If you have an iPhone or know someone that does have one, you may have heard of the term “jailbreak” brought up in discussion every now and then. For the uninformed, a jailbreak provides the ability to run applications unapproved by Apple on your device and make other modifications otherwise impossible with a factory default device.
The way this is usually done is by exploiting a vulnerability in the operating system of the device that allows the execution of arbitrary software. Most jailbreak solutions involve downloading something to your computer such as PwnageTool but there is a new web-based solution called JailbreakMe which makes it incredibly quick and easy.
Up until iOS 4.0.1 on iPhone and iPod Touch and iOS 3.2.1 on iPad, JailbreakMe used a PDF vulnerability to work its magic until iOS 4.0.2 and 3.2.2 respectively were released not too long ago. This means that if you upgrade your device to the latest version of iOS you won’t be able to jailbreak until another bug is found in the operating system to exploit.
As you may have deduced, it very much is a game of cat and mouse between the jailbreak community and Apple.
So why would you want to jailbreak your device?
Particularly on a more powerful device such as an iPad, you might like to run emulators that can play older PC or Super Nintendo games (legality aside). You can also turn your device into a wireless access point to share your 3G connection with your other devices. For the more advanced, you can even do things like run SSH and web servers or turn your device into a Wi-Fi surveyancing tool if you are so inclined. Otherwise, you might want to do something simple like changing the appearance of your home screens and your icons.
So if you like to have a bit more control over your devices or just like to experiment a bit then you might like to jailbreak it. Just make sure you backup your device before you jailbreak because you can always do a clean restore and restore your backup if it all goes pear-shaped.