Mac News Review

New Macs (Including Mac Pro) Expected at WWDC, Pros and Cons of Sandboxing, and More

This Week's Apple and Desktop Mac News

Compiled by Charles Moore and edited by Dan Knight - 2012.06.08

WWDC 2012The Worldwide Develop Conference (WWDC) takes place from Monday, June 11 thorugh Friday, June 15 in San Francisco.

Mac notebook and other portable computing is covered in The 'Book Review. iPad, iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV news is covered in iOS News Review. All prices are in US dollars unless otherwise noted.

WWDC Anticipation

The Sandboxing Controversy

Software

Desktop Mac Deals

WWDC Anticipation

After Nearly 2 Years Without an Update, Apple to Refresh Mac Pro?

9 to 5 Mac's Mark Gurman says that "reliable sources" are reporting that Apple will unveil a new Mac Pro at WWDC next week and have also been able to provide some part numbers and prices to prove their contention, although hardware details are sketchy.

Gurman notes that Apple last updated the Mac Pro in July 2010, before Apple started using Thunderbolt on Macs, making this upcoming update especially significant.

Leaked Apple Inventory List Hints at New Non-iOS Hardware

The Register's Anna Leach says a leaked Apple inventory list and a stock shortage are fueling rumors of a new Mac Pro and other Mac hardware refreshes on deck for Apple's World Wide Developers Conference.

Leach notes that Apple's pro desktop tower was last refreshed in 2010, but a reported a shortage of Mac Pro stock and an inventory list leaked to 9 to 5 Mac (above) suggest a new or at least refreshed Mac Pro model may be on the way, while a purported spec sheet making the rounds on the Internet appears to suggest a thinner, more expensive MacBook Pro powered by Intel Ivy Bridge silicon will be unveiled at WWDC along with iMac and MacBook Air updates.

Alleged New Mac Price Sheet Leaked

9 to 5 Mac's Seth Weintraub says the latest claimed Apple inventory spreadsheet leak reveals a full pricing matrix for new Apple hardware devices expected to be unveiled next week at the Worldwide Developers Conference, including Mac Pros, Retina MacBook Pros, MacBook Airs, and iMacs, as well as optional bits.

New Mac models, part numbers, and Australian prices from 9 to 5 Mac
New Mac models, part numbers, and Australian prices from 9 to 5 Mac.

The Sandboxing Controversy

Sandboxing Will Limit Some Mac Apps

MacFixIt's Topher Kessler says many programs available through the Mac App Store are single-purpose standalone tools and will not be affected by Apple's sandboxing requirements, but others will be forced to lose functionality in order to conform to the new policy. Sandboxing restricts default access to all system resources except those allowed by specific Apple-defined entitlements, which is too restrictive for some applications to function as intended by developers.

Kessler discusses the nuts and bolts of sandboxing and notes that current implementation on some of Apple's built-in applications has had its share of quirks, with TextEdit and Preview users having experienced odd file quarantining flags being appended to files, bizarre crashing of duplicated application instances as child processes, and the inability to print or mail PDF documents from print dialogs - an indicator of the the type of frustrations that may plague users of applications adopting the current sandboxing implementation.

He observes that in its current implementation, Apple's sandboxing breaks some common application features and introduces burdensome additional steps to others, and there are likely to be some instances where it may greatly affect the user experience with some programs and the ability of some developers to offer features currently available in their programs.

Sandboxing Strengthens the Case for Buying from the Developer Instead of Apple

Macworld guest contributor Jonathan 'Wolf' Rentzsch, president of Red Shed Software Company, notes that since the launch of the Mac App Store, a question potential customers frequently ask developers is, "Should I buy your app directly or through the Mac App Store?"

"Developers have been remarkably cagey," he says, "mostly replying with the non-answer choose whichever is better for you." but now that Apple now only accepts sandboxed apps to be sold through its online store, the situation is clarified: "Customers should buy Mac apps directly unless there's a good reason not to."

