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.