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The Failure of Apple

They were assumed to be leading the open source initiative against Redmond. We were fooled.


Many people of late have been jumping the Windows ship. Some swim over to safety in FOSS; others, thinking they're getting the same thing from Cupertino, choose OS X. They choose it for out of the box simplicity and the rumour that Apple are both FOSS and incredibly secure. Neither of those assumptions are true. It's time for the switchers to evaluate whether they'll have to switch again.

Gloss Isn't FOSS

Dave Thomas of the FBI once quipped that he and his colleagues prefer OS X if they can budget it; odds are that Dave Thomas has now changed tack. What with the revelations of late it is improbable that any security conscious user can choose Apple's OS X. It's not that Unix is insecure, for it is not: it's that OS X is not Unix and Apple are not FOSS. All the lickable doodads in the world don't make up for an irresponsible security policy.

Hotel Cupertino

Buying an Apple computer doesn't just make you the owner of an Apple computer - it also makes you a member of the 'Mac community'. It's something like having a bunk bed in the Hotel California.

You're programmed to receive.

TN2034

Months before this site was created, back when The Register were creating a storm for the sister site's software, Apple released a technical note outlining how development was to proceed for the new OS X platform. This was way before Jaguar 10.2 - this was way back on 26 November 2001.

The note was innocuous in itself and only bespoke common sense logic and a look to the future as networking and interoperability - and perhaps even open standards - became more important.

Avoid using resource forks

Mac OS X is intended to be an excellent Web citizen, a player in a networked world where often only 'flat files' are recognized. It must provide access to file systems and network protocols such as WebDAV, NFS, and SMB.

Toward this end, the resource forks of HFS and HFS+ files should not contain resources or any other critical data. Carbon applications should put their resource data in the data fork of separate files (such as .rsrc files). This strategy also makes applications easier to internationalize.

Use file extensions

If your application creates documents, those documents should be saved under the filename extensions claimed by the application in its Info.plist. Your application may use type and creator codes as an additional means of document typing, but extensions are essential because they are more durable. As with resource-fork data, type and creator codes (which are stored in the Finder Info fork) can be stripped off as a file travels between different file systems. Unless a user deliberately removes them, file extensions are left intact. More information here: http://developer.apple.com/techpubs/macosx/ReleaseNotes/FileExtensionGuidelines.html

Those two simple paragraphs caused a storm - so much bad blood that Apple withdrew the note, vaguely promising to revise it to remove the 'offending and inflammatory' language. Yet scrutinising the note is not likely to reveal anything even remotely offending or inflammatory.

In the lead for this heroic fight against Apple went web designer John Siracusa, Ars Technica's first and basically only journalist on the Apple side, a person who stated he finds Unix and its command line 'fascinating but perverse'. Siracusa's never used another computer. He went from formula bottle right to the beige box. He still lives in that world - and evidently so do lots of other people, judging by how many maniacs he could get to support his cause.

Siracusa organised a petition online. He got nearly 10,000 'signatures'. Apple withdrew the note. No official policy change was ever noted but the note was never replaced.

Another petition was organised against the first petition and garnered some heavy industry names. And many of the comments posted are comical. But as Bertrand Russell noted, the idiots of the world forge forward and the truly wise show more discretion.

Whatever: most of the people signing Siracusa's list wouldn't get a clue if it slapped them in the face, whereas most of the people signing the anti-petition petition work with these issues in a professional capacity every day.

Metadata sucks balls.
 - Steve Gehrman

The trouble metadata causes is far worse for the user than anything it solves.
 - Don Yacktman, author of 'Cocoa Programming', the programming bible for OS X

Please, please, let's just kill T&C and move to mime types and application mappings modifiable on a per file, per-user basis. I want forked files to die a quick death.

HFS resource forks are an utter horror that should be avoided at all costs. They massively complicate network communication of network files. Macintosh files requiring resource forks need to be encoded to be stored on web sites and other non-Appletalk networks. They are a headache for developers as well, as they require additional unnecessary programming.

Finally, somebody with a clue steps up.

The anti-petition petitioners were eloquent - and of course they were right. But Apple had been moved and forced to change course. The intervening years see Apple moving further away from open standards and the original NeXTSTEP vision, not back to it.

Moving away from open standards means you the user are ultimately caught in a 'lock-in' - you'll be made dependent on a platform you can no longer opt out of. It's like Bill Gates' heroin economics on a small scale.

