Mac OS X Archive

macOS 10.15: slow by design

Apparently, Apple is making macOS Catalina phone home so much it’s making the operating system slow, laggy, and beachbally, as Allan Odgaard details. Apple has introduced notarization, setting aside the inconvenience this brings to us developers, it also results in a degraded user experience, as the first time a user runs a new executable, Apple delays execution while waiting for a reply from their server. This check for me takes close to a second. This is not just for files downloaded from the internet, nor is it only when you launch them via Finder, this is everything. So even if you write a one line shell script and run it in a terminal, you will get a delay! Aside from the obviously terrible design and privacy implications of your computer phoning home to Apple every time you execute something, this is also another case of Apple only designing for the absolutely optimal use-cases – i.e., people working and living in Cupertino – and that’s it. The less optimal your internet connection or the farther away you are, the worse your experience will be. Apple has a few file system locations that require user permission to access them, for example ~/Desktop, ~/Documents, and ~/Downloads. Surprisingly though, just obtaining the display name or icon for one of these folders will trigger Apple’s code to verify that the client is allowed to access the location. This is done by sending a message to the sandboxd process which sends a message to tccd which calls SecCodeCheckValidityWithErrors and seems to communicate with yet another process, but I can’t find which, and this takes around 150 ms per location. It may not seem like much, but this adds up, and can add more than half a second of delay when opening an application. Like with privileged folders, keychain items also require permission for applications to access them. But again, something is wrong. Specifically calling SecKeychainFindGenericPassword can cause noticeable delays, on a bad internet day I had this call stall for 3.3 seconds and this was with System Integrity Protection disabled! And on other delays in launching applications in general: This is the worst issue, sometimes, things will stall for 5-30 seconds. Mostly though it is when launching applications. Sampling the application during launch shows stalls in ImageLoaderMachO::loadCodeSignature, SLSMainConnectionID, and many references to Skylight and CGS in the stack trace. The current best way to “address” this issue is disabling System Integrity Protection and disconnecting from the internet (!), and especially that second one is of course entirely unreasonable. I wouldn’t touch macOS with a ten-foot pole even before Catalina – it always felt slow and sluggish to me, even on faster Macs, and Mac hardware is terrible value right now – but with all the general complaints about Catalina, and now this, it’s getting ever clearer I’m not missing out on anything by sticking to Linux. At least my computer isn’t calling home to Clement Lefebvre every time I run a tiny script.

Valve drops macOS support for SteamVR

Valve has announced it’s ending support for macOS for SteamVR. SteamVR has ended OSX support so our team can focus on Windows and Linux. We recommend that OSX users continue to opt into the SteamVR branches for access to legacy builds. Users can opt into a branch by right-clicking on SteamVR in Steam, and selecting Properties… -> Betas. Apple announced SteamVR coming to the Mac at WWDC in 2017, so support from Valve lasted for a mere three years. This shouldn’t come as a surprise though, since the macOS ecosystem simply isn’t geared towards gaming and VR in any way, shape, or form. Most Mac users have to settle for Intel integrated graphics, and even the Mac users with a dedicated video card have to settle for subpar and overpriced AMD cards, since Apple refuses to support NVIDIA. On top of that, Apple has deprecated OpenGL and wants developers to use their proprietary Metal API instead. In a world where most game developers use DirectX or OpenGL/Vulkan, that just doesn’t make a lot of sense. And let’s not forget that the writing is on the wall for macOS as a general purpose operating system anyway, since Apple will most likely use the move to ARM processors in Macs to further lock down macOS, making it more like iOS. While macOS might be more popular than Linux in absolute numbers, the cold and harsh truth is that the Linux userbase simply has a far larger group of skilled developers, programmers, and tinkerers willing to put the effort into making non-native games work on Linux and to improve support for things like VR devices. These are exactly the kind of people Apple seems to have a deep-rooted disdain for. Expect more of these kinds of announcements over the coming years, as game companies (and other developers) have to decide whether or not to support an isolated and locked down platform like macOS on ARM – a platform without first-party OpenGL or Vulkan support, with a steward actively pushing you to use a proprietary API that you can’t use anywhere else.

