You can reverse engineer binary applications but you cannot reverse engineer the cloud. When Google deprecates a web service, Facebook eliminates an API, or Twitter imposes tougher API restrictions, all dependant services fall like dominoes. The weakest link in the chain is the cloud services that you can’t run or port anywhere: we no longer have control over the applications we use.
On the other hand if you want to run old applications from the Apple II, downloading an emulator solves the problem. Do you miss Borland Turbo Pascal 5.5? Install DOS on your i7 or run it in a virtual machine to achieve instantaneous happiness. Just don’t expect to take advantage of your quad core! Emulators are not created in a vacuum and reverse engineering is the key to emulating a complete platform. Reverse engineering is also very important to tackle complex issues in hardware and software virtualization. For example, you need reverse engineering skills to virtualize Internet Explorer 6 on Windows 7.
Nektra has seen this first hand because we have been working on reverse engineering applications since 2003. The new Windows Live Mail API, Windows Mail API, Outlook Express API, full Windows Address Books, or Windows Live Contacts API, Audio interception SDK didn’t exist or were available on a limited basis until we created them. they don’t really exist or in the best case are limited for general use. These software components allow companies to integrate anti-virus and other software with closed applications. We also wrote the Deviare Interception Engine to provide a higher level, programmer friendly interface for process hooking. Without reverse engineering you would be forced to rely on the owners of closed applications for everything. That is the main reason reverse enginering is legal although EULAs try to prevent it.
It seems odd now that Microsoft was prosecuted for engaging in monopolistic practices in the 90s. Apple and Google are currently abusing their market positions without much real criticism. Microsoft must be laughing because these new companies have launched platforms far more controlled than Microsoft’s in the 90s. Ironically, Microsoft is now doing the same thing with their mobile initiatives and Windows, which would have been illegal 20 years ago. All of the above practices are contrary to the hacker spirit.
However, more worrying is the lack of real criticism. There is a strong conflict of interest between criticizing companies and developing software for their platform prisons. People talk too much about the “user experience” and not enough about the “hacker experience”.