Gatekeeping and the end of the Mac OS

Sections: Features, Lion, Mac OS X, Operating Systems, Opinions and Editorials

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Corroborated by screenshots of the “About this….” sheet in the new OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion developer preview, the name of Apple’s desktop operating system reportedly won’t be prefixed with “Mac” for the first time since 1984.

The Verge’s Nilay Patel says he’s confirmed the official name change with Apple, who told him the preferred full name is “OS X Mountain Lion,” and a quick look around the company’s new Mountain Lion pages reveals the tweak is already in force.

Appleinsider’s Josh Ong suggests OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion continues a trend toward iOS and OS X convergence, with increased cross-platform integration and feature sharing, noting that Apple CEO Tim Cook said in an interview Thursday that he considers the two operating systems as “one with incremental functionality,” also leaving open the possibility that Macs and iOS devices may someday run on the same processor architecture, observing: “We


think about everything. We don’t close things off.”

Gizmodo’s Jesus Diaz maintains that Apple is heading rapidly toward an iOS-style app-centric user experience model for OS X, and is intent on killing the directory-based desktop metaphor. He predicts Microsoft will follow suit, with the Finder and the Explorer both on their way out, and that the desktop metaphor about to die, arguing that the transitional process Apple set in motion with the iPhone is unstoppable.

I don’t disagree with Diaz on the point, but I’m a lot less cheerful about it, being of the school of thought that perceives this radical paradigm-shift with alarm. Diaz much too-blithely dismisses the real concerns of power users who need autonomous access to their files at the directory level, something some of us won’t give up without a fight.

Gatekeeper settings

In that context, I find it fascinating that Apple has chosen the name “Gatekeeper” for the new security feature in Mountain Lion that provides a choice of three settings for authorizing software installations: one only allowing apps from the Mac App Store, a second allows apps from the online store as well as apps from registered developers, and the third allows any apps at all. So far, so good, but how long before that last option is removed? The way things are going, it’s hard to be optimistic, at least if you’re someone like me who has always bridled at the frequent excesses of gatekeeping zeal that plague many aspects of life in the postmodern world, and for whom the term “gatekeeper” has unsavoury, heavy-handed connotations.

About 35 years ago, the late historian Christopher Lasch wrote something that could apply to Apple’s enthusiasm for the “walled garden” approach:

The atrophy of older traditions of self-help has eroded every day competence, in one area after another, and has made the individual dependent on the state, the corporation, and other bureaucracies. . .

The new paternalism has replaced personal dependence not with bureaucratic rationality, but with a new form of bureaucratic dependence. What appears to social scientists as a seamless web of “independence” represents in fact dependence of the individual on the organization, the citizen on the state, the worker on the manager…. The consensus of the competent… came only by rendering the layman to incompetence.

One might interject here that an awful lot of people, especially in the context of computers, seem to embrace incompetence gladly if it saves them from the tedium and effort of having to climb learning-curves.

I once hoped that the potential for personal computers and the Internet as powerful, democratic foils against the “consensus of the competent” would be realized and prove a means of restoring a measure of the self-help, self-sufficiency ethic that once prevailed in our culture. Alas, as PC Mag’s John C. Dvorak recently observed, the future of the Internet seems bleak, but Americans are too busy playing Angry Birds to notice, 99.9% of them not giving a crap—few ever doing  deep searches or much of anything more demanding than checking Facebook, buying stuff at Amazon, playing Angry Birds, and photo sharing—happy to let Apple do their gatekeeping for them. That largely explains why OS X is being rapidly subsumed by the iOS.

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