Separate Consumer and Pro Versions of OS X?

June 21st, 2012

In a recent column for The Mac Observer, author Ted Landau suggests that OS X may some day be splintered into a consumer and professional level OS, perhaps as early as 10.9. This bifurcation would leave Mac users with a standard OS that very much mirrors the iOS, with its tight controls on the file system and the inability to officially gain access to the Unix subsystem. The Mac App Store would be your only source of software.

In exchange for giving up the extensive control of the Mac user experience that you and I have enjoyed over the years, the revised OS X motif would mirror the iPhone and the iPad. Call it a modern day version of “Simple Finder,” and the Finder itself may likely be history with this scheme, and forget about Terminal to poke into the OS’s underbelly.

There would also be a “Pro” version of OS X, available for the Mac Pro and, I suppose, optionally available for other Mac users, which would be designed in the spirit of the traditional Mac OS; in other words, very much as it is today.

I suppose the logic for this prediction is based on the fact that Apple has been busy merging iOS features into OS X, including adding more gestures that can be activated on a trackpad. But even Mountain Lion preserves the Mac experience. The larger changes are to the names and designs of certain apps, such as switching iChat to Messages. The Notification Center, although conceived in the iOS, owes a lot to a third-party app, Growl, which provides notification features for many Mac apps. Indeed, it’s fair to say that Notification Center, as originally conceived on the iOS, was influenced more by Growl than by the Android variant.

To be fair to Ted, for whom I hold great respect, I find it hard to agree with his premise. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to see some changes.

Over the years, I’ve advocated for an “Advanced” mode in OS X, with Terminal and perhaps more granular system settings and a Help system that would be appropriate. You’d activate it by clicking a System Preferences setting that requires your admin password.

The normal Mac experience would be mostly preserved, with some refinements to make it easier to use the file system — which still confuses Mac users after all these years — and a refined Help system that actually helps people with active assistance that makes sense.

This scheme doesn’t require having two versions of OS X to serve different masters. Indeed, Ted’s solution almost seems to have been influenced by the Microsoft playbook, where there’s a “Pro” or “Ultimate” version of Windows, plus lesser versions with features stripped from them.

The Microsoft policy is to offer variety at the expense of customer confusion. Versions of Windows may look the same, but some features are present on one PC but not on another. The new Surface tablet, should it actually be delivered as promised (and that’s by no means certain), will force customers to understand the differences between the Windows RT and Windows 8 Pro versions, and why traditional Windows apps will not function on the former without being rewritten. Rather than commit to a single, sensible product design, Microsoft wants to have it both ways. They are oblivious to the fact that Intel-based tablets have always been a hard sell. Real gold may come from the ARM version, but, again, Microsoft needs to focus and get in front of the market.

For Apple, I realize few can predict what direction OS X will ultimately take, or how close it’ll come to the iOS in terms of look and feel. But I also believe that Tim Cook is right that the PC and mobile platforms serve separate needs, and are used differently. You can’t have it both ways, which is what Microsoft wants since they can’t settle on a single strategy and stick with it.

In saying that, I can see why there are concerns over the direction of Mac apps. Apple’s sandboxing feature may offer greater security, but it prevents some apps from being accepted in the Mac App Store because they can’t be sandboxed with Apple’s current limitations. Consider such disk cloning and backup apps as Carbon Copy Cloner and SuperDuper!. They both copy all your Mac’s files, even the hidden ones, and thus require the sort of access to the file system that Apple won’t allow. To Apple, backups are meant for Time Machine, evidently, which forces third party solutions, often far superior, to be sold elsewhere.

With Mountain Lion’s Gatekeeper, the default (middle) setting makes it possible to buy apps from the Mac App Store and from independent software publishers who have gotten special security certificates from Apple. The larger concern is that, over time, Mac users will not be inclined to look anywhere but the Mac App Store when they want to buy some apps. That situation could present an unfortunate limiting factor on the potential for success for apps available elsewhere. Regardless if where Apple takes OS X, and I don’t think it’s going to be split into consumer and pro versions, Apple needs to rethink the limitations of the Mac App Store, and find ways to embrace any app that is safe, works as advertised, and won’t screw up your Mac.

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8 Responses to “Separate Consumer and Pro Versions of OS X?”

