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Friday, March 09, 2012

Do you Hack Your Technology?

What computer should I get? I hear that question a lot. I'm a tech-oriented guy so it's common for me to be the consultant for friends and family looking for new gear. But, the longer I've been doing this, the more my answer has changed. I used to answer the question based on my personal preferences, but then I discovered that people may not be happy with the same thing I'm happy using. There's one main reason behind it.

I like to hack my technology.

Not everyone likes to get inside a computer (or smartphone or TV or game console or battery charger) and figure out how it works and how it can be made to work better. In fact, some people hate that process. For me it's similar to auto repair. If I could afford it, I would never lift the hood of my car again. I really don't like it. I've gone in and replaced alternators, CV arms, exhaust manifolds and even a clutch, but I hated every minute of it. I only did it because I couldn't afford to pay someone else to do it for me.

Some people hate to mess with their technology. That's okay by me, but if I know that, I won't recommend tech that is conducive to hacking. For example, I have an Android smartphone. I've been running a custom operating system on it for years now and I enjoy messing with the settings. My wife has the same model phone, but she's running the stock OS. She feels similarly about technology the way that I do about car repair, it's not beyond her ability, she just doesn't want to mess with it.

Other people can't hack their own technology. I know that I couldn't make my own clothes, I wouldn't even know where to start. I just want to go into the store and buy them and then they work. This is a common attitude about tech. What that leaves us with is a continuum. One one end are the people who hack things apart and do as much themselves as possible. At the other end are people who want to do and know nothing about the inner workings. Most of us lie somewhere in the middle.

I like to hack my technology, but I'm not soldering my own circuit boards or modding computer cases. I know that I'll buy a ready-made computer or smartphone and then make it work for my needs. When it comes time for you to buy your next piece of technology, ask yourself how much you want to hack it, because the computers and phones out there also run on a continuum of how hackable they are. Typically Apple products are the least hackable and the easiest to work right out of the box. Windows and Android products are more hackable, but still work out of the box as well. If you want a complete hacking experience, you'll probably load a custom distribution of Linux onto a computer you built yourself, there is no box.

Where you do land on the spectrum? Do you hack your technology?

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