell potential readers is that to run that code, readers would need to hack/jailbreak their iPhones, which violates their license agreement. The publication date of the book is only 15 days after the much speculated SDK release date of "end of February 2008" (which all of us take to mean February 29th...). This is not nearly enough time to convert the content of the book from working on hacking kits (like the one the author created - the author is apparently the first person to write a native iPhone app using a hacked phone) to working on the legitimate SDK.

So is O'Reilly actually condoning the hacking of the phones? O'Reilly has had a long and prestigious history as being _the_ ultimate source for *nix manuals, including many books that became so dogeared I actually bought multiple copies, including dozens of "in a nutshell" books. Back in those good old days, "hacks" which appeared in O'Reilly titles were actually just low-level down-and-dirty nuggets of pure gold that geeks and admins loved - but were all perfectly legal.

I went to O'Reilly's digital media site which hosts some blogs and I was able to find quite a few Objective-C 2.0 samples (you can tell they're 2.0 because the samples have no -release or -retain calls) for the iPhone. I can certainly say that waiting for the iPhone SDK has been one of the hardest waits in my life. The last time I was this excited about a new SDK was probably when .NET 2.0 came out, and I think even that wasn't as exciting since we already had 1.1 in our hands. But what I simply don't understand is why you would want to educate potential iPhone developers on how to make applications that will only work on the niche minority of phones that have been hacked and won't work on legitmate, up-to-date consumer phones

The other thing that troubles me about publishing code before the release of the SDK (and to be fair, it isn't just O'Reilly doing this) is that it is downright naive to assume that the code you've written now will work on the phones once the SDK comes out. Everything I've seen of the iPhone code looks really low-level, and looks like what Objective-C code looks like when you don't use Interface Builder. I think it's foolish to assume that the code people are publishing now is going to be the same development paradigm used once we get the SDK in our hands... I'll be surprised if any of these independent hack-requiring apps even load for the updated ROM image, let alone work properly.

Its one thing to litter such public code samples with disclaimers indicating that the code only works on hacked phones, etc, but you don't find that kind of disclaimer in the description of O'Reilly's book or on any of the blog posts on their site with code listings. How many potential developers might stumble upon the information on O'Reilly's site, follow the instructions to start coding, only to eventually realize that customers with unhacked phones can't run their apps??

If you want my honest opinion, I think there's two things going on here: A huge community of hacker types who having a lot of spare time on their hands who see pretty much any locked down device as a challenge, and they are posting their findings to enhance that community, and for bragging rights. Then, there's large organizations like O'Reilly that, in my opinion, are jumping on the hacking bandwagon because they know iPhone development is a huge search topic and they want a piece of the cash cow. 

Anyway, what do you think...do you think what O'Reilly and others are doing is harmless, or do you think it has the potential to confuse iPhone developers and/or do harm to the future iPhone development community as a whole? 

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More Stories By Kevin Hoffman

Kevin Hoffman, editor-in-chief of SYS-CON's iPhone Developer's Journal, has been programming since he was 10 and has written everything from DOS shareware to n-tier, enterprise web applications in VB, C++, Delphi, and C. Hoffman is coauthor of Professional .NET Framework (Wrox Press) and co-author with Robert Foster of Microsoft SharePoint 2007 Development Unleashed. He authors The .NET Addict's Blog at .NET Developer's Journal.

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