Apple aims to sell Macs with its own chips starting in 2021

The Cupertino, California-based technology giant is working on three of its own Mac processors, known as systems-on-a-chip, based on the A14 processor in the next iPhone. The first of these will be much faster than the processors in the iPhone and iPad, the people said. Apple is preparing to release at least one Mac with its own chip next year, according to the people. But the initiative to develop multiple chips, codenamed Kalamata, suggests the company will transition more of its Mac lineup away from current supplier Intel Corp. I wonder just how locked-down these ARM Macs will be. Will it be App Store-only? Can you change default applications on ARM macOS? Can you install a browser engine other than WebKit? Do you have access to the file system? Will it ship with a terminal? I’m not so sure macOS users should be excited about ARM Macs.

Deprecated kernel extensions and system extension alternatives

Just another heads up that kernel extensions on macOS will soon stop working. This has been known for a while, but you might not even know you’re using kernel extensions in the first place. System extensions on macOS Catalina (10.15) allow software like network extensions and endpoint security solutions to extend the functionality of macOS without requiring kernel-level access. At WWDC19, we announced the deprecation of kernel extensions as part of our ongoing effort to modernize the platform, improve security and reliability, and enable more user-friendly distribution methods. Kernel programming interfaces (KPIs) will be deprecated as alternatives become available, and future OS releases will no longer load kernel extensions that use deprecated KPIs by default. If you use macOS, run kextstat | grep -v com.apple to see how many third party kernel extensions you have running. Things like VirtualBox, controller support for Steam, DropBox, Little Snitch, and more all come with kernel extensions, so there’s definitely chances you might be running some without even realising it.

Is Catalina a good upgrade yet?

We’re now past Catalina’s midpoint: with four versions already released, there’s only three more to go before we prepare for the first release of 10.16. That’s a stark fact, that we’re now at the point where the more cautious should consider whether they’ll run 10.15. Unusually for macOS, there are many Mac users with Catalina-compatible Macs who are no more able to upgrade now than they were back in October. These include the many who still have to rely on 32-bit apps, and those whose Mac doesn’t start up from an SSD. There’s still a lot of trepidation about Catalina, even among the Apple faithful in popular podcasts like ATP.

Phoenix: a lightweight macOS window and app manager scriptable with JavaScript

A lightweight macOS window and app manager scriptable with JavaScript. You can also easily use languages which compile to JavaScript such as CoffeeScript. Phoenix aims for efficiency and a very small footprint. If you like the idea of scripting your own window or app management toolkit with JavaScript, Phoenix is probably going to give you the things you want. With Phoenix you can bind keyboard shortcuts and system events, and use these to interact with macOS. Pretty cool.

Undocumented Catalina file access change

It’s well known that if you drag a file from Finder and drop it into Terminal, the full path of the file will output in Terminal. The same behavior occurs with copy and paste too. This has always been a very convenient but innocuous operation… until macOS 10.15 Catalina. I’ve discovered that on Catalina, pasting a file from Finder not only outputs the file path in Terminal, it also invisibly and permanently grants Terminal access to the file, bypassing any macOS privacy protections! This is such a weird bug… Or feature?

