After going in depth with iOS 14 earlier this week, today we focus on macOS Big Sur. The biggest takeaway from my hands-on time with the follow up to macOS Catalina is that Apple’s latest OS is clearly being designed with the future in mind. Although it’s unmistakably Mac, Big Sur is a departure from previous versions of macOS in terms of aesthetics. Everything, from the dock, to the menu bar, to window chrome, icons, and even sounds have been updated. A good overview of the many, many changes in Big Sur. Interesting sidenote: with both Windows and macOS now heavily catering towards touch use, this leaves Linux – and most of the smaller platforms, like the Amiga or Haiku – as one of the last remaining places with graphical user interfaces designed 100% towards mouse input. Big buttons, lots spacing, lots of wasted space – it’s coming to your Mac.
Mac OS X Archive
Rosetta is a translation process that allows users to run apps that contain x86_64 instructions on Apple silicon. Rosetta is meant to ease the transition to Apple silicon, giving you time to create a universal binary for your app. It is not a substitute for creating a native version of your app. To the user, Rosetta is mostly transparent. If an executable contains only Intel instructions, macOS automatically launches Rosetta and begins the translation process. When translation finishes, the system launches the translated executable in place of the original. However, the translation process takes time, so users might perceive that translated apps launch or run more slowly at times. A short overview of Rosetta 2, the translation layer that allows 64bit x86 applications to run on the upcoming ARM-based Macs.
The era of macOS 10 is over, and we’re entering the next era of macOS’s life cycle. This is going to be a massive update, and aside from the transition to ARM, it can be summed up as “macOS: iOS Edition”: the entire graphical user interface has been redesigned to resemble iOS, including massive amounts of whitespace, touch-friendly design, and very white roundrect icons. The new operating system brings the biggest redesign since the introduction of macOS 10, according to Apple. Big Sur borrows a number of elements from Apple’s iOS, including a customizable Control Center, where you can change brightness and toggle Do Not Disturb, and a new notification center, which groups related notifications together. Both interfaces are translucent, like their iOS counterparts. A number of apps have received streamlined new redesigns, including Mail, Photos, Notes, and iWork. Apple has introduced a new search feature to Messages (which organizes results into links, photos, and matching terms), as well as inline replies for group chats, a new photo-selection interface, and Memoji stickers. There’s a new version of Maps for Mac that borrows features from the iOS app, including custom Guides, 360-degree location views, cycling and electric vehicle directions (which you can send directly to an iPhone), and indoor maps. Apple introduced a number of new Catalyst apps as well. I’m not entirely sure about the look, especially since it feels very much like a touch UI that won’t work and feel as well when using a mouse of a trackpad – it looks like a 1:1 copy of the iPad Pro’s iPadOS user interface, for better or worse. Still, judging a GUI by mere screenshots and short videos is a folly, so let’s reserve final judgment until we get to use it. That being said, if you want to try the new GUI now, you can just load up any GNOME-based distribution and apply any of the countless iOS-inspired themes found on Gnome-Look.org. An additional massively important feature is that the upcoming ARM-based Macs will be able to run iOS and iPadOS application unmodified, as-is, much like how Chrome OS can run Android applications. This further underlines how despite years of Apple and its advocates poo-pooing Windows for combining cursor and touch-based interfaces, Apple is now pretty much past any idea of combining the two, and has instead just opted to make everything touch-first, whether you use a mouse or not. Lastly, macOS 11 will come with Rosetta 2, which will allow x86 applications to run unmodified on ARM-based Macs. That’s definitely good news for early adopters, but performance will obviously be a concern with emulation technology such as this.
Building on its industry-leading A-series chips for iPhones and iPads, Apple wants Macs with its custom silicon to have the highest performance with lower power usage. Apple says the vast majority of Mac apps can be quickly updated to be “universal” with support for both Intel-based Macs and those with Apple’s custom silicon. Starting today, developers will be able to apply for a Mac mini with an A12Z chip inside to help prepare their apps for Apple’s custom silicon. The special Mac mini will be running the macOS Big Sur beta and the latest version of Xcode. The news everyone knew was coming. The transition will take roughly two years, and the first consumer device will become available later this year.
Apple will announce that it’s shifting from using Intel processors to its own ARM-based chips this month at WWDC 2020, Bloomberg reports. The developer conference is due to take place starting on June 22nd with an online-only format due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Bloomberg notes that the timing of the announcement could change due to the health crisis. Rumors of Apple switching to using its own ARM-based processors in its Macs have been around for years, but a recent report from Bloomberg claimed that the shift was imminent, and that the first Mac powered by an ARM-based processor would arrive in 2021. The company reportedly has at least three ARM-based Mac processors in development based on the next iPhone’s A14 chip as part of Apple’s “Kalamata” project. While I like ARM bringing the competition to x86, Apple is not the right company to get excited over. ARM in and of itself is already more fragmented and locked-in than x86, and Apple cranks this up a notch. A lot of people are excited over ARM Macs, but I have a feeling they may be in for a very rude awakening. No more Steam. No more Bootcamp. No more Linux or other alternative operating systems. Far more Electron apps and shoddy iOS ports (developers barely wanted to make native x86 Mac apps, even fewer will make ARM Mac apps). No Adobe applications for the coming years. iOS-like restrictions for ARM macOS. Rude awakening indeed.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.