What Apple’s Gatekeeper means for your Mac

One of the important new features to be released in Mountain Lion (rumored for July 19th) is Gatekeeper. Gatekeeper basically adds an extra layer of security when downloading apps to your Mac.

More importantly, it may be the first step towards locking users into the Mac App Store in the same way that iPhone users can only download apps from the iPhone App Store.

At the moment, Gatekeeper offers users three options:

  • Only allow apps from the Mac App Store
  • Only allow apps from the Mac App Store and Apple identified developers
  • Allow apps from anywhere

The aim of this is to improve security on Macs, i.e. to prevent users downloading apps that may damage OS X in some way or make it vulnerable to attack. However, if Apple decide to make Gatekeeper protection compulsory, it will have huge implications for both users and developers.

For users, it would mean they have to Jailbreak OS X to download non-App Store/Apple endorsed software in the same way that users do on iPhones. For developers, it would mean restrictions on the types of software they are able to distribute to users. In particular, it’s likely that software that requires access to OS X’s core functions – such as optimizers, system cleaners and security access software – will be subject to strict controls and tests before Mac users can download them.

For less experienced Mac users, Gatekeeper could be a good thing. It should ensure that they’re not downloading anything malicious (although that’s still rare on Macs) and thus ensure greater security and stability. However, it won’t stop problems such as the recent Flashback Trojan, which used a Java exploit to infect Macs.

More experienced users and developers may not be so pleased with the restrictions that Gatekeeper will impose. They will argue that Apple have already introduced Sandboxing to the Mac App Store as a way of making apps safer and more secure and that Gatekeeper is a worrying sign that Apple wants total control over the software users install on their Macs.

For now, Gatekeeper will remain optional. How would you feel if Apple went one step further and made it a compulsory feature of OS X?

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