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The Long Run - Extended Attributes from Tiger to Catalina (3)
Remember the Steve Gambit?
So goes it with system security as well. The Mac, long perceived as the safe alternative to Windows machines under incessant assault (true) and running the Rock Solid Foundation of Unix™: this cool and classy product, touted by Justin Long through sixty-six adverts over a period of two and one half years, was suddenly, it was discretely suggested in some circles, wide open to attack, so Mac users could never be safe ever again, never sleep peacefully at night ever again.
For if there's one thing the Mac user fears, it's a Windows-scale malware epidemic demolishing their platform. The actual damage is one thing - that's mostly recoverable albeit at considerable cost - but the loss of prestige would not be easily recoverable. Perhaps not ever.
[No, it won't likely happen, as the Mac is a Unix system, but Mac users don't understand things like that. The prospect that they'd be hit with a catastrophe, as happens so often to Windows, literally brings them to tears. Yes, really. Yes, tears. Really.]
Apple marketing made a daring move, and once again the world bought it. Once again, Apple marketing pulled off a magnificent coup.
This latest coup of theirs was likely a matter of 'playing it by ear' for quite a long time - more than ten years. The people who designed the hardware for iPhone were geniuses. Steve Jobs, at the helm to make it all happen, to turn the entire telco industry topsy-turvy for iPhone to become a reality, was one of a kind. Those engineers under the leadership of Scott Forstall worked their socks off. And yet someone really screwed up anyway. They originally had everything running as root, making it no safer than Windows. After three updates - all the world got to see crash dumps and learn about the super-secret passwords 'alpine' and 'dottie' that weren't so super-secret after all - they suddenly changed tack, on a veritable Cupertino dime, making 'Mr Daring' look like that security-dabbling fool the industry already knew him to be, and now not only were ordinary user applications running as user software again, but code-signing also saw the light of day.
Code-signing works on iPhone, if you want it. The iPhone kernel can insist both on the presence of a cryptographic seal and on those seals not being broken, the underlying software not being compromised. iPhone can do this, given the market situation. And what a win for Apple! Now if they could just conjure up a scheme whereby all independent third-party software has to pass through a process controlled solely by Apple to obtain the coveted cryptographic seal...
[Question: how does software check the authenticity of the root certificate used as the cryptographic seal - it doesn't have to go onto the web, does it?]
Other handhelds don't do this. Just recompile your junk and upload it to the 'Play Store' in question. This is the chief reason the legendary Paul Graham is so negative about Apple today: the dreaded - the hated - Apple App Store. And yet there it is. With less than a one fifth market share on unit sales, Apple can still bring home nearly two thirds of overall revenues in the sector. They have the name, they have their profit margins, and they have an equally crushing 30% cut on everything passing through their IP ports. 'You lucky guys! You get to keep 70% of your own money', goes the CTA spin. Apple marketing will never ever mention that '30%' openly. It'll always be about how much of their own revenues the indies get to keep for themselves.
Apple marketing at its best.
But, as Forbes recently pointed out, that lucrative mobile market, which made Apple, who back in 1996 were precariously close to closing their doors for good, the first company on the planet with a trillion-dollar market cap, holding mountains of Uncle Scrooge liquidities overseas, was finally drying up. With over one billion mobile devices in circulation, this was bound to happen, but the giddy disciples of Timothy Donald Cook didn't seem to be worried.
As Forbes pointed out, Apple tried every trick in the book to stay off the inevitable. First, they tried hiking prices even higher, all to please shareholders and hold onto their unsustainable market cap, even though they were already setting records using profit margins that would have run anybody else, in any other field, out of business. Then they tried the exact opposite: they lowered prices instead. But nothing will help, as Forbes took pains to explain: the market is saturated, and no further iteration of the same old thing, suddenly in a different colour or with a somewhat better this or better that, was going to change anything. You can only take planned obsolescence so far before people walk away.
If only Apple, under the leadership of Tim Cook, hadn't got way too big for their britches. Proclaiming that there's no perceivable reason to even own a computer, introducing televised adverts that brashly poke fun at people who still use computers, and effectively putting all priority into the new sacred cash cow, leaving the base OS with no permanent support, only tossing the occasional crumb its way - not good. Perhaps Timothy Donald Cook doesn't get it - after all, he's a numbers exec, not a product one. But still and all. No one's going to say 'never', but the way it looks now? No, neither iPad nor especially iPhone are bootstrap systems. You can't develop new software on them. And goodness knows they're no fun to tinker with either - without that base OS and the hardware accompanying it, without that OS once known as 'OS X', you can't have iPhone or iPad or Apple Watch. Those systems aren't developed on iPhones or iPads or Apple Watches, but on Macs, Macs running OS X, the system Tim Cook's upper management turn their noses up at.
