Hacking away!


You won’t believe it, but I am actually typing this on my tiny little HackBook, aka Dell Mini 9. Running Leopard 10.5.6 smoothly and all hardware -as far as I can see now- seems to be working. The keyboard is really small, so I have to get used to it quite a bit. But overall this is one dell of a machine (pun intended). So what happened between now and my last post about this emotionally challenging experiment?

It took Dell about three weeks to actually deliver the box. On a Wednesday I reserved the evening and dubbed it my solo Hackintosh event. I’m not stupid using a computer and I usually find my way around, but I’m certainly no hardcore hacker. So a tedious online research on the protocols of hacking a Dell Mini 9 was imperative. Fortunately I was not the only nerd with the desire to have a Mac the size of a book so I could find a vast amount of forums where real geeks were kind enough to describe the process step by step. I even prepared a USB stick with the necessary software: MacOS X. 

But first back to the box. Being a Mac user for almost my entire computer life (not true, after my Commodore 64 and Amiga I did start using a PC/AT but was converted to a Mac when I was working for Janssen Pharmaceutica back in 1993, and never looked back) you get used to quality. It sure does sound like a cliche, but opening a Dell box is not the same experience as opening an Apple box (yes, I am biased but doing my utmost to be objective. Seriously). From a marketing point of view intruiging. Apple’s packaging is a true form of art, with even the plastic bags inside sealed with silver wires. Dell’s box is just… a box.

Unboxing a Dell is... different

Unboxing a Dell is... different

Once opened I was first confronted with the physical form factor of the Dell Mini 9. I confess, it did touch my feminin part in me: “How cute!” (now this is out in the open I will from now on only talk GHz, GB, RAM and CPU power). The price tag of €299 became obvious. The Dell Mini 9 feels more like a Fisherprice laptop with plastic all over the place.

So I was ready to go but first I needed to make yet another USB stick with a ‘bootloader’.

Originally the Dell doesn’t recognise the Mac OS. In order to ‘fool’ the Dell one need to load a specific piece of software during startup which makes it understand a USB stick with MacOS X. This bootloader has to be set up in Windows XP. So here the fun started…

Although I use XP in a compulsary way at work, I soon came to realize that being a Mac user I am really, seriously spoiled. I booted up XP and entered the confusing world of this antique OS. OK, I admit that my Dell came with XP Home Edition which is no doubt the most notorious and inferior OS in the family of XP, but still. It started with a mismatch between the keyboard and the OS. I had a US keyboard whereas XP thought I had a Dutch one. Result: all symbols completely messed-up. That really became a problem in the next geeky part, creating the bootloader. I also needed wireless internet but Windows could not get any connection (although it said it was connected but could not find an IP address, or something like that).

I won’t go into detail, but creating the bootloader involved starting up the command line after which I ended up in a kind of window with DOS. Wait, I’ll write that again: DOS. As in Disk Operating System. As in the eighties.

So the code I had to type read something like this: ‘cd C:\syslinux-3.63\win32’, and after that: ‘syslinux.exe -ma E:’. But the keyboard was really freaking out on me. I just could not find the bloody ‘\’. And as you can see, I kind of needed that symbol quite a few times. And did you ever try to find a setting in XP where you can just change the keyboard layout? It drove me nuts and made me want to throw the bloody machine out of the window! And that after only thirty minutes! Aaahh… those good ol’ pre-Mac times of CRA (Computer Related Anxiety).

Anyway, my basic knowledge of DOS which I was forced to learn at school back in the early nineties was still present somewhere in my memory. Eventually I was able to create the bootloader and I was ready for the real work: hacking!

One USB stick with the bootloader in the left port, the Mac OS USB stick in the right. After changing the boot order to start up from the USB bootloader funny letters and numbers magically appeared on my screen. Now it was time to pay attention. Being faithful to my research I typed in ’81’ at a dedicated spot somewhere in the process and to my delight the uberfamous Apple logo filled the tiny 9″ LCD screen. It felt like coming home.

The rest was just the normal setup of Mac OS X. The only thing I still had to do was changing the EFI so that the Dell was actually booting from the Mac OS and voila. I was the owner of a real HackBook.

