6 Ways to Outsmart Apple’s iOS-ification

It’s very clear now that, on the Mac, Apple is departing from the traditional way of interacting with a UNIX OS with a beautiful, elegant but traditional GUI. The introduction of sandboxing, the blending of the UI experience with that of iOS, coined, “iOS-ification,” and the deletion of much of the UNIX related marketing material at apple.com means that aggressive, technical users will have to search for smart ways to use OS X that meets their needs. Here are six suggestions.

1. Stay with Snow Leopard. Snow Leopard was the apogee of the UNIX (BSD) OS for the technical user with the world’s best UI and modern supporting technologies under the hood. At the launch of Lion, Apple began to depart from the personal, technical OS and began to cast its lot with touchscreen, multi-touch, iOS and a more general consumerization of OS X.

The path here is to identify what apps and OS resources are critical, then “rev-lock” yourself into Snow Leopard, OS X 10.6.8. In time, that strategy will start to fail. Apple will stop issuing security updates, but this decision will buy you time until the community figures out better solutions.

Display WallImage Credit: Apple

2. Use Virtualization. Once you identify critical apps and work flows, you may well be ale to accomplish critical UNIX related, scientific, technical, research related work by letting Mountain Lion (OS X 10.8) be your very secure host on a very elegant Mac, but run your preferred distribution of Linux in virtualization in, say, Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion.

There are ways to share files across the two OSes. It’s a bit of a pain, but what happens is that once you start exploring that avenue, practice makes perfect, and operational details that start off as a nuisance get ironed out or automated.

The blending and exploitation of two powerful OSes, side-by-side, is a long-standing tool used by scientists, researchers and even developers. That solution will remain so long as Apple continues to use CPUs in the Mac that support virtualization.

3. Become a UNIX Power User. Apple giveth and Apple taketh away. If we expect Apple to always give individual users with special tastes what they need, they’ll be perpetually whining. Apple is all about making money nowadays, and the money isn’t in supporting off the beaten path endeavors. The Big Money is in the consumer world.

By becoming a UNIX power user, it’s more likely that one can dig in under the hood, use existing but hidden technologies, and have one’s way with the OS. It requires some study, but it’s the most fun you can have without marital aids.

For example, yesterday we learned that Mountain Lion will (re)introduce “Save As,” but as an expert-level, secret incantation of keystrokes for the legacy user. In any sufficiently complex OS, there are always gimmicks one can invoke to bypass limitations that are the default for the masses. And Apple may give us more hidden crumbs along the way.

Mac & UNIX & ScienceImage Credit: Apple

4. Support Your Local Sheriff (and Developer). There is a strong community of developers for OS X. Most of them know their customers very well. While some developers, for financial reasons, will jump into the Mac Apple Store with gusto, others will elect to also (or as an alternative) cater to their customer base. That means they’ll preserve certain ways of doing things so long as the necessary APIs remain available.

One example is BBEdit by Bare Bones Software. There is a Save As… function in BBEdit version 10, and there may always be (we hope) so long as the OS supports the functionality. Bare Bones knows what its customers want, and very often special apps are used by a community of users whose interests are orthogonal to those of Apple. It has always been so and will remain so.

5. Create a Community. When problems like this arise, customers rally with and around each other. Websites, mailing lists and perhaps a few sympathetic developers develop a community, much like the Open Source community, and help each other with solutions.

I suspect that as time goes on, this community will become stronger and more cohesive just as Apple, in parallel, travels along its own path with iOS-ification. Again, so long as the APIs we need don’t disappear, customization and special needs facilities will always be there for the technically creative.

6. Create Your Own Apps. This is an offshoot of #3 above. One doesn’t need to necessarily become a full-blown OS X developer and write Cocoa apps with Xcode. There are facilities within the OS X framework to, for example, convert scripts to double-clickable apps that may have the facility that one needs. There is a wealth of resources in this arena, too abundant to go into here. But it’s a subject to explore in the future.

Recognition is Half the Solution

We can recognize, technically, where Apple is going with OS X and iOS-ification. It’s in the company’s interest to make OS X more fun, more touchable, more secure and less geeky.

For those who grow up with Mountain Lion and its successors, they may never need anything different. However, in the meantime, there are still many Macintosh customers who need and want to do things in ways that are convenient and productive. These six ideas are a start at developing a way out. There may well be more I haven’t thought of. As an added bonus, they all keep us from whining too much and let us get back to work.