More on Mac OS X
Apple appears hellbent on waging war on its traditional customer base. If it succeeds, it may end up transforming its Mac platform into a glorified games console on which new-style customers can play non-violent games, edit home movies and run a selection of sanitized Apple-approved apps.
Sounds far-fetched? Not when you consider the implications of last week's seemingly innocuous announcement in the release notes for Java for Mac OS X 10.6 Update 3:
"As of the release of Java for Mac OS X 10.6 Update 3, the Java runtime ported by Apple and that ships with Mac OS X is deprecated. Developers should not rely on the Apple-supplied Java runtime being present in future versions of Mac OS X."
That's just great isn't it? With no warning at all, Java is deprecated. It may or may not be in future versions of OS X, and that uncertainty makes it too hot to handle. Developers and users must go with the assumption that it will not be around much longer. Will anything else be available to replace it fully? At the moment that's unknown, but the answer is probably not.
That's a kick in the teeth for the admittedly small number of enterprises around the world that support users running OS X. Java has been a rather efficient way of enabling Mac users in the enterprise environment to run the same bespoke corporate applications also used by colleagues running Windows and possibly Linux. By summarily executing its Java, Apple is also sentencing these Java apps to death, as far as running them on a Mac is concerned. If you happen to run a business and rely on Mac users being able to access your internal Java apps, then that's just too bad -- don't expect any sympathy from Apple. The company is repaying your loyalty to its platform by cocking you a snook and walking off laughing.
If you're a developer that relies on having access to Java and you happen to like the Mac platform, then don't expect your treatment at the hands of Apple to be any better. Apple is making it quite clear that it's not the slightest bit interested in repaying your investment in it.
It's only fair to point out, however, that developers and corporate users are a tiny portion of Apple's small user base. But the prospects for most of its other customers are look no less bleak. That's because the company has also announced its plans for an iPhone-style Mac App Store for its line of OS X computers. This is seriously bad news, and here's why.
Although the Mac has always kept itself away from the personal computing mainstream, it is and has always been a general-purpose computer capable of running arbitrary programs of instructions. Now, while it is not yet Apple's intention to restrict its computers' ability so that they can run programs downloaded only from this Mac App Store (in the way that iPhones and iPads can run programs downloaded only from its iOS App Store), it's certainly a step toward that. Apple's whole business model is now aimed at the type of consumer who likes a controlled, managed experience. Thus, many new users will not dare run programs that are not officially sanctioned and delivered through the reassuring Mac App Store. And since Apple has made it clear that it will allow only certain types of apps to be made available in the Mac App Store, machines running OS X will in effect no longer be general-purpose computers that can run any arbitrary program -- they will run only the subset of that which Apple approves.
It seems inevitable that eventually Apple will lock down the OS altogether, a la iOS, making the Mac App Store the only source of software for its platform. That will make Apple heaps of money, but it will be scant solace to its erstwhile corporate, developer and consumer customers.
Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.