The final part of the transformation was applying the specially designed Apple logo over the Dell logo on the cover of the HackBook, and the removal of the cheapo sticker ‘Intel Inside’ and ‘Designed for Windows’ inside. Pathetic, but a neccesity if I ever wanted to be taken seriously among my few friends I still have.

It really is feline...

It really is feline...

Till now all seems to work. Sound, webcam, dimming the screen, wifi. Even the soft pulsing LED when the lid is closed. The battery lasts for about 3 hours which is reasonably good. As said, the keyboard is really tiny but I guess that’s the price one has to pay to be portable. The HackBook is really light which is most welcome when I’m traveling (the second main reason why I bought the Dell mini). I have installed only a few programs since I want to test to what extend the HackBook can be used for what it is designed for: the Cloud.

I will be traveling soon. Expect feedback on my findings using this device on our blog.

Hell just froze over. I bought a Dell


OK, this is going to get tough. Years upon years I’ve been preaching the Mac-religion. To friends, family, friends of family and family of friends. And pretty successful I might say. The number of first and second line switchers (second line is a switcher switched because they switched due to my annoying rambling of the superiority of the Mac platform) add up to almost 70. Steve can be proud, his Reality Distortion Field worked.

I have yet to find anybody who regrets the switch, we are all happilly using our little machines and during these years I built up some credibility as a Mac geek. Always open for questions and couldn’t stand when I was not able to solve the issue. I could not accept letting down people who I personnaly brought on board.

Just bought the new MacBook together with the 24 inch Cinema Display. I couldn’t be happier. So I thought.

That’s all going to change now. Familiar with the term ‘Netbooks’? These are very little laptops (9 inch screens), having absolutely no power (1.6 GHz) and virtually no memory (1 GB RAM and usually 16 GB Solid State HD). They are designed for being online, and being online only. For using the Cloud for what it’s meant to be used for: storage and applications. They are priced very low, in the EUR 200-300 range. The perfect travel companion, the ultimate portability communication tool. There’s only one problem:

Apple doesn’t have a Netbook…

Bummer. They have an iPhone, and according to Steve that’s close enough. Although I do love my iPhone (no, I actually adore it) it’s not the real thing as far as computer is concerned. Sorry Steve, this time I have to disagree with you. So who is making Netbooks? Well, the usual suspects: Dell, HP, Sony. But also some newcomers like Asus (these are the Taiwanese boys and girls normally producing the laptops for the usual suspects).

I was intruiged by the concept -after all, it is a gadget- and started my exploration. Thanks to the marvelous decision to put Intel hardware in a Mac, the Mac OS now runs on Intel. However, out of the box it’s impossible to install Mac OS on a computer other than a Mac. Actually, the license agreement forbids it. Fortunately some clever guys were able to hack the OS and creatively named it ‘Hackintosh’. By using this approach people are able to run Mac OS X on any (non Apple) computer.

It turned out that the Dell (of all brands) has the best Hackintosh Netbook on the market; the Dell mini 9. All functionalities work and once you’ve done the hack you have a real Mac on Dell hardware. Of course that’s only the first step. The second step involves stickers. But that’s really nerdy…

Anyway, it took me a holiday in Indonesia and almost two weeks back in the Netherlandsto get used to the idea that I might be buying a Dell. I have been checking my Mac Rumor RSS feeds frantically to see if Apple hasn’t released a MacNetBook themselves. They introduced all kind of stuff these twoo weeks (iMacs, Mac minis, Mac Pros, iPod suffles) but no Netbook.

So today, 15 minutes before a EUR 50 deal when ordering online would expire, I took a deep breath and did it. I bought my Dell Netbook. I am still confused. Did I do the right thing? Well, we just have to see. I will keep you posted about my experiences with the transformation of the Dell mini 9 into the MacBook mini. In a week time I might have replaced an obsolete piece of junk operating system with a perfectly running superior feline operating system, or it might turn out that I lost a few hundred Euros.

But then I will get some friends back…


The end goal

The end goal










This is the 'raw material'

This is the 'raw material'

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