Catalina 10.15.2 has changed Gatekeeper’s dialogs to confuse notarization status

If you’ve updated to macOS Catalina 10.15.2 and installed any notarized apps since, you might have noticed that something has gone missing. Do you remember that dialog shown by Gatekeeper when you first open a notarized app, telling you that “Apple checked it for malicious software and none was detected”? Well, that sentence has now vanished. Instead, that dialog now looks very similar to the pre-Catalina dialog for non-notarized apps. I had to read this post twice to fully comprehend what was going on, but once you get it – and most of you will get it without multiple reads because you’re not stupid like me – it’s an interesting look at how seemingly subtle changes in security dialogs – especially undocumented changes – can actually have very serious consequences if you take them at face-value.

macOS Catalina boot volume layout

When you upgrade to macOS 10.15 Catalina, your boot volume will effectively be split into two. Assuming it’s the standard internal storage, your existing boot volume will be renamed to Macintosh HD – Data, and a new read-only system volume created and given the name Macintosh HD. However, when your Mac starts up in Catalina, you won’t see the Data volume, as it’s hidden inside the System volume, in what Apple refers to as a Volume Group. I miss the olden days where disk layouts were simple and straightforward. Look at the partition layout of any recent operating system, and you’ll be greeted by several small partitions with specific functions, such as boot manager partitions, restore partitions, and so on. These partitions are hidden, and I’ve always been of the school that if you need to hide something, you probably designed it wrong. In any event, I understand why this is necessary, but that doesn’t make it any less hacky and messy.

Apple of 2019 is the Linux of 2000

After my blood pressure dropped to healthier levels I got the strangest feeling of déjà vu. This felt exactly like using Linux in the early 2000s. Things break at random for reasons you can’t understand and the only way to fix it is to find terminal commands from discussion forums, type them in and hope for the best. Then it hit me. This was not an isolated incidence. The parallels are everywhere. I certainly wouldn’t go that far, but there’s definitely a kernel of truth to the perception that macOS just doesn’t feel as polished and effortless as it once was, during the Leopard days.

macOS Catalina: the MacStories review

macOS Catalina has been reviewed, and taking over from John Siracusa’s legendary Mac OS X reviews at Ars Technica is MacStories. The Mac isn’t in crisis, but it isn’t healthy either. Waiting until the Mac is on life support isn’t viable. Instead, Apple has opted to reimagine the Mac in the context of today’s computing landscape before its survival is threatened. The solution is to tie macOS more closely to iOS and iPadOS, making it an integrated point on the continuum of Apple’s devices that respects the hardware differences of the platform but isn’t different simply for the sake of difference. Transitions are inherently messy, and so is Catalina in places. It’s a work in process that represents the first steps down a new path, not the destination itself. The destination isn’t clear yet, but Catalina’s purpose is: it’s a bridge, not an island. You know where to get Catalina, but it might be a good idea to wait a few point releases before diving in.

The alert hammer

Apple started adding user consent alerts way back in High Sierra. The first time an app would try to access your location, contacts, calendar, reminders or photos a system alert would prompt the user for consent. Mojave expanded these prompts to automation, camera and microphone. And now Catalina adds screen recording, keyboard input monitoring, access to folders such as Desktop, Documents and Downloads, user notifications and Safari downloads… These alerts are just another step on a long path Apple has been taking to protect user’s data. Previous steps include code signing, sandbox, gatekeeper, the “curated” Mac App Store and notarization. But security features are most useful when they’re invisible. All previous steps were mostly invisible. This last one… Not so much. There’s a lot of complaining going around in Apple circles regarding the latest Catalina betas and the excessive amount of permission alerts and associated user access problems. On his latest podcast, for instance, John Gruber detailed how it took him ages to figure out why the Terminal wouldn’t show him any directory listings, until he realised the Terminal needed disk access permission, but didn’t ask for it. This is, of course, all quite reminiscent of Windows Vista, and the goal here seems to be to turn macOS into iOS, with similarly harsh restrictions on what users can do on their computers.

Translating an ARM iOS app to Intel macOS using Bitcode

What is Bitcode? Well, bitcode with a small b is an architecture-specific intermediate representation used by LLVM, and capital-B Bitcode pertains to a set of features allowing you to embed this representation in your Mach-O binary and the mechanisms by which you can provide it to Apple in your App Store submissions. Of course, the specter of macOS on ARM has been in the public psyche for many years now, and many have pondered whether Bitcode will make this transition more straightforward. The commonly held belief is that Bitcode is not suited to massive architectural changes like moving between Intel and ARM. I was unconvinced, so I decided to test the theory! By Steven Troughton-Smith, so you know you’re going to learn more than you bargained for.

