Developers React to OS X Mountain Lion

| Mountain Lion

Apple’s OS X 10.8, “Mountain Lion,” marks some changes for Apple. The OS will now get annual updates, and Gatekeeper starts the OS down the road of apps being digitally signed by Apple, even if they’re not in the Mac App Store. We asked a few developers how they’re feeling about the Mountain Lion announcement.

The three questions that were on our mind right after Mountain Lion was announced were:

  1. What are your thoughts on Apple’s plan for yearly updates to OS X? Is it stressful? Doable?
  2. What’s your reaction to Mountain Lion’s Gatekeeper, especially regarding what you suspect Apple’s plans are for the future?
  3. How well is Apple doing now with communication and clarity on the sandboxing rules? Is there anything new in Mountain Lion? Are your apps caught up? Is Apple doing anything lately to ease the pain or better document the rules? How is it affecting your business?

Several Developers weighed in with thoughts on all this. Most of those who responded thought the annual updates to OS X is a good thing, but it will be slightly more stressful for them. There was almost universal praise for Gatekeeper. However, despite the generally positive reaction to the announcement of Mountain Lion by the press, most of the developers we spoke with are still a bit unnerved by Apple’s sandboxing initiative, which started with OS X Lion. Below are some of the notable reactions to that continued problem.

Annual Release Cycle

On the yearly updates to OS X, Daniel Jalkut, Red Sweater Software said, “Frankly the idea of yearly updates to OS X is at once incredibly exciting and anxiety-inducing. I think I share with many developers a sense that Apple’s rapid pace of innovation in the OS makes it particularly hard to update our apps to take advantage of every new whiz-bang feature. And for those of us looking to ramp up iOS development, new goodies on Mac OS X is just one more thing competing for our time!

Daniel JalkutDaniel Jalkut

“That said, the announcement of Mountain Lion is another strong indication from Apple that they are very committed to the Mac and its ongoing evolution. For those of heavily invested in the Mac, it is good news to know that the platform is being expanded and refined.”

Florian Albrect of Boinx Software seconded the motion: “First and foremost, seeing Apple once again putting focus on OS X is terrific news! What we have seen so far today is brilliant work and filling lost of the gaps that we saw remaining after the OS X Lion release. Looking forward, evolving the two major platforms somewhat in parallel on the technology level while keeping the user interface concepts sufficiently separate to accommodate the different needs of the hardware sounds like a promising roadmap for users and developers alike.

Florian AlbrechtFlorian Albrecht

“The speed will however put quite a high amount of pressure onto developers, as Apple prefers to quickly get rid of legacy technology and push developers to adopt their latest features.

“Time will tell how well we will catch up, but for now many developers are still very busy coping with the major paradigm shifts in OS X Lion like Autosave, Versions and Auto-Termination of apps as well major changes like sandboxing. BTW, I also believe that most ‘regular computer users’ are still even more busy trying to understand those paradigm shifts.”

Gatekeeper

Mickey Roberson, MRR Software, sized up the long term, intended effect of gatekeeper nicely. “Gatekeeper is a positive step for those who are not willing or able to enter the MAS. It’s a way to keep the user safe while at the same time allowing developers to develop anything they want. If this type of security is as stringent as the desktop restrictions become, then developers are in good hands. Still the Gatekeeper is only as good as the user controlling it. If users buy into the idea and are willing to keep the setting at the default (MAS and developer signed apps only) they will be safer. The more apps that ‘just work’ with Gatekeeper’s default settings, the more users will leave the setting as is.

Mickey RobersonMickey Roberson

“Most developers already sign their applications with a certificate so their workflow won’t change, just the origin of the certificate will be from Apple’s Mac Developer Program instead of being the self-signed certificate they may already use.”

Steve Shepard, Storyist Software, voiced some concerns. “The middle option, MAS + code signed applications, is good compromise between security and flexibility. Hopefully, that stays the default beyond Mountain Lion. I suspect, though, that Apple would like to make MAS-only the default, since doing so would increase the angle of that slippery slope to the MAS for many applications.