Except now they need that OS X more than ever. They've peaked their mobile market, and the only way is down. Forbes estimated that Apple can soon lose as much as 50% of their core business, their overall revenues.
Apple marketing to the rescue again. And don't forget: what you notice today is something Apple marketing started keeping an eye on years ago.
But here they come. And there's a basic quandary. And, on this count, almost everyone is in agreement: Apple cannot force all independent software be sold through their App Store for that 30% commission. They can't. And there are several easily accessible reasons.
One. The world wouldn't stand for it. Never mind that most of your own tools are relatively innocuous: there are some pretty wild things going on out there, in application domains many of us have never heard of. They're doing things with software - and with the system itself - that you can't even imagine. Yet it's all completely legit - and it's needed. Should Apple make life too difficult for them, they'll just go to a new platform. The word gets around.
Two. The 'Mac' has to remain an 'open' platform. Developers do all kinds of crazy things, and they need to do all kinds of crazy things. Otherwise there's no progress. As things stand, they're already treading a very fine line over there at Apple, already pissing off a lot of good people - a lot of very important, very influential, people.
Three. Legacy titles. There's so much stuff out there that's never going to be updated, yet is so crucial to so many projects and industries. Already the fact that they're alienating 32-bit titles for no good reason is losing them a lot of business.
Four. The Mark Pilgrim effect. Apple platforms are not only devoid of the freedom to tinker, but they're also wastelands when it comes to the joy of tinkering. The discovery angle: that's effectively gone. People who no longer feel inspired by the possibilities of the Mac are going elsewhere.
They're playing a dangerous and desperate game over at Apple marketing. They've read the ominous writing on the wall long ago. They're looking for a way out. They're still obstinate that, even though their 'push' didn't work too well, a 'shove' still might.
But it won't.
And so we have this 'faux security frenzy' coming out of nowhere. The Mac is suddenly vulnerable and open to attack? Where? Where are all the scary blood-curling news reports of worldwide malware outbreaks on the Mac as seen so often on Windows? Where?
Are developers really encouraged today to cryptographically seal their image files - their GIFs, JPEGs, PNGs, and TIFFS - against malware attacks? Yes they are. So how far do the droids over there at Apple think they can push people before those people rise up and say 'enough of this shit, Apple, we're outta here'?
Get them in the App Store. Get them in there. Convince them that it's a good way to sell their stuff. (For the big guys it is, but don't tell them that.) Revolutionise credit card systems to provide for these new 'micropayments'. Get everyone in the App Store. We want all Mac software sold in the App Store. All of it.
They don't like the App Store? Who does, really? It's fascism by marketing, say some. Hated even. As in 'anyone that doesn't hate the App Store is an Eloi'. But get them in, goddammit.
They still don't want to go? OK, then give them a kiddie pool to get them used to the idea. Use a new system - work on this, guys - we'll call it 'notarisation'. All indie vendors will submit their products to us. They'll have to submit it with enough additional information that, even if we don't have their proprietary source code, we'll be able to just about read it anyway. And then, if we like what they've done, if their products make us look good and don't make us look bad in any way, if their products don't try anything revolutionary or groundbreaking, APPROVE. And from that point to getting them to market through our App Store where we get our 30% cut - that's a step calculable in micrometers. They'll come over. On our terms, of course. And we need them. Oh, and the best part? They'll all have to pay $100 up front for the privilege. Just imagine: you're hiring someone for a position here at Apple and you're able to get them to pay you $100, not for the job but just for the interview!
And yet the key is the quarantine. That age-old idea of keeping something in isolation for forty days. Except in this case it's forever. Make the quarantine work.
And, given Apple's current lineup of user tools or lack thereof, there's little end-users can do or will bother to do to defend themselves. They always follow the path of least resistance.
They could always go to the command line. To Terminal.app, that is. They could use that trusty command line tool that we created: /usr/bin/xattr. But they'll never do it. At least most of them won't. They didn't do that to backup or copy their iTunes purchases, they won't do it now. They feel secure here, in their walled garden.
They use the singularly most paraplegic system management tools in the industry, regardless of platform, they've heard it over and over again, and they still don't wake up. Brain-deal Eloi. We'll get them where we want them. This one's easy.
If some pundits are too touchy to play along: pay them. Most of them will fall right in line and won't cost us a red cent. They're all screaming about how things aren't safe anymore, about how you have to get with our programme or suffer the consequences, don't forget to look under your bed before you turn out the lights, you can always trust Apple, we're never wrong. And so forth.
But will it work? Or will Apple be in for a rude awakening?
They still can lose 50% of their business, according to Forbes.
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