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"Nanny Computing" and the future of OS X


Note to readers: I failed to add a "do not pub yet" note onto this post the night before last. It was inadvertently published during our overnight before it finished research and editorial review. The post is much the same with clarification added about how and when the hotkey ban is due to go into effect, and clarifying exactly what functionality we believe is going to be forbidden in the MAS going forward. I also removed specific application names that may be affected by this change.

Editor's Note: I stand behind this story due to the evidence we received, but unfortunately it is evidence we cannot share publicly. While many have claimed our story is untrue, I can tell you that due diligence was practiced and, based on the evidence we received, what was indicated by Apple stands as written. Several clarifications have been added to this story, but all I can tell people is that either Apple is unsure of what hotkey functionality is in this case, or something has changed very recently in such a way as to negate what was said previously by Apple. Therefore, we'll have to wait and see. If further evidence appears to refute what we have written, we will publish a standalone clarification. After all, it is Apple's store to do with as they wish, which includes applying policy as they see fit, or changing policy at any given time.

Update: Apple later added a small checkbox that would enables the proper behavior for developers. When a developer's app was denied due to this flag, it appears Apple realized the checkbox was necessary. Unfortunately it is impossible for us to divine the reasoning behind the previous rejection or the subsequent approval and addition of the checkbox, as Apple isn't telling. It would also be impossible to divulge more without tipping our source, which was valid at the time. - Ed.

As I write this, I just got off the phone with a colleague. He just now is realizing that [as far as the Mac App Store is concerned –Ed.] Apple may be end-of-life-ing all those great little hotkey shortcuts that used to let us bring an app to the forefront and do something.

Apps use hotkeys to let you jump to what you want to do while you work on what you must do. Apps can set a system-wide hotkey to trigger an action or event, even when the app itself is not foremost (or is resident in the menu bar). They're on the way out of the Mac App Store as Apple paves the path to safer, more consumer-oriented computing.

Apparently, Apple will allow hotkey apps that are already in the Mac App Store before June to offer only bug fixes after that. New sandboxed apps and any apps that add features (i.e. non-bugfix releases) will not be allowed to support hotkeys.

TUAW has been told that Apple will be rejecting all MAS apps with hotkey functionality starting June 1, regardless of whether the new features are hotkey related or not. Basically, if you're developing one of those apps, an app that assumes you can still add hotkeys, don't bother submitting it to the Mac App Store. [Note that as far as we know this only means systemwide hotkeys, not isolated-to-your-app keyboard commands -- the latter would obviously kneecap OS X and the Mac App Store rather dramatically. –Ed.]

It's not just press-to-switch apps that are feeling the pressure of the future. Many cross-app scripting utilities and macro programs already can't step foot in the App Store and will have to fight for a space on your computer under Mountain Lion's GateKeeper. The Quickeys macro program I've depended on for decades is still limping along for the moment in its creaky 4.0 build, but I don't expect it to last more than a year or so.

OS X 10.9 or OS Xi, whichever comes after Mountain Lion, isn't about to let an app completely redefine the user keyboard. Those macros that let me use Emacs keys regardless of app, and that let me launch all my most-used apps with one combination...I know they're next to die.

I've seen the future and it is iOS. Apple is moving solidly and confidently towards consumer computing and away from mollycoddling the power users. The company knows where its profits come from and power users ain't it. The iPad -- with its simple interface, strong security, and dependability -- has set the standard for what's next.

For all the moments when I want to rage against the coming of the Nanny OS, I know it's on its way. I've lived in iOS now for 5 years. I've played in the sandbox, I've grown to know the sandbox, I've come to accept the sandbox.

I'm not super thrilled by it, but you can't deny the reality. While there's no indication Apple intends to prevent the sale of apps with [systemwide] hotkey functionality outside the App Store, it is clear Apple is working to simplify the user experience within the Mac App Store, and that means "power user" utilities are at risk.

Goodbye hotkeys, macro programs, end-user customization, and all the detritus of operating systems that were full of holes to crawl into and dumpsters wherein to dive. The new, clean way of computing is on its way. It may be a lot less fun but it's gonna sell a hell of a lot of Macs.

Thanks, Gwynne Raskind for providing feedback during the writing of this post.

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