Steve ShepardSteve Shepard

“My real concern, though, is this: If iCloud is as central to Apple’s plans as Cook says it is and Gruber is correct that only MAS applications will be allowed to make full use of it (Apple hasn’t said otherwise, as far as I can tell), then non-MAS applications will quickly become second class citizens. It don’t think that’s a good thing — for developers, or for the platform.”

Sandboxing

The developers we contacted were universal in their dislike for sandboxing. It has placed an enormous amount of stress on them and burned up their time in 2011. Worse, Apple’s lack of clear communication and coherent approach was roundly criticized. The comments from Will Shipley, Delicious-Monster, expressed a common thread. “The sandboxing thing is still a snafu. There are a billion little bugs and gotchas that Apple hasn’t dealt with because most of their apps aren’t sandboxed. Only TextEdit and Preview are sandboxed (using the same sandboxing we’re required to use) right now… so, for example, they’ve never sandboxed one of their own “shoebox” apps like iPhoto or iTunes, nor have they done large apps like Mail or iCal.

Wil ShipleyWill Shipley

“One example problem: right now we can’t run AppleScripts from inside an app. That’s kind of stinky when they’ve been begging us for years to integrate AppleScript. We can’t read, for instance, a song list from iTunes any more, because we don’t have permission to read the XML file any more, and we can’t use AppleScript (and AppleScript required launching iTunes to work anyways, which is a completely unacceptable user experience).

“They’ve also created a way for us to create helper applications (called “XPC”) under sandboxing but it’s completely different from the rest of Cocoa and is in straight C instead of Objective-C.”

Alykhan Jetha, Marketcircle, weighed in: “I think Sandboxing will be a disaster if they roll it out or enforce it too soon. In its current state, it is too soon and it only allows for basic apps. Even Apple’s own major apps are not Sandboxed. Until the likes of Logic, Final Cut X are Sandboxed and working well, I think Apple should keep it optional.”

Alykhan Jetha
Alykhan Jetha

The breadth of depth of Macintosh applications is also an issue and can potentially tie the hands of creative developers. Tim DeBenedictis, Southern Stars, has had notable difficulties with his quite amazing star catalog application. “…Then Apple required us to sandbox our MAS apps. One of the problems here is that sandboxing denies Mac apps access to serial ports. Well, SkySafari Plus is a telescope control app. Most telescopes (even in 2012!) communicate via RS-232 serial. Thus sandboxing broke a fundamental bit of functionality in our app.

Tim DeBenedictisTim DeBenedictis

“We’ve since learned that there is a hidden, undocumented entitlement that lets us talk to serial ports (despite sandboxing) — so we’re apparently past this one little hurdle. But what if there wasn’t? What if, in the future, Apple decides that some other bit of functionality we rely on is now to be restricted from third-party apps?”

This is just a sampling of the dozen or so developers who responded to our questions. To say that sandboxing has been a disaster with developers would not be an understatement. In the end, it may well be that Apple has wisely elected to switch the security emphasis towards Gatekeeper and certificates and tone down the rush towards sandboxing, an approach that Will Shipley strongly encouraged back in late 2011.

Signs out of Cupertino, under the leadership of Tim Cook, are encouraging. As Florian Albrecht said, time will tell.

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Comments

geoduck

A few idle thoughts* about going to a yearly update for OS-X. Generally I like it. I do wonder about one thing though.

The OS will now get annual updates,

2011 10.7
2012 10.8
2013 10.9
2014 10.10? OS-Y 10.0? 11.0? I wonder what they will do?

Maybe they’re looking forward to 2014 and 11.0 will mark a HUGE change to the desktop computing environment. Like a merging of the OSs. By then Apple should have enough cash to buy Microsoft and then Win10 and OS 10 can merge into one huge platform covering the earth .

Unless the world ends this December and it’s all moot.

Have a good weekend.

*I’m setting up a Win7 machine and I’m waiting for the 50+ patches to download and install.

