Geek 101: What is jailbreaking?

By Mike Keller, PC World |  Consumerization of IT, jailbreaking

At this point, some users argue the value in jailbreaking has diminished as iOS matures and incorporates features that were once only available to modders, such as multitasking, home screen backgrounds, and improved notifications. One might argue, however, that without jailbreaking, Apple may not have adopted some of these features in the first place.

In the ongoing cat-and-mouse game between Apple and iOS hackers, some might say that Apple has been gaining the upper--hand as jailbreak tools have begun to slow in release. New jailbreak methods used to be released within days of an iOS version release (if not before), but as Apple vigilantly seals security holes with every new firmware and hardware update, hackers may be struggling more to keep up. For example, a jailbreak for the iPhone 4S and iPad 2 only recently came out--months after Apple released them. Still, when it comes to hackers, if there's a will, there's almost certainly a way.

How to Jailbreak?

Absinthe A5 lets you jailbreak the iPhone 4S and iPad 2.

Generally, jailbreaking tools come in the form of OS X or Windows desktop applications. Currently, the only tool to jailbreak the A5 processor-based iPhone 4S and iPad 2 with iOS 5.0.1 is called Absinthe. Other tools, such as PwnageTool and redsn0w, are only able to jailbreak older devices running iOS 5.0.1. The renowned iPhone Dev-Teamreleased the very first jailbreak tool, and the group is still central to the iOS hacker community; its blog is a good place to go to see what's new in jailbreaking tools.

Is Jailbreaking Legal?

It depends a little bit on who you ask, but as far as the US government is concerned, it is legal to jailbreak your smartphone. In 2010, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) recognized the arguments of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF, the international non-profit digital rights advocacy organization) to add phone jailbreaking to a list of exemptions to anti-circumvention provisions. This DMCA exemption is up for review again this year, and the EFF and other groups like the Software Freedom Law Center hope to get the exemption expanded to cover hacking other personal computing devices--like tablets and game consoles--as well.

Imagine buying a car with the hood welding shut so you can't modify it. Some say that's just not right.

Some folks, particularly hackers and modders, insist that jailbreaking is a right and do it as something of a statement. They'll often compare it it souping up a car: Imagine buying a car with the hood welding shut so you can't modify it. Some say that's just not right.


Originally published on PC World |  Click here to read the original story.
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