Will Apple's success kill the Mac as we know it?

Summary:With Apple this week announcing its best quarter ever for Mac sales (5.2 million units) and tens of thousands of Apple fans gathering for the weekend's annual Macworld Expo in San Francisco, surely this moment must be one of the greatest for Mac users in the platform's 28 year history. But many longtime professional users of the Mac are worried — very worried — by the smoke signals coming out of Cupertino. They wonder whether Apple will make a computing solution for the rest of us or for all of us.

With Apple this week announcing its best quarter ever for Mac sales (5.2 million units) and tens of thousands of Apple fans gathering for the weekend's annual Macworld Expo in San Francisco, surely this moment must be one of the greatest for Mac users in the platform's 28 year history. But many longtime professional users of the Mac are worried — very worried — by the smoke signals coming out of Cupertino. They wonder whether Apple will make a computing solution for the rest of us or for all of us.

I've spoken to a number of Mac developers and longtime professional Mac users in the past half a year that see continuing signs of a Mac apocalypse, just as sales of Macs keep climbing. It's not about the platform, after all, there were more Macs sold in this quarter that once were sold in a year. What worries them is Apple's commitment to the technology that supports its creative professional market.

Here are a few of the worrying signs:

App Sandbox. As of this March, all apps submitted for the popular Mac App Store must support Apple's Sandboxing requirements. This access control technology is designed to improve security and enforced at the kernel level: apps are limited in their access to outside system resources and user data.

Now, this only applies to software that comes from the Mac App Store and everyone can just load a plug-in or whatever software they want, right? Well, that is exactly the worry. What if Apple tells developers that all apps must go through the store and users can't load software they want onto their Macs. Or perhaps Apple won't support systems with non-approved software. We don't know, it's a worry. Support for AppleScript Scripting. One of the technologies often used in professional content workflows is scripting, which lets customers pass data between applications from various vendors and the Finder. Most applications and certainly applications aimed at pro content creation workflows, have long supported these AppleScript additions. This events technology lets customers of Mac applications leverage products from other, small developers that may provide a unique tool to accomplish a specific job.

But will Apple continue to support AppleScript? We don't know. The Sandboxing requirement appears to be in conflict with it.

Andy Ihnatko at Macworld wrote about this:

Do I fret needlessly? You tell me. Recently I had an idea for a tool that would make my life much easier and it required some scripting of the Preview app. In all my years of avid scripting, I’ve never done anything with that app before and so it came as a surprise when I tried to open its dictionary with the AppleScript editor and I discovered that it had none.

Horrors! Apple touted Preview as a shining example of a super-sandboxed Lion app. Was this a sign that sandboxed apps can’t and shouldn’t be scripted?

Nope. I searched the boards of various scripting sites and was reminded why I’d never tried to script Preview before: because it’s unscriptable. It doesn’t support even the AppleScript equivalent of tourist-level French, and it never has.

Preview is one of OS X’s core utilities! It’s well-represented in Automator, but why on Earth wouldn’t Apple’s own utility for viewing, modifying, and converting images and PDFs be a superstar of scriptable apps?!?

Another worry for professional content workflows.

The Final Cut Pro X experience. Apple last spring said it would totally revamp its Final Cut Pro post production editing software and this summer released a totally rewritten product, Final Cut Pro X.  The new software is amazing and comes with an amazing new, lower price: $299.99. So, it's the professional video editing software for the rest of us.

However, the new version doesn't do things in the same way as Final Cut Pro 7. People have workflows with the older software and the new version doesn't support those workflows.  And some video editors say that the update leaves out a number of important features.

I'm not saying who's right or wrong here, but Apple appears comfortable supporting more customers and abandoning customers with existing workflows.

It's a worry.

The Mac/iOS Merger. Some worry over the changes made in Mac OS X Lion that resemble iOS. I'm not talking about the addition of multi-finger gestures for input, which is useful for everyone that can use 1, 2 and 3 fingers reliably. Rather, I'm talking about the iOSification of the Mac OS.

Take for example, the window styles of Lion's Address Book and iCal applications. The window elements are similar to an iPad's apps, the buttons aren't standard Mac buttons and the interface can't be customized. I don't see that there's much usability gained with this interface change, such as a stitched leather emulation. Mac window elements used to be standardized and that standardization meant something to users, folks who supported Mac users, and developers.

The Ars Techica review of Lion discusses these apps in detail and deconstructs many of their problems.

The trouble is, the new iCal looks so much like a familiar physical object that it's easy to start expecting it to behave like one as well. For example, iCal tries very hard to sell the tear-off paper calendar illusion, with the stitched binding, the tiny remains of already-removed sheets, and even a page curl animation when advancing through the months. But can you grab the corner of a page with your mouse and tear it off? Nope, you have to use the arrow buttons or a keyboard command, just like in the previous version of iCal. Can you scribble in the margins? Can you cross off days with a pen? Can you riffle through the pages? No, no, and no.

Not to sugarcoat the experience, I find these apps useless, they've been dumbed-down way too far. I use FileMaker's Bento as a front end to Address Book and a similar way, I use BusyMac's BusyCal as a front end to iCal. Okay, some readers might say that Apple is providing a third-party opportunity to its developers. But it's a worrisome trend.

There is a rumor floating around the developer community that Apple wanted more iOS integration in Lion. The thinking in Cupertino they say is to have one single OS that will run on handheld, tablet and portable/desktop. One IDE and one OS. This would be a disaster.

What users want are OSes and applications that can express the best performance on their respective hardware. What works on one computing platform may not work as well on another larger or smaller one, or one with more expansion or network connections or power. Users also want flexibility in the OS and apps to have different ways to do things, something that the Mac user interface has previously prided itself on.

But there is little flexibility in iOS than there is on a Mac.

It is natural for a small tablet like the iPad to have a modal interface with everything packed into the app and screen rather than a layered multi-windowed environment like the Mac OS. Power users can take advantage of multiple screens, or just one big screen, to place various pieces of content, files and other resources. It lets users eyeball the elements.

However, the iPad's single screen interface is finding its way into Lion and Mac apps. Now, the app is supposed to keep everything in its modal window, which wants to encompass the entire screen. Items on the desktop, the windows of other apps, moveable palettes with tools are seen as distractions.

This change is not an advance. Having the Lord of the Rings approach — OS to bind them all — would be a wrong path for developers and Mac users.

There are more worries, such as support for Mac OS X Server, Xgrid and more. We will see what holds in the year ahead for them.

Apple's success is thrilling to a longtime Mac user. We can only hope that the company will remember it was the loyal base of Mac customers, many in professional content creation fields, who sustained the Mac during the darker, leaner days in the 1990s and early part of this decade. Not everyone is a consumer market or enterprise customer.

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Operating Systems

About

David Morgenstern has covered the Mac market and other technology segments for 20 years. In the recent past, he founded Ziff-Davis' Storage Supersite, served as news editor for Ziff Davis Internet and held several executive editorial positions at eWEEK. In the 1990s, David was editor of Ziff Davis' award-winning MacWEEK news publication a... Full Bio

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