Gatekeeper: Alfred and the future of OS X

Apple recently announced OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, which contains great new security features to keep your Mac safe from malware. One of these new technologies, Gatekeeper, prevents unauthorised code from running on your Mac.

Gatekeeper – the perfect solution for Alfred

Gatekeeper aims to keep you safe from malware when downloading apps outside of the Mac App Store. By default, Gatekeeper allows you to install apps from both the Mac App Store and from developers who digitally sign their applications with an Apple-certified Developer ID.

The great news is that Alfred 1.2 is already signed with our Developer ID. In simple terms, this means that Alfred and his Powerpack work great on Mountain Lion 10.8 without having to change any security settings, keeping your Mac as safe as possible!

What about the App Store?

Many of you have asked whether we intend to put Alfred’s Powerpack in the Mac App Store. In November, we explained why we planned to keep Alfred out of the MAS due to the new Sandboxing requirements. Today, 1st June, Sandboxing comes into place in the MAS.

In a nutshell, Sandboxing aims to protect users by restricting what an application can do by keeping it in its own “box” and only allowing limited authorised access to specific files and resources on your system. Sandboxing also makes it much easier for Apple to review applications into the store as apps simply can’t do things outside of this “box”.

Meanwhile, Alfred works deep into the heart of your Mac. He gives you very fast access to everything your Mac has to offer, especially with the Powerpack – searching, scripting, file interactions and many more richly integrated features. Thankfully, Apple’s new Gatekeeper paves the way for us to keep Alfred as productive as possible without having to work within the limitations of a sandbox.

On the topic of new features…

You’ll continue to find the free version of Alfred in the MAS, as Apple allows existing apps to remain in the store and receive bug fixes. However, if you’re looking for the big juicy new features, your best bet is to download Alfred from our website. With this version