Feb 17 2012
Apple surprisingly released a Developer Preview of the forthcoming OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion operating system. Except for a bunch of (for me completely uninteresting) apps for consumers, the probably useful Airplay Mirroring feature, the dropping of support for hardware that is more than four years old, it only has one important but almost expected new feature: Gatekeeper.
I’d rather call this thing Dungeon Keeper, though. Because it is meant to keep users in the Apple ecosystem, not, as their marketing department wants us to believe, keep malicious software out and the system more secure.
Apparently, the default setting of Gatekeeper is to only allow the installation of software from Apple’s own Mac App Store and from software developers that have registered with Apple and who have obtained a certificate from them that they can use as a digital signature for their software. Software from such developers, although it has not been scrutinized by Apple or any other independent party for security and safety, is considered “safe” just because of the certificate and the developer registration – while in real life, of course, it is not any safer than software from an “unknown source”. After all, only the certificate is registered to an identified developer, but that alone does not magically provide additional safety. If the developer decides to do something that is not kosher, you will only learn about it after the harm is done. If ever.
What Apple in my opinion tries to achieve here is something different: They are preparing their OS X user and developer base for the same locked-down walled garden ecosystem that iOS is.
Registration for said certificate is free for developers, so there is no reason not to do it, right? And the default setting of Mountain Lion will be NOT to allow installation from unknown sources in order to “protect” the in Apple’s view clueless users. And I’m afraid that they are somehow right and that most Mac users won’t be able to change that setting to the “allow everything” option. If they were, most of them would not have bought a Mac in the first place, because system administration was the thing that scared them away from Windows and Linux and pushed them into the arms of the “it just works” company with the fruit logo.
So eventually most developers who want to stay in business on the Mac platform will have to choose the safe passage, register with Apple and use a digital signature in their software.
Once this migration phase is completed, it is only a small step to force all developers to either publish their products through the Mac App Store or to not publish for the Mac at all. In all likelihood, most Mac users will even welcome this final step that will take away the last freedom of choice that they had on the Mac platform, because, after all, the Mac App Store is so convenient and Apple is ah-so concerned about their safety and nobody will ever get a virus when buying software from or through Apple.
That from then on Apple is in total control of the choices that they have left is probably of no concern for the Apple fans. As you remember, Steve Jobs promised us freedom from malware and freedom from porn. Well, for Apple malware is everything that competes with their own products or which does not wash a 30% share into their pockets. And porn is not very compatible with owning Disney stocks.
For me, the mindset behind the “it will protect you” argument is in the same league as “we have to implement Internet filters to crush child pornography” or “all our customers are potential criminals and content pirates, let’s criminalize them by lobbying for ACTA, SOPA and PIPA and let’s pretend that the Internet is a lawless place where already existing laws allegedly don’t apply”.
In other words: Instead of doing real police work, using the laws that are already there or adjusting out-dated business models to the demands of today’s market, we rather implement some Nazi shit for the pleasure of power-mad control freaks.
Well, for Apple it does make economic sense to head into this direction. Those other things probably also make some abstruse sense for politicians and CEOs of the content industry. But for the average tax payer and consumer, the world won’t magically become a safer place, crime won’t stop, it all just becomes more expensive — both in terms of money AND freedom.
But I’m digressing. Or am I not?
In the case of Apple vs their users and developers, Apple is very clearly trying to turn OS X into the same Walled Garden that iOS is – with the old shallow argument that this is all in the user’s best interest. My bet is that in OS X 10.9 (if there will be another version of “classic” OS X after Mountain Lion), we will see that the option to install software from “unknown sources” will be gone. And maybe the option to install software from registered developers will only be available for… registered developers on their own machines.
Which would make sense. You would be protected. And Apple would get a 30% cut on anything that happens on “their” computers. An awesome, magical, revolutionary win-win situation for everybody. And idea is so great that Microsoft, of course, is going to do the same with the forthcoming ARM edition of Windows 8; Windows 8 for ARM CPUs will only be able to run software from Microsoft’s online store. Building digital prisons is very hip and trendy these days.
Since Apple describes Gatekeeper (and almost everything else that they release) as a revolutionary new feature, an old Soviet expression that became very popular during the communistic revolution in Russia puts into very nice words what I think about this development and what we all should say to comrade Apple:
Do svidanya, Towarischtsch!
I’ve actually had the opportunity to install the Mountain Lion Developer Preview on a spare hard disk and play with it on my 8GB 27″ iMac i5.
The good news:
Mountain Lion apparently fixes the USB problems that I’m experiencing since the Lion 10.7.3 update. That’s the only positive thing I have to say about Mountain Lion for now. And this is a fix that Apple should provide for Lion YESTERDAY.
The bad news:
Firstly, Mountain Lion refused to install on my main hard disk, which I found rather strange, to say the least. So I was forced to install it on a spare disk.
After the installation, the Developer Preview of Mountain Lion performed awful and the iMac responded sluggish to even the simplest interactions. The performance of the system was completely unacceptable. Since it’s only a Developer Preview, I am willing to give Apple the benefit of the doubt and expect them to improve the performance until the official release. However, if they don’t manage to improve the responsiveness of Mountain Lion, or simply don’t care enough to make the system run well on my Late 2009 Mac that I bought in early 2010, then that alone would make the new cat dead on arrival and be reason enough to never touch another Apple product again. The planned obsolescence of their products is becoming a bit too aggressive for me to stomach.
The “native” full screen mode in Mountain Lion sucks even more than in Lion, I think. At least when you use VLC to play back video on a second screen. Even when the “native” full screen mode is turned off, the other screen no longer turns black. That sucks for watching movies. Big time. Maybe it’s an issue of the VLC implementation, maybe it’s a changed behavior of the new cat. In any case, it’s a change for the worse.
I didn’t bother to look at the new or modified toy apps that are bundled with Mountain Lion because I simply don’t care. When you have to market goodies like the “Reminders” app as new operating system features, you already have a problem as a company. I don’t regard such goodies as real OS features. They’re just goodies. AirPlay Mirroring counts as a OS feature (even though I don’t have the required additional devices to make use of it), a reworked file system would be a OS feature, a reworked Finder would be a changed feature. Toy applications are none of this. In the last seven years, except for Apple Mail and in the early days Safari (until the browser began to really suck), I’ve never used any of the toy apps that came bundled with OS X.
AirPlay Mirroring and “Dungeon Keeper” are the only two real NEW features of Mountain Lion so far. That’s hardly awesome, magical, beautiful and definitely not revolutionary. So I wiped the hard disk shortly after the installation experiment and remain skeptical about this new Californian cat.