Apple: Open-source pedigree will protect Tiger

The Mac OS X update will be spared the security woes that have hit Microsoft because it's based on Unix, executives say.
Written by Jo Best, Contributor and  Staff , Contributor
Apple Computer is banking on the open-source heritage of its operating system to spare Tiger, the fifth version of the software, from the security woes that have dogged Microsoft.

The operating system update, due to debut in the first half of 2005, is based on the Unix platform, and Apple executives reckon the open-source nature of the product means it's inherently more secure than certain proprietary offerings.

Bertrand Serlet, senior vice president of software at Apple, said Wednesday that having a greater number of people keeping an eye on source code leads to better software security. "A lot of security problems derive from the core," he said. With open-source code, "thousands of people look at the critical portions of source code and...check those portions are right. It's a major advantage to have open-source code."

It's yet to be seen whether Tiger will be the target of malware merchants. The Mac OS has had its flaws in the past, but has not seen the number of security scares experienced by rival operating systems such as Microsoft's Windows. The MSBlast worm attack last year was a factor in Microsoft's development of its SP2 security update, and the company's software also took hits from the Slammer, Code Red and Nimda worms.

Early versions of the upcoming operating system are already doing the rounds. Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple handed out one version at its developer conference in June so that developers could get a "head start in building apps," Ken Bereskin, senior director of product marketing for Mac OS X, said.

Although Bereskin called the developers' version "a solid copy" of Tiger, there's still a lot of work to be done on the software, Serlet said. For instance, the company has yet to finalize the arrangement of standard "widgets"--the clock, notepad, dictionary and other favorite accessories that a user can click down over the desktop in a semi-transparent layer.

Nevertheless, Apple executives are "very confident," Bereskin said, that they won't have the same deadline-meeting grief as Microsoft. Constant delays have plagued the prospective shipping date of Longhorn, the update to the Windows operating system, and Microsoft developers were recently moved from working on Longhorn to the XP SP2 security update, putting the delivery date back even further.

The Mac maker hasn't made it a secret that it thinks Microsoft has been borrowing ideas from Apple's previous operating systems. When Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled Tiger in late June, the conference building was emblazoned with posters bearing the legend: "Redmond, start your photocopiers."

Regarding Microsoft, Bereskin said: "It's good to see they're studying us closely." When asked whether Apple expects to see MS Widget in Longhorn, Bereskin answered: "We innovate in user features and we get copied a lot."

The Spotlight search feature and some other 150-odd additions that will appear in Tiger were shown off Tuesday at Apple Expo in Paris by Phil Schiller, corporate vice president of marketing.

"Microsoft's date (for shipping Longhorn) seems to keep changing--we just want to say how far ahead of Microsoft we are…we're years ahead of Longhorn," Schiller said.

Spotlight is Apple's big move in the race to get a search tool on the desktop--"the next big revolution in commercial operating systems," Schiller said. Apple's search software works across applications and will sift through both content and metadata, even matching search terms to corresponding text in PDFs. The tool started life as a feature in the iTunes music store--the little magnifying glass that appears in the top right-hand corner of the screen--but Apple has ramped up its capabilities for Tiger.

But Apple executives admitted at the Expo on Tuesday that even they can't escape the Microsoft orbit. "We have to fit into a Windows world--they're out there and they're all around us," Schiller said.

Jo Best of Silicon.com reported from London.

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