John Martellaro

David Pogue said, in his review of Mountain Lion, “You also have to wonder how Apple will keep numbering Mac OS X, since it?s already at version 10.8. (Actually, Apple?s people told me: They have no problem with double-digit decimal points, like Mac OS X 10.10, Mac OS X 10.11, and Mac OS X 10.12.)”

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Good to see that all the enthusiasm for sandboxing has died down. I suspect that a year from now, most developers will be calling bullshit on the MAS “security” theater as well.

Apple is the company that thought absolutely nothing of letting Path and others raid address books without user permission until it was called to their attention. At best, they can react to threats, and when they react, they will simply stifle potentially useful features and interactions because gatekeepers have no incentive to embrace nuance.

geoduck

(Actually, Apple?s people told me: They have no problem with double-digit decimal points, like Mac OS X 10.10, Mac OS X 10.11, and Mac OS X 10.12.)?

10.31 should have an orange and black startup screen
LOL


But back on topic:
Interesting viewpoints from the developers. I got the overall impression they like what they see but are still wary of getting burned again like they were by Sandboxing, among other things.

(Gotta go now. The Win7 box just tried to update IE9 and it looks like it crashed. Please Apple, just buy them out and put them out of our misery.)

d'monder

Maybe they?re looking forward to 2014 and 11.0 will mark a HUGE change to the desktop computing environment. Like a merging of the OSs.

It’s pretty clear 11.0 will be the merger of iOS and OS X, and the culmination of Steve’s five-year plan.

Unless of course the real gambit is to make Ballmer think he’s gotta “be first” with Windows, creating an OS that’s neither desktop nor mobile, and nobody wants.  Which is what appears to be happening with Windows 8.

mouring

Do we seriously need yearly updates?  Every two years seemed reasonable to me.  We as a culture seem to be driven to force people to upgrade and throw away stuff at a prodigious rate.

Jamie

I hope development fatigue doesn’t ensue - back in the 90s it was challenging enough to maintain separate code bases in the Windows / Mac world, I can’t imagine trying to maintain parity across mobile and desktop platforms that are perpetually moving targets (we’ve already seen a taste of this *cough*Android*cough*).

Sometimes I wonder if the future will be an operating system that handles our tasks in an all encompassing fashion rather than being delineated into separate apps. Who knows? I guess we should be grateful we aren’t forced to code our own in BASIC, all 80s style. . . smile

geoduck

Do we seriously need yearly updates?

I don’t mind yearly as long as the changes are correspondingly smaller. It would be less jarring. OTOH I hope that they don’t declare a year of hardware “obsolete” with each yearly update. I don’t think of a 4 year old machine as ‘old’. To be honest having some 2008 Macs not Mountain Lion compatible is a bit unnerving. I know that Apple has to draw the line somewhere and there have been some huge changes in the last five or six years but a 4 year horizon is cutting a little too close to the quick IMO.

Ion_Quest

For small developers, things like Mac App Store, Sandbox and Gatekeeper are just more reasons to focus on Windows first.

BASIC. Now there’s a language many folks can understand and fast enough for most everything.

John Martellaro

Two developers have published related essays that are of note:

Cabel Sasser

http://www.panic.com/blog/2012/02/about-gatekeeper/

Daniel Jalkut

http://www.red-sweater.com/blog/2324/fix-the-sandbox

webjprgm

Do we seriously need yearly updates?? Every two years seemed reasonable to me.? We as a culture seem to be driven to force people to upgrade and throw away stuff at a prodigious rate.

Every 10 years seams good enough to me, once we settle down from figuring out what a computer really is. Realize that computers are still pretty young. We’ve had personal computers since the late 1970s, which is 30-40 years.  What did automobiles look like 40 years after they were introduced? What do they look like now?  Once a computer truly becomes an appliance it should be updated on an appliance schedule, which is 5-20 years. (e.g. washing machine, fridge, microwave, TV.)

(Wikipedia says first automobile production was 1888. So compare 1928 cars to see changes 1888-1928 and 1928-now. I believe 1920+ cars are ones we’d recognize as car-like today, though the style (and features) are certainly different from modern cars.)

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