Here’s how to force your Mac to run only in 64-bit mode

Since macOS 10.15 will remove support for 32bit binaries, it might be time to start preparing for this as a user. Steven Troughton-Smith linked to this older article from last year: macOS High Sierra 10.13.4 gets us a step closer to ditching 32-bit mode for apps. In fact, you can force your Mac to run only in 64-bit mode if you aren’t afraid to pay a visit to the command line. This way, you can see if any applications you use are 32bit, and if you can live without them – if not, you can start looking for alternatives.

Apple releases iOS 12.2, macOS 10.14.4

Apple has released iOS 12.2 and macOS 10.14.4. Both are minor releases, but at least macOS 10.14.4 has some nifty changes for Safari: macOS Mojave 10.14.4 includes support for Safari AutoFill using Touch ID and it offers automatic dark mode themes in Safari. If you have Dark Mode enabled in Mojave, when you visit a website that has an option for a dark theme after installing the update, it will be activated automatically. Every one of you using iOS devices or PCs running macOS know exactly where to get the updates.

Bringing iOS apps to macOS using Marzipanify

At WWDC 2018 Apple gave us a ‘sneak peek’ at perhaps one of the most impactful developments on macOS since the transition to Mac OS X: UIKit apps running on the desktop. Today, I’m going to detail a special tool I built, called marzipanify, to get started with UIKit on the Mac early, and start the initial bringup of your iOS app on macOS. Amazing work by Steven Troughton-Smith.

Apple File System reference

Some more light reading, right in time for the weekend - the 147 pages long reference to APFS.

Apple File System is the default file format used on Apple platforms. Apple File System is the successor to HFS Plus, so some aspects of its design intentionally follow HFS Plus to enable data migration from HFS Plus to Apple File System. Other aspects of its design address limitations with HFS Plus and enable features such as cloning files, snapshots, encryption, and sharing free space between volumes. Most apps interact with the file system using high-level interfaces provided by Foundation, which means most developers don't need to read this document. This document is for developers of software that interacts with the file system directly, without using any frameworks or the operating system - for example, a disk recovery utility or an implementation of Apple File System on another platform. The on-disk data structures described in this document make up the file system; software that interacts with them defines corresponding in-memory data structures.

This document could prove quite useful to developers who might wish to add APFS compatibility to for instance Linux.

Mojave’s security protections face usability challenges

Back in 2016, security researcher and developer Jonathan Zdziarski released a tool called Little Flocker that could protect Macs at the file level. Much as a firewall analyzes and blocks network traffic, Little Flocker locked down the file system and allowed only authorized applications access to only approved files.

Little Flocker was too complex to manage for average users, but it quickly became a darling among Mac security experts.

When Zdziarski took a job at Apple in 2017, he sold Little Flocker to the security vendor F-Secure, which released it as Xfence. Zdziarski's job change started the clock ticking on when we might see similar capabilities built into macOS. With macOS 10.14 Mojave, Apple has added file-level protections, plus some additional security enhancements. And you know what? Mojave is running into the same usability issues that users of Little Flocker endured.

I had never heard of this functionality. It seems like one of those things particularly Apple ought to be good at to integrate in a user-friendly manner.

Aqua screenshot library

While sometimes it can be hard to see from single release to single release, Apple has steadily been refining the Aqua user interface since first introducing it.

Of course, there have been highs and lows. Pin stripes and Brushed Metal and Linen and Rich Corinthian Leather. Transparency and Vibrancy. At times, Apple had led the way into new design trends, and at other times, they have fallen behind the rest of the industry.

Over 1500 screenshots of every Mac OS X/macOS release. A fantastic archive to browse through while enjoying a nice cup of coffee or tea.