Mac App Store sandboxing rule stirs up controversy

One of the little-known changes in Apple’s OS X Lion is a heightened level of security by way of “sandboxing” apps, and while you’d think heightened security might be met with accolades, in actuality there are a lot of angry voices speaking out about it.

The process of “sandboxing” involves adding a layer of security to the app which prevents it from having control over anything aside from its own file system and processes. This stops a malevolent app from messing with, say, system files or another app’s files which may contain sensitive personal information, etc. A sandboxed app is one that is limited from being able to reach beyond its own boundaries. The problem is that it also prevents apps from interacting with one another in a constructive way. For instance, apps that browse the file system (like Transmit), sync files (Dropbox), or control iTunes (CoverSutra) would all be hobbled by the restrictions.

Originally, Mac App Store sandboxing was slated to become law in November, but has been pushed back to March 2012.

It’s a system that will most definitely stop malware in its tracks and is already implemented on the iTunes App Store for iOS. OS X Lion, however, has laid the foundation for the same restrictions to exist for apps sold via the Mac App Store. Publishers will still be able to sell their Mac apps outside of the Mac App Store, but it poses a hard question to developers about their work: Is it better to limit functionality and features or to accept a severe drop in revenue by avoiding the main purchasing channel? Pundits are concerned that it will result in a dumber, simpler Mac app ecosystem in which innovation is stifled and the computing environment will lose the power and flexibility it’s always enjoyed.

As Apple began very gradually transitioning OS X towards a more iOS function and form and then accelerating that transition considerably with OS X Lion, what did we think would come of a computer built to mimic a phone? More freedom and function? Or less? iOS is Apple’s greatest cash cow, so it only stands to reason that the principles and design that’s lined the coffers so far will eventually be applied to everything Apple makes.

Corey has been been a tech journalist with a focus on Apple since 1998 and has written for The Loop, MacHome magazine, and as games contributor for The Mac Bible, and co-hosts the iGame Radio Podcast. He works as a… Full Bio