What the Mac OS X Sandbox Means to Users

Steve Wildstrom / November 4th, 2011

There has been considerable unhappiness, even outrage, in the developer community since Apple announced that as of next March, all software sold through the Mac App Store would have to run in a sandbox, that is, its access to system resources would be restricted, the exact restrictions based on the type of program.

“Why the Mac App Sandbox Makes Me Sad,” wrote OS X developer blogger Pauli Olavi Ojala. “Apple’s Mac OS Lockdown To End Developer Independence,” screamed a headline on Forbes.com, though the article, by Roger Kay, was more reasoned in tone.

I’m sure Apple’s new restrictions will make life harder for App Store developers, and they may have to choose between the easy distribution offered by the App Store and the greater programming freedom of delivering their software the old fashioned way. But to consider this from the users’ point of view, ask yourself a question: What do most people like better, their computer or their iPhone or iPad?

My guess is that if you asked 100 people who used both a computer and an iOS device which they were happier with, 90 or so would vote for the iPhone or iPad. Mac owners probably hate their computers a little less than Windows users. But both types of systems have the same problem: They are full of software, often poorly written and poorly tested. that can cause all manner of mysterious, frustrating problems. This has gotten better over the years, but as long as there are atrocities such as the Adobe Flash plugin for Chrome, to pick an example not at random, there’s going to be trouble.

One thing Apple has learned from iOS as that a tightly controlled software environment is one way to produce a great user experience. iOS apps rarely crash and when they do, they don’t else with them.The arrangement is much more secure because apps’ access to the system is so limited.Yes, the sandbox can cause some frustrations for users. The restrictions on apps’ access to each other’s data is one  reason why document handling is such a pain on an iPad, for example. But I find it a price worth paying. And if the sandbox policy makes Macs more iOS-like in this sense, users will love it.

One very important caveat: My views on this would change dramatically if Apple were to restrict users’ ability to load any apps from outside the App Store, as they do for iOS. For people who use their Macs as creative tools, the sandbox’s restrictions could be a crushing burden; they almost certainly would for anyone who writes software, which is why Apple won’t restrict their freedom.

Apple does have a tendency to be heavy-handed  in its administration of rules, so I’m sure there are going to be some problems. But many of the fears seem to be to be vastly overblown. Roger Kay, for example, writes: “The longer-term consequence?  A lack of innovation in consumer software.” The fact is that iOS, for all of its restrictions, has produced an outpouring of highly innovative software, putting iPads and iPhones to uses that I am sure Apple never imagined.

 

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.
  • Anonymous

    “My guess is that if you asked 100 people who used both a computer and an iOS device which they were happier with, 90 or so would vote for the iPhone or iPad.”

    Count me among the 10% then. My iOS devices are a convenience item, for which I am willing to temporarily sacrifice speed, screen size and capability. But at the end of the day it’s great to slide in front of my i7 with SSD and 27″ monitor, and really start to get things done.

    “Mac owners probably hate their computers a little less than Windows users.”

    I don’t care for the Windows user experience much. And there can be frustrations with the Mac experience. But hate it? No way. It’s certainly less aggravating than the limited iOS experience.

    “But both types of systems have the same problem: They are full of software, often poorly written and poorly tested. that can cause all manner of mysterious, frustrating problems.”

    Unless you’re downloading your software from dubious sources, it’s really hard to see where this is coming from. Just compare the reviews for (non-Mac Store) Mac software to reviews for iOS software to see how inaccurate it is. It certainly does not comport with my experience.

    “iOS apps rarely crash and when they do, they don’t else with them.”

    Ditto for Mac programs–except that they crash even less frequently than iOS programs. Again: check the reviews.

    I don’t know what you’re loading that’s crashing your system so often, but you really should check it out. Personally, I have and run hundreds of applications, almost without ever a hitch.

    • Im on board with all your comments.

      This article sounds like it was written by a windoz user PROJECTING the windoz experience onto mac users.

    • I’ve been a Mac user for over 30 years and spend much of the day in front of my 27″ iMac. I never said anything about system crashes; the fact is OS X almost never crashes (and neither, for that matter does Windows 7.) But app crashes are another story. and as I said, if you are looking for bad software, you don’t have to go any further the Flash plugins, especially the Chrome version. Reviews have nothing to do with it; there’s plenty of bad software around. Memory leaks are still a problem. Bad drivers are still a problem (less so on Macs than Windows, if only because there are fewer of them,) Browser plug-ins are a big problem.

      I don’t actually hate any of my three Macs, but I do get annoyed at them a lot more often than I do at either my iPhone or iPad.

  • John

    The integration of Mac OS and iOS has begun.

  • Jon Gilbert

    You are so wrong. You have done zero actual research regarding whether anyone likes their iPad or iPhone more than a Mac. You are being a fanboy. Apple has ceased listening to its customers. It is solely seeking to make money. People should be able to get non-sandboxed apps if they want. Slap a warning label on the product if you must… but don’t eliminate things people want to protect us from ourselves, or whatever. Thanks, but no thanks, Apple!

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