Thursday, August 9, 2012

Where Apple OSX is Really Headed

Many pundits have opined where OSX is headed.  They are all wrong.

Here is my prediction: By 2018, Apple will stop supporting OSX for non-Apple app programmers, and require that all apps be purchased through their Appstore.  OSX will become like iOS in this respect, too, as it has in other respects.

Frankly, this will make sense for 99% of Apple's retail clientele.  It will prevent lots of malware and reduce support costs.  And it will make Apple money, because Appstore purchases earn Apple money.

Why wouldn't Apple focus on building certified Apple app programmers and abandon non-Apple-app programmers?  Maybe 1 in 100 buyers buy Apple hardware to program their computers for themselves, so the sale losses to programmers who would switch away to other hardware will be small. (Unfortunately, I am in the 1% minority.)  WIth enough of a retail base to reach, OSX and iOS app developers will stay and be certified.  To write a native OSX computer program will require a revocable developer id unlock code and take place in a trusted environment.  (The certified Apple developers will like some aspects of such an ecosystem, because it will cut down on free competition.  They won't like sharing revenues at the Appstore.)  But ultimately, it does not matter what software developers like.  When the Apple Mac base is large enough and the Appstore cut is bearable, they will stay.

Ultimately only two aspects will matter to Apple: making the retail clientele happy and increasing Apple's revenues.  And going the "certified developer only" route is a win-win for both.

My guess is that some non-certified programming will be allowed in interpreted sandboxed environments, at least for a while.  This will cover the needs of students learning how to program.  In this respect, it will be different from iOS, where all programming environments are outlawed. 

One alternative would be a locked OSX default mode that can be unlocked by end users.  of course, once software can unlock the computer mode, so can malware---and apple revenues will be lower, because developers could escape the Appstore.  This end-user switchable OSX will probably be an interim step.

I believe that this future direction of Apple is almost inevitable once Apple becomes a dominant power in high-end personal computer sales and developers can't escape.  The only thing that can stop it is a slowing of their momentum in PC sales, which could force them to take PC competition more seriously.  But if the Apple momentum continues, then if Apple will not go the lock-down route, they will be making a huge business mistake.

We nerds are all in trouble.

Hardware is in trouble.  And, this time, it's not even an attack by the copyright kingdoms.  Its just that there is nowhere to go.  Where can we go?  Sun is gone.  Windows is going towards trusted computing, so we will also soon no longer be able to use Windows hardware (esp. hardware from the big vendors, like Dell and HP, although all they do these days is try to ape Apple, and not very well).  There is no great hardware vendor for high-quality open software desktops.  (This is why we nerds also buy Mac hardware.)

Software is in trouble, too.  Ironically, it is exactly OSX that has pretty much killed linux on the desktop.  We have to preserve our expertise---linux on the desktop---tying the projects over until we (the nerds) will be forced to depart OSX.  We should never underestimate the future, but we may not have anywhere obvious to go.  

Richard Stallman is right to fear Apple more than Microsoft.  I do, too.

Update:  --- it's coming quickly.

PS: Here are some minor squawks about OSX: the file system could more robust.  There is no ability to lock a cpu core to a virtual machine. has been going backward IMHO after Snow Leopard; it is not storing its page view settings properly.  There is no package manager...well, this is what the appstore will become.  OSX feels slow relative to linux.