I have an increasingly bad feeling about Apple’s efforts to control what software runs on the computers they sell. Not just the business implications, but technical issues.

There’s two ways to get software onto a Mac: buy it directly from the developer or buy it via Apple’s Mac app store. App store versions are almost always worse; fewer features, more awkward updates. And now, with the sandbox requirements, total contortions.

I bought NZBVortex via the app store. Version 2.7 was recently released to be sandbox compatible. But for it to work completely you have to download a “helper application” that runs outside the sandbox. It’s a clever workaround, but it’s needless complexity and subverts the whole purpose of sandboxing.

I also bought Alfred, an awesome app launcher. At first I got the free version via the app store but that turned out to be a mistake, because you really want the (for pay) Powerpack but because of the sandbox restrictions the Powerpack is not available via the app store. The Alfred developers optimistically say “the Mac App Store is one of many ways to buy software for your Mac,” and encourage you to buy directly from them. Which works today.

But what if the Mac App Store becomes the only easy way to buy software for your Mac? Gatekeeper is a step down that road; you’ll still be able to run software from other sources, but only if it’s signed by an Apple-issued developer key or you personally disable a security setting. So far Apple’s not dictating policy on what key-signed code is allowed to do. But what if they decide to?

Meanwhile, over in Apple’s actual computer market, iPhones and iPads, total lockdown has been the rule since day one. And sometimes it goes badly. The most recent kerfuffle is over Dropbox signups; Dropbox has capitulated, removing some aspects of user signups to satisfy Apple’s market monopoly demands. And Apple has behaved poorly in the past, for example blocking Google Voice and Camera+ for ridiculous reasons.

I admire Apple. I sympathize with their desire to control the quality and security of software. But I don’t want to have to completely trust them to make the right decisions.

  2012-05-12 16:16 Z