Well, this is a surprise. Several websites have a preview up of Apple’s next Mac OS X release – it’s called Mountain Lion, and continues the trend of bringing over functionality from iOS to Mac OS X. Lots of cool stuff in here we’ve all seen before on iPhones and iPads, including one very, very controversial feature: Gatekeeper. Starting with Mac OS X 10.8, Apple’s desktop operating system will be restricted to Mac App Store and Apple-signed applications by default (with an opt-out switch), following in Windows 8’s footsteps.
Several large websites, such as Engadget and The Verge, have published previews of Apple’s next big Mac OS X release. Mountain Lion brings yet another load of iOS features to desktops and laptops, in the continuing drive to unify Mac OS X and iOS. Let’s start with the most controversial feature.
Thou shalt not covet thy “own” hardware
When Apple first unveiled the Mac App Store, many – including myself – were concerned what it would mean for the future of the general purpose computer. It felt like a first step towards losing control and ownership over our own computers, a dreaded future where everything we do on our machines is curated, tracked, and monitored by companies who want to squeeze ever more money from us, and governments who want to control us.
As time went on, and we learned more about the Mac App Store, it became clear what future Apple was working towards. When Apple announced that it was going to mandate sandboxing by March 2012, it became 100% clear what Mac OS X’s future looked like.
“At this point in time, you can still easily install applications outside of the Mac App Store, but the fear (and, let’s face it, the expectation) is that Apple will one day make this harder – only to make it impossible a little later,” I wrote, “I’m pretty sure Mac OS X will get a switch first – off by default – to only allow App Store applications. In the release after that, the switch will be on by default. One release later still, and the switch is relegated to some obscure command line command.”
When Microsoft announced plans to move in the same direction, the picture was complete. We’re at step two now: Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion can only run Mac App Store or Apple-signed applications by default. There is a master switch to switch between App Store-only, App Store+signed, and unrestricted (the current behaviour). In addition, you can force-install an application even if it violates the master switch.
However, this is all temporary, something to smooth us over. In Mac OS X 10.9, the master switch and force-install will be ever harder to find or relegated to CLI commands – after which it is removed completely. Both Windows and Mac OS X will move towards a fully curated environment, in a nice, step-by-step manner to ease us into the idea of no longer having ownership of our machines.
As Lorelai Gilmore explains about how her dog is okay with being on a leash as long as the dog doesn’t actually see the leash being put on him: “He’s totally fine having his personal freedom slowly stripped away, as long as he’s completely unaware that it’s happening. Just like a true American.”
The iOS-ification continues
For the rest, the iOS-ification of Mac OS X continues. Notification Center will make its way to the desktop, collecting notification in one location so you’ll no longer need to install Growl. It looks identical to iOS. AirPlay mirroring is also coming to the Mac, allowing you to display content from your Mac on your TV through an Apple TV (and perhaps, in the future, an iTV?).
Two other staples from iOS – Game Center and iCloud – will also make their way to the desktop. iCloud is, of course, already integrated into Lion, but this integration will only become stronger. Game Center is identical to the iOS version, and enables cross-platform gaming. Especially in combination with AirPlay, this is pretty cool.
Calendar, Notes and Reminders all get the iOS makeover, including those utterly horrible My First Operating System-esque skeuomorphic graphical user interfaces. iChat has been renamed to Messages, and includes iMessage support. Twitter integration is coming to Mac OS X, too.
This is just a selection, and other than Gatekeeper, it looks like a pretty decent and welcome update. It will be released over the summer through the Mac App Store. Apple has stated it’s going to switch to yearly releases for Mac OS X, and Software Update will vanish in favour of Mac App Store updating.
In the end though, it doesn’t really matter how geeks like us feel about the war on general purpose computing. We’ll always have Linux and the BSDs, and Windows 7 surely isn’t going anywhere soon either. We have the options and the knowledge to resist these developments.
Regular users, however, do not. We’re allowing an entire generation to be raised with the idea that you do not own software, that you do not own hardware, that you are not allowed to tinker with the magic smiles machine. This is going to come back to bite us in the ass in the future, when we’re going to be faced with a shortage of low-level, hardcore programmers.
And all along the way, people are cheering this on. Just like a true American*.
* I want to clarify that I’m only using the term “American” to stick with the original quote. The fact of the matter is, however, that you can replace “American” with “Dutchman” or “Frenchman” or “Englishman”, and it would be just as accurate.