Why Apple Is Making The Mac Harder To Use (While Trying To Make It Easier)

I recently fell in love with the Mac App Store. It keeps all my purchases in once place, makes it so I don’t have to keep every app on my Macs and ensures that I never have to remember or find another license number as long as I live. With App Sandboxing, Apple’s newly implemented method of “protecting systems and users by limiting the resources an app can access,” it seems as if I may need to fall out of love with it just as quickly.

We’ve now seen the first casualty of App Sandboxing, TextExpander 4, an application that is essential to how I get things done on my Mac. I understand Apple’s desire to make their computers easier to use, I understand them wanting to protect users from both complexity and harm, but I can’t for the life of me comprehend why they want to make useful software harder to use.

Apple has always won by being at the crossroads of simple and better. As they begin to appeal to a broader audience, there are signs of them shifting more aggressively towards simpler and occasionally away from better. There is a desire (and perhaps need) to appeal to the lowest common user rather than just aiming for a broader user base. They aren’t abandoning power users, as they offer workarounds, but the Mac App Store itself will be “safe and secure” to the point of insanity.

We often talk about the “iOSification” of the Mac operating system. Some argue that Apple’s next release is geared toward making OS X (the operating system for the Mac Pro, iMac and MacBook lines) more familiar to the average iOS user (the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch). This makes sense when you consider that Apple sold more iOS devices in a year than it sold Macs in 30 years, but one of the biggest benefits to owning a Mac (at least in this geek’s opinion) is the ability to have powerful and ubiquitous software throughout your system. I often complain that this is one of the biggest shortcomings of iOS (JUST LET ME USE TEXTEXPANDER IN THE MAIL APP ALREADY) and I don’t see how bringing the same restriction to OS X is better than finding an intelligent way to make useful software safe for the average user.

I know I’m not the average Mac user, but I’m far from the geekiest. While there will always be things that need to exist outside of the Mac App Store for the geeky amongst us, the exclusion of something as useful and harmless as TextExpander shows the flaws in the current execution of App Sandboxing. The idea of protecting users from harm makes sense; the execution of protecting users from conveniently installing and maintaining useful software makes none.

I’m all for making the Mac easier and safer to use, but isn’t there a way to do that without making it worse?

Update: There are some great additional thoughts on Sandboxing limitations from Federico Viticci over at MacStories and, much as I hate to admit it, some valid points from Gabe Weatherhead over at Macdrifter.

22 Responses to Why Apple Is Making The Mac Harder To Use (While Trying To Make It Easier)

  1. I think the success of the Mac on these broader levels is continent upon the friendly and easily-navigable interface of the Mac. 

    While some would argue that it’s essentially a PC for dummies, or computers for kids – I think that this is the way personal computing should have been done from this start. Things don’t have to be complicated in order to work.

    I think Apple is understanding that their straight forward approach is being accepted widely, and these new processes with the App store are simply safeguards (though annoying ones) to the everyday/occasional/new user. 

    • I hear you, but there comes a point where simplicity edges into stupidity. There’s making something simpler and making something simple. I worry this is a step towards the latter.

  2. “Apple doesn’t want things that change system behavior on the App Store.” What about Growl, which is currently in the App Store? It will be interesting to see if/how the sandboxing rules affect them.

    • Growl will certainly be an interesting one, especially as it currently stands to be the bridge between MAS apps and non-MAS apps in notification center. You have to imagine they’re looking for a way to shut that down.

  3. I totally agree. I ran into a problem a few weeks ago with OSX not letting me do some basic task (rename a file and make it hidden). It barked at me and wouldn’t let me do it. It’s those little things like that that piss me off about OSX. It’s beautiful and works well most of the time, but now and then it makes me want to wipe my SSD and install Linux. And I did that a couple months ago in anger at the stupification of OSX.

    It’s great for people like my parents who check their email, browse the web and do some “normal” computer tasks (word processing, photo importing, etc), but for people who want to actually use their computer, OSX is becoming very limited. Sure, it makes my mom more secure, but at what cost to me?

