Mac App Store Sandboxing Requirement Pushed to March as Uncertainty Looms

When Apple launched OS X 10.7 (Lion) to the public in July, most of the media focus was on the user-facing changes, such as the iOS-like Launchpad, or trackpad scrolling direction. In Lion, Apple also made a number of under-the-hood changes in their security model that may start affecting Mac App Store customers in the near future.

sandboxing
Amongst the many new features in Lion, Apple included a more robust sandboxing system that can prevent 3rd party applications from causing unintended damage. In their Lion review, ArsTechnica explains how sandboxing works in general:

Running an application inside a sandbox is meant to minimize the damage that could be caused if that application is compromised by a piece of malware. A sandboxed application voluntarily surrenders the ability to do many things that a normal process run by the same user could do. For example, a normal application run by a user has the ability to delete every single file owned by that user. Obviously, a well-behaved application will not do this. But if an application becomes compromised, it may be coerced into doing something destructive.

Developers of these sandboxed applications must take special measures to break up their application into individual processes that only are able to do exactly what they need. Apple still allows user initiated actions to perform as expected and override the sandbox, but app-initiated actions in sandboxed applications will be restricted. This means that system wide file access and inter-app scripting and interactions will not be allowed.

Apple had originally told developers that sandboxing would become a requirement for Mac App Store apps as of November, 2011. Tonight, however, Apple emailed developers that the Sandboxing requirement will now go into effect on March 1, 2012.

As of March 1, 2012 all apps submitted to the Mac App Store must implement sandboxing.

While sandboxing will increase the security of Mac App Store apps, there have been concerns that the restrictions will stifle features and innovation on the Mac platform.

apps
Mac Apps that may be affected: TextExpander, CoverSutra, Transmit, Fantastical

In October, Macworld published a pair of articles from Jason Snell and Andy Ihnatko expressing their concerns about the new restrictions.

Snell reported that he had heard that some Mac developers will be removing features from their apps or reducing their functionality to fit them in Apple's sandbox.

Not only does this approach risk turning the Mac App Store into a wasteland of arcade games and one-trick-pony apps, it risks dumbing down the Mac app ecosystem as a whole. While developers can always opt out of the Mac App Store, they’re reluctant to do so.

Examples of Mac Apps that will be affected include iTunes controllers (Tagalicious, CoverSutra), inter-app communication (Fantastical), apps that browse the file system (Transmit), system-wide keyboard shortcut utilities (TextExpander), file syncing, and backups utilities.

While Apple is offering developers some short term exceptions to get around sandboxing, the company promises that those exceptions will be temporary. Some developers have said there is a lot of uncertainty around how long Apple will allow these apps in the Mac App Store after the deadline. With the new delay until March, some developers are holding out hope that Apple may be trying to come up with a better solution than simply pulling these apps off the Mac App Store.

As Snell points out, developers can choose to distribute their non-sandboxed apps outside the Mac App Store, but those developers would be giving up a huge distribution point.

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Top Rated Comments

arn Avatar
166 months ago
I'm all for sandboxing. If a dev wants to cry about their "innovation" being stifled because their program only affects what it's meant to, then they can go compromise someone else's machine, because I don't want their crap poking around in my files and logging my keystrokes.

I suspect it affects more apps than you realize.

arn
Score: 25 Votes (Like | Disagree)
AppleScruff1 Avatar
166 months ago
One step closer to total Apple control.
Score: 23 Votes (Like | Disagree)
ScottishCaptain Avatar
166 months ago
I would vote for sandboxing with some kind of security mechanism that would permit sandboxed apps to safely interact with other apps and other parts of the OS. This would allow specialized utilities to run without problems or limitations.

I'm sure Apple will provide a way to accomplish this.

What makes you think that?

10.7 is the first step towards the iOS-ification of Mac OS X (not the other way around). Just wait until developers have to resort to retarded hacks to move data between applications because absolutely everything is sandboxed and there's no shared storage between apps.

I swear to god, this walled garden ******** needs to stop. Apple is feeling more like a trash compactor then a green garden filled with wonderful things. Everyone and everything is being crushed into their idea of a perfect platform, and since their vision is ultimately flawed (where your desktop becomes a giant iPad, which is just a giant iPhone)- it's not going to end well for anyone.

-SC
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
calderone Avatar
166 months ago
I'm all for sandboxing. If a dev wants to cry about their "innovation" being stifled because their program only affects what it's meant to, then they can go compromise someone else's machine, because I don't want their crap poking around in my files and logging my keystrokes.
That is just it: many apps will no longer be able to do what they are intended to do.
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Mr. Gates Avatar
166 months ago
Whats next ?

Apps no longer utilize the file system ?

Can we just make the iMac a big iPad now ?.....That's really what we all want ...Right ?
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
JimAtLaw Avatar
166 months ago
This is pretty sad, and anyone who thinks it will not adversely affect innovation and app functionality is not a developer. Apple is on its way to taking a piece of almost every sale on the platform and strictly controlling what is available to most users - wouldn't surprise me if in a release or two you have to jailbreak your Mac to get anything other than Apple approved content.

The fanbois will of course defend the decision as increasing security on the already-most-secure platform, yadda yadda yadda, but the truth is this is all about making sure Apple gets a huge cut of ISV sales and can control innovation and competition on the platform almost entirely - want to make something Apple wants to do itself or doesn't entirely like? Soon, the vast majority of users will never see or consider it because it won't be on the App Store and Apple will tell them that apps from other places are "not secure."

They may kill the golden goose with this idiocy, and if so, will richly deserve it.
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)