And 'lock-in' is the number two reason business will never choose Apple. And without massive spread in the business world, the platform will never proliferate.

FOSS Means Fixes Today, Gloss Means No Fixes At All

Back when Siracusa organised his shameless protest Apple's OS X was already wide open to exploitation not even Windows has ever been. Three gaping holes left in the on-disk architecture of Apple's supposed 'Unix' remained until April 2005.

Apple knew of these holes years earlier but dismissed all security alerts. Things were working 'as designed' and the security tickets were officially closed.

Apple continued to hype their 'rock solid foundation of Unix' when OS X was increasingly anything but. FOSS would have plugged the security holes in hours, not years; even Microsoft eventually get around to fixing things; Apple studiously ignored them all, demonstrating their reliance not on any rock solid foundation but on the tenuous fact that they were a niche player and not of any interest for hackers, professional or otherwise.

Apple introduced fixes in April 2005 with Tiger 10.4 but did so in such a silent and unobtrusive way that users of earlier versions of OS X were not aware of the risks they were running.

To this day Apple have but a single mention online of the architectural changes - and even there don't dare spell out what the issue is really about. Users are kept in the dark - and are wide open to attack and harm, even to this day.

Implementing the security fix for all three holes as outlined at this site would have been a trivial matter for any of the ten point releases of Panther 10.3 - or for any of the point releases for Jaguar 10.2 for that matter. Yet Apple did nothing.

And as a consumer of Apple products and a netizen fully conscious of the need for security and full disclosure, you simply can't abide by that.

If you had FOSS you'd read about the holes and the fixes in minutes and be able to rebuild your own system to plug them. Minutes. Not years - minutes.

The Price Myth

One of the big barriers to entry into the world of Apple for the kitchen table user has always been the perception of price gouging. It's been argued extensively that Apple hardware is far superior to Wintel hardware and therefore justifiably more expensive. Steve Jobs and others have likened Apple to BMW, for example.

But now that Apple are using the same processor as Wintel OEMs it's no longer possible to hide behind myths. Side by side comparisons are occurring and more will come - and it's more obvious than ever that although an Apple computer is not a BMW car, Steve Jobs is still trying to take his customers for a ride.

Apple do have a good quality record as evidenced by surveys at Consumer Affairs and Consumer Reports Online, but these surveys do not take into account the fact that Apple customers generally accept minor flaws rather than attempt to reject an entire delivery, and they do not take into account the reason for these minor flaws either.

The Apple hardware market doesn't expand; Apple must continually resell to the same customers over and over. Apple cannot rely on quality and usability alone; theirs is a 'trendy' 'lifestyle' product. They need to innovate according to the 'form over function' paradigm. But of course as one does this one inevitably runs into a never ending stream of manufacturing flaws.

It's often said there is at least one major design flaw in each new Apple product - and by the time the kinks in manufacturing are ironed out, Apple have moved on to new trendy products again and the cycle renews itself.

Wintel hardware might not be made to last but at least it isn't flawed because it's 'lifestyle' or 'trendy'. And purchasing a new Wintel jalopy every year is still going to be less expensive than investing in Apple BMWs.

And with a Wintel box you can run any distro of FOSS you like. It's all out there - and it's free and miles more secure.

Down the Road

This site will remain for those who are yet stuck in Appleland, but active involvement in OS X is now officially over. There are Objective-C and NeXTSTEP/OPENSTEP alternatives out there for FOSS - odds are however they'll never get the market attention Apple could have if they played the game correctly.

For the non-professional, any old FOSS distro is as good as another. There are plenty and it's just to choose one and try it out. They're getting better and easier to use all the time.

For those of you who switched because of what you read at this site: apologies are in order.

Unix is still the way to go, and Apple have been riding that wave without playing by the rules. Considering what has come to light in the past weeks about Apple's policy towards security and FOSS, it's not a day too soon to come out and issue this warning.

Apple may be a failure but good people always meet again down the road.

See Also
Perimeters
Seeing Double
The Other Shoe
Hyde Park Corner I
The Chocolate Tunnel
OS X: Still Not WYSIWYG
Peeking Inside the Chocolate Tunnel
Apple's 'Unix' Runs Arbitrary Code on Boot?
Input Managers — The Cure

OS X patch faces scrutiny
Trojan flaw persists in OS X
Experts Claim Security Flaw Remains
Apple criticised for persistent Trojan flaw

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