Journey to the Center of the Mac App Store

Apple takes control?

But the Rixstep report from last April held another warning: That Apple will eventually insist that all software for Mac OS X 10.7 be approved and signed by Apple.

"10.7 will have kernel support for ('insistence on') binaries signed with Apple's root certificate. No software will be able to run on Mac OS X 10.7 without being approved and signed by Apple, Inc," Rixstep warned.

Support for signed binaries isn't new. It has existed within Mac OS X since the introduction of v.10.5. In use you might have seen an application request Keychain access following an upgrade; if you have then that piece of software is not using a signed binary. All your other applications which don't request such access are.

As Ars Technica explains:

"A signed application, on the other hand, can mathematically prove that it is indeed a new version of the same application from the same vendor that you expressed trust for in the past. The result is an end to dialog boxes asking you to confirm a choice whose safety you have no reasonable way to verify."

I approached Rixstep to ask if they knew any more. Conceding that online software distribution saves paper and trees, they warned that the issue isn't distribution, but control.

"Once Apple activate their IP*-type kernel, then no one can put anything on their computers Apple won't approve of. Just look at the ridiculous rules for their App Store now," they warned, but declined further comment.

A January 2010 note from Google developer Mark Pilgrim warns that any move to exercise too much control over software sales will eventually harm developers and consumers.

"Apple has declared war on the tinkerers of the world," he wrote. "With every software update, the previous generation of 'jailbreaks' stop working, and people have to find new ways to break into their own computers. There won't ever be a MacsBug for the iPad. There won't be a ResEdit, or a Copy ][+ sector editor, or an iPad Peeks & Pokes Chart. And that's a real loss. Maybe not to you, but to somebody who doesn't even know it yet."

All this could be much ado about nothing, but perhaps we're only seeing part of the picture as we swim 20,000 leagues underneath a sea of Mac rumor. After all, Apple has already promised other ways of acquiring Mac software will exist.

"The Mac App Store will be the best place to discover Apps," Jobs said, announcing the store. "It won't be the only place, but we think it will be the best."

But will Apple one day flip a switch and make the best place the only place for Mac software sales? Rixstep thinks it might, and has been right before. What do you think? Let me know in comments below. I'd also very much like to invite you to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when I post new reports here first on Computerworld. (And I'll tip you off with breaking Apple news, too).

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