Is Gatekeeper the writing on the wall?

I just updated one of my Macs to Mountain Lion so that I have a test machine for my software. As expected none of my software worked out of the box. When I tried opening PDF OCR X, it came up with a message saying that the application was damaged and should be dragged to the trash.

It turned out that the problem was that I hadn’t signed the application with my Apple Developer Key, and Mountain Lion is set up by default to disallow applications from running if they aren’t signed by a valid developer key (that you can only get with a paid membership to the Mac Developer program). There are workarounds (described in this support article), but this still happened to be a road block for a lot of people.

Luckily I have a Mac Developer membership and a key. It only took me an afternoon to sit down and figure out how to sign all of my code and upload an updated version. However this looks like it may be writing on the wall. In the security settings pertaining to this “Gatekeeper” feature, there are 3 options:

  1. Allow Only Applications downloaded from the Mac App Store
  2. Allow Only applications by identified developers (i.e. they pay to be in the developer program)
  3. Allow all programs

The default is #2 (allow only identified programs). If you try to select #3 it pops up with a warning message to discourage you from this choosing this option.

So probably most people will continue to operate with setting #2. Is this just the beginning though? Can we look forward to future releases of OS X having a default of #1 – or worse, not having an option at all? My experience with developing Mac software has been one of keeping up with the moving goal posts.

When I first started developing Mac Apps all you had to do was put your app on the Apple download site (it was free) and people would find you. Then apple came out with the App store and placed many restrictions on the applications – and of course took their 30% cut. I chose not to add my applications to the App store because of the large cut that apple took – and because it would have been a significant amount of work to make them comply with the app store guide lines (I use Java). When Java finally reached the point where it could be bundled into an app (and thus be accepted into the App store), I contemplated adding my application. but alas my choice was taken away as the goal posts moved again: Sandboxing.

Now applications must comply with Apple’s new sandboxing model which basically locks applications inside a sealed box. It cannot interact with the rest of the file system. Since my application is a utility that is meant to allow users to batch convert large numbers of files, it simply cannot be done using the Sandbox model.

Users should be concerned too. If they have purchased an application from the App store and then accidentally click “Update” to update to the latest version, they may have features taken away, never to be returned. This happened on my iPad when I accidentally updated my Kindle App. The old version contained a button to “buy books” that took me directly to the kindle store. However, apple since placed a regulation saying that Kindle couldn’t link to their website directly from the app (because Apple wanted a piece of all sales), so the link had to disappear.

In order to markets to function, consumers must have confidence in the market. Apple has proven time and time again that it will move the goal posts as far as it can get away with – so there can be no confidence that purchases I make today from a 3rd party developer in the Mac App store will not be taken away from me at a later date.

I, personally, will not be purchasing any software from the Mac App Store for this reason. I will purchase directly from the vendor if that is possible. If it is not possible, I will find an alternative. (Of course there are some things for which there is no alternative – e.g. Apple Software).

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