    I think Apple should branch OSX. Have one for developers and one for “normal” people. Because this is getting to the point where I’m frustrated almost daily by some little thing Apple doesn’t want me to do.

    At least they still let me vent on the Internet.

    • Imagine a world where they shut down our ability to complain on the internet… we might all actually go outside of something (we must stop them!). I think Gabe’s suggestion over at Macdrifter is an interesting one. Hopefully we see something like it where they allow for apps that are Gatekeeper compliant, but not sandboxed in the MAS, but that users have to explicitly agree to use them. Essentially, they wouldn’t be forking the OS, but the MAS itself. Was that it were, but I’m worried you’re right and that the goal is a Mac for the masses… If so, I better start learning Linux…

      • I’m hoping they do something like that. I love Apple products, and it’d be a shame if I had to abandon ship… I like the idea of a non-sandboxed version; hopefully that’s something they’ll implement.

    •  And people are pissed at MS for having so many varieties of Windows….hahahahaha…is all I can say. 

      If you get Starter, you get basic functionality, which most people will only EVER use.  Ultimate and you can do anything.

  4. this is bull. Apple is not making the Mac harder to use. The only ones complaining here are programmers that don’t understand what sandbox is and how to deal with it. There’s no limits being imposed, just different ways to do the same thing.

    • Fair enough and I’m not a programmer, so some of this is over my head. From what I understand (and from what you’re saying I’m guessing I’m wrong) apps like TextExpander that span all apps across your system will no longer be permitted in the MAS. Is this incorrect?

      • But even if it becomes unavailable for a while, how does that make the Mac harder to use ? Users can just find an alternative to TextExpander. I myself have no ned of it and find the Mac just as easy to use.

        • The ease of finding a solution to a specific problem in MAS was a major friction reliever. In my case, that is text expansion as it makes our customer service responses far easier. As you limit the solutions you can find there and the power of those solutions, they are making a Mac harder to use as you get above the novice/average user level. Have the left workaround, of course. Will those workarounds potentially limit the developer base? It’s possible.

          TextExpander is just one example, I think we’ve only begun to see the apps that will prove to be non-compliant.

  5. This is utter nonsense. Apple is making the Mac easier and more secure to use.

    Just because the producers of an app are too lazy or tight fisted to write it properly doesn’t make anything ‘harder’ for Mac users. The only other people with a problem are messers who want to fiddle with stuff 99% of people have no need to fiddle with. 

      • I can see there is a basis of complaint from some quarters, mainly programmers and a tiny group of configuration mad users. But not by users. This is the core of my criticism about your headline. 

        • I guess I could have gone with “Is apple making the Mac harder for me (while making it easier for others)” although it was already pretty wordy :)

          You really don’t think there is a difference between “configuration mad” and TextExpander users?

  6. […] Michael Schechter weighs in on today’s news that TextExpander 4 couldn’t be released through the Mac App Store due to Sandboxing restrictions: I know I’m not the average Mac user, but I’m far from the geekiest. While there will always be things that need to exist outside of the Mac App Store for the geeky amongst us, the exclusion of something as useful and harmless as TextExpander shows the flaws in the current execution of App Sandboxing. The idea of protecting users from harm makes sense; the execution of protecting users from conveniently installing and maintaining useful software makes none. […]

  7. […] While Mute My Mic offers a few essential settings for your microphone, the most useful for podcasters being the ability to mute and unmute a mic with the Option-F5 key. It’s not robust, but it gets the job done. When your mic is live, the menu bar icon is black, when muted it’s red, so you have a nice visual cue to that tells you if your mic is live. It’s only $1.99 and is available through both the Mac App Store or via a direct download. Considering all the recent changes with sandboxing, I’d strongly consider buying direct as this is exactly the kind of global app that is leaving the Mac App Store in lieu of recent Sandboxing restrictions. […]

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