21 October 2010

Did the Mac just die?

Months ago, I outlined what I considered a nightmare scenario: that Apple would gradually lock down OS X to be like iOS, with Apple exercising absolute control over what software you were allowed to run, and requiring that software be developed in Objective-C, like on the iPhone and iPad.

Yesterday, it started to happen. Apple announced the App Store for the Mac. Just as with the iPhone, there’s now an annual fee to be a Mac developer for the store, and a long list of things your software is not allowed to do. For example, you’re not allowed to ship software that looks too similar to Apple’s software, or duplicates its functionality. Want to write a Finder replacement or iTunes alternative, or perhaps a web browser? Bad luck, Apple may prevent your software from being shipped via the App Store.

You’re also not allowed to use third party installers. You’re not allowed emulators. You’re not allowed copy protection, you’re not allowed to present a license screen, you’re not allowed to leave shortcuts on the desktop, you’re not allowed to mention that your app is available for Windows or syncs with Android, you’re not allowed to do software rental.

“We never said that 2010 wouldn’t be like 1984.”

Of course, Steve Jobs was quick to point out that there are still going to be alternatives to the App Store for distributing your software.

For now.

But a chance comment on Macintouch made me think: Lion is the last big cat. Could OS X Lion also be the last planned unlocked OS X? Steve Jobs talked about the “virtuous circle” of iOS feeding back into the Mac–could the Macs of 2012 ship with iOS, with a proper unlocked OS X reserved for developers, and priced to match?

I was trying to convince myself that I was reading too much into it all, and then the next clue surfaced today: Apple deprecated the JVM. They are no longer interested in assisting users in running Java applications on their Macs, and warn that there may be no JVM in OS X Lion, let alone a JDK. If you’re a Java developer using a Mac, it’s time to start migrating, unless you want to count on Oracle releasing a JDK for the Mac before Lion ships. And that’s unlikely, because it would be an immense amount of work for them.

In addition, the App Store rules say no Java apps are allowed. The new MacBook Air ships with no Flash plugin, and Safari will no longer prompt you to install it if you visit a page that uses Flash. Other Macs will be following suit.

So here we go. The Mac is turning into a big iPad. Thanks, all you lemmings who bought crippled iPhones and iPads, you’ve convinced Apple that it can get away with crippling the Mac as well. So after 23 years of using Apple computers, my current Mac looks like it could be my last. I’m not the only person seeing lockdown in the Mac’s future either.

I’m going to hold out for a little longer and see what happens. So far OS X Lion doesn’t offer anything I want, but maybe there will be something worthwhile announced before it ships. Maybe Mac users or developers won’t accept the App Store. Maybe.

But I’m suddenly very wary of investing in any new Mac software, when I could be switching platform in a year. And I’m looking at the state of video editing on Linux, because I really don’t want to go anywhere near Windows.

Update: It’s reported that Steve Jobs has dismissed the idea of a Mac app store with mandatory Apple approval. Which is great, but I’m sure he can change his mind, and it doesn’t stop OS X being removed from low-end machines and replaced with iOS as I’ve suggested.

© mathew 2017