  1. dfs says:

    There’s at least one argument in favor of Ted Landau’s idea. Apple is beginning to manifest a new level of distrust of the average user reflected in a design philosophy that the OS should be made “safer”. Maybe the reason for this is that their OS designers have become excessively focused on new users coming to the Mac from iOS devices. They’re so afraid that an un-savvy user might muck something up that they make life unnecessarily hard for those of us who are more advanced and experienced. Perhaps they got tired of system mucker-ups coming around to the Apple Store pleading to get bailed out that they decided to make Lion safer than its predecessors. No doubt this is the logic that led them to make the User Library folder invisible in Lion, even for users with Admin accounts. This may be a good safety precaution as long as you’re dealing with newbies, but (unless you use some third-party hack to return it to visibility) it makes life unnecessarily hard for the rest of us, since there’s plenty of stuff stored in the Library folder which we at least occasionally need to get at. If Apple goes further down the road with this philosophy by making the OS a more closed, inaccessible system, maybe going so far as taking away Terminal, then yes, it would behoove them to issue a Pro version for the benefit of more advanced users.

  2. brendalana says:

    This non iOS interested iMac 3.6GHz Intel—Mac OS X 10.7.4—desk-top user now regrets having gone Apple not Linux fifteen years ago—c’est la vie…

  3. DaveD says:

    When Apple went to Intel processors, Tiger had to be split into two versions, PPC and X86. But, it was back to a single version with Leopard. The migration from 32-bit to 64-bit was done using a single version via the OS X upgrade path from Leopard to Snow Leopard to Lion. Apple did all the heavy lifting as we went along for the ride (with some bumps in the road). So, I don’t think Apple would like to maintain separate OS X versions.

    I do like the idea of flipping a “Power User” switch in OS X and your idea of broadening the Mac App Store concept. Provide a means (for a small fee) for “outside of the App Store” software companies to showcase their works and get reviews/ratings.

  4. Observer says:

    @Ds I’m surprised a power user would not know about holding the Option key while clicking the Go menu reveals the User’s Library folder. No need for any 3rd party app.

  5. Worldvision says:

    So, what about opensource apps? Do they also need to be gatekeeper friendly, sandboxed and in the App Store?
    I think Apple would stay with simplicity, throwing a software switch to go to pro-mode: a pseudo admin/superuser account that can do what sophisticated users do know. The simple user mode could have many safety restrictions.
    Time will tell.

    • @Worldvision, There’s no requirement an app be in the Mac App Store. But if they are, they must be sandboxed. Otherwise, a developer can get a security certificate for an app to work with Gatekeeper’s default setting in Mountain Lion.

      Regardless, you can option or right click on an app’s icon to bypass any restrictions. Or just use the third Gatekeeper option to run anything you want, as you do now.


  6. dfs says:

    “Ds I’m surprised a power user would not know about holding the Option key while clicking the Go menu reveals the User’s Library folder. No need for any 3rd party app.” I forgot about this because I acquired a third-party hack very soon after upgrading to Lion and haven’t thought about the issue until last night when I read Gene’s column.” Still and all, my point remains that Apple’s hiding the Library folder at all seems to show an important change in design philosophy based on a revised estimate of the hypothetical “typical user.” If Apple starts designing with this user in mind, the rest of us may suffer.

  7. Kaleberg says:

    Now and then I do get nervous about Apple’s locking down more of the system for naive users, but I’ve worked with naive users and, for them, hiding things and making some things hard is actually a feature. One of their great fears is that they’ll do something that seems simple and innocuous and destroy their computer, misconfigure it somehow, or lose a whole pile of their important stuff. Having a system that makes it hard to do that kind of thing, but otherwise just works fine, is their great goal. It’s like having a car that doesn’t let you ram the guy ahead of you or go off the road. That might be a nightmare for stuntmen or certain aggressive or sporting types, but for most of us, it would be a great feature.

    On the other hand, you do want to be able to get around this kind of protection to use experimental devices and a variety of third party system utilities.

    Microsoft has its multiple versions for one primary reason, market segmentation, so they can charge certain parties with deep pockets a lot more money while still producing a cheap system that doesn’t dominate the cost of a $400 PC. It’s hard to charge one party $10 and another $500 for exactly the same product and make it stick.

    If anything, Apple seems to be moving away from system segmentation. They sell one OS, and they’ve made upgrades cheap because this encourages people to move to newer software. They have a reputation for quality support, and having everyone running the same recent vintage system makes their support more effective and less expensive. Apple did experiment with market segmentation, releasing a relatively expensive server version of their system, but the Lion Server is only additional $50 at the App Store. That’s a lot cheaper than upgrading from Windows Foobar Home Edition.

    Apple is a hardware company that uses software to sell its hardware. Their big bucks come from selling hardware. The more software they can offer at modest prices, the more people will like and buy and their machines. Microsoft is a software company. Their big bucks come from selling software. They want to charge as much as they can get away with.

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