That pretty much conforms with what has been your editor's take all along. I've tried to avoid using the Mac App Store to download software if there has been any alternative. Examples that come to mind are Bare Bones Software's excellent TextWrangler text editor and the Sleipnir Web browser, both of which are available in deeper-featured versions directly from the respective developer's website than the somewhat dumbed-down, sandboxed versions available on the Mac App Store. Too bad more developers haven't make similar alternative provisions.

Rentzsch cites several specific reasons why it's preferable to buy non-sandboxed apps directly from developers:

  • Better App User Experience
  • More Features
  • Better Data Integrity: noting that Document-based Core Data apps are incompatible with Sandboxing
  • More and Faster Updates
  • Less Risk of Losing Your Software Investments, observing that all things being equal, its safer to buy directly instead of being cut off from your own software based on an arbitrary Apple policy change.
  • More Money Goes to the Developer: Apple takes 30% off the top from Mac App Store purchases

On the balance, Rentzsch conceded that buying through the Mac App Store offers a few compensatory benefits:

  • Better Purchasing Experience (depends on how you define "better" - Ed.)
  • Better Maintenance Experience: Ergo, if you buy a new Mac, the App Store app will provide a list of apps you've purchased ready to reinstall. (Again, the appeal of this depends on how much of a hands-on machine management control freak you are).
  • iCloud Access: According to Rentzsch, Apple has decreed that only Mac App Store apps (ergo, now sandboxed apps) can access iCloud. Your non-iCloud-using editor wasn't previously aware of that restriction, which solidifies my affinity for Dropbox and Box.net for Cloud utilization.
  • Vetted by Apple (If that's important to you)

Anyway, Rentzsch summarizes that the bottom line is that sandboxing has effectively eliminated ambiguity, and in general he recommends that customers now purchase apps directly instead of through the Mac App Store.

How Sandboxing Will Affect You

Kirkville's Kirk McElhearn notes that sandboxing, which is now the rule on the Mac App Store, is unlikely to be noticed by casual Mac users who do only basic tasks on their computers, but he says that for those who use more advanced software tools to save time and improve productivity and efficiency will find ourselves bumping up against this limit.

McElhearn acknowledges that sandboxing does protect users from rogue apps, or from apps that, simply because of bugs, can harm the operating system or essential files, but he contends that users should be able to choose whether sandboxing is active or not, as with the new Gatekeeper feature in OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, which gives users three choices:

  1. Allow any application to run
  2. Allow only applications purchased from the Mac App Store
  3. Allow any application that has either been purchased from the Mac App Store or has been signed with an Apple Developer ID (which would be downloaded from outside the Mac App Store).

McElhearn wonders, Why not do the same for Mac App Store sandboxing?, suggesting that as currently implemented, sandboxing may stifle innovation, causing developers to dumb down their apps, or give up trying to introduce innovative features that need to go outside the box, He predicts that in the long run, sandboxing will have negative effects.

Which Mac Apps Will Be Broken by Sandboxing?

Veteran Mac commentator Andy Ihnatko notes that while the objective of Apple's sandboxing restrictions isn't a bad goal, in practical terms many Mac software apps use techniques that are perfectly harmless but impossible to implement under sandboxing, while others are specifically designed to deliver systemwide functionality that is fundamentally incompatible with the sandboxing concept.

Software

5 Great Free Alternatives to QuickTime

AppStorm's James Cull says that he, like quite a few other Mac users, is not a huge fan of Apple's QuickTime media software that comes bundled with OS X. He notes that while QuickTime gets the job done for some things, he finds its range of codecs and built-in features limited and inadequate to suit his needs. Happily, Cull notes that there are plenty of alternatives to QuickTime available, including five very good free ones:

  1. VLC Media Player (OS X 10.5 and later, older versions available)
  2. MPlayerX (OS X 10.6 and later)
  3. Plex (OS X 10.6 and later)
  4. Miro (OS X 10.5 and later, PowerPC supported)
  5. XBMC (separate Intel and PowerPC versions)

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