20 Apr 2012

We recently blogged about Valletta Ventures’ woes surrounding Apple’s sandboxing policies. Discussions among ourselves and the feedback we’ve received have led me to wonder how users would really react to the inevitable situation where their precious Macs suddenly become useless for tasks the owners paid a tidy sum for. As much as we are all willing to pay a premium for the Apple branded personal computers, we only do so because they allow us to do useful things as well as consume the entertainment content, a big chunk of it usually bought from iTunes and iBookstore. We shell out the extra bucks for a better user experience while knowing that the machine is not a lesser one compared to a PC. Indeed, a plethora of innovative apps makes it a superior one.

From OS X Mountain Lion onwards, users will be able to switch on code-signing. I have no gripe with that as it make the Mac more secure for an average user. In addition, on Mountain Lion, code-signing will be configurable and won’t render my unsigned apps unusable. What worries me is the trend and whether or not, a few versions down the road, we are to face a possibility that unsigned and eventually unsandboxed apps are not allowed to run by the operating system. So if your favourite app hasn’t yet been converted to conform with sandboxing (or isn’t going to be converted since the price may be throwing away features that make it the app you find so useful), your options are rather limited:

  1. you either stay on the last version the app happily runs on and don’t upgrade to the latest and very tempting version that Apple have just pushed out. This way you continue using your favourite noncompliant apps. You learn to live without the new UI innovations of the more recent versions you’re missing out on, until you have to upgrade the hardware, at which point you say goodbye to Apple.
  2. or you do what the rogue pioneers have been telling me to do with my iPhone for years: jailbreak! I haven’t yet been tempted as I use my phone to do Apple-sanctioned things only and leave all else to my trusty Mac. But if users are unable to use their Macs for things like apps that compile LaTeX documents, they’re likely to be forced to consider options such as jailbreaking, even if it means all apps have to be manually updated, rendering their Macs no better than Linux boxes whose distributions have to be painstakingly maintained. This option of course would be a workable solution if their were a market place and an ecosystem for jailbroken apps.

Well, the third option that you stop doing anything useful with your Mac, only using it to browse the net, consume media content and read books, while shelling out for (dare I say) a Windows 8 PC for your actual work may not be a very economical one.

If the future of OS X is a tightly controlled and an effectively closed platform that constricts a user’s workflow, the beautiful UI may have to be parted with, albeit with heavy hearts. Jailbreaking may allow you to run certain apps that you were missing on the shackled , sandboxed system, but you’re on borrowed time. Apple will continue, as is their wont, to make it harder for the jailbreak community to thrive or exist. Among other things, your warranty and Apple Care will most likely to be invalidated in a way similar to the jailbroken iOS devices. As a long term Mac user and developer of Mac apps, I certainly hope this scenario can be averted and a better, more flexible implementation of sandboxing can be found which lets people continue to use their Macs for business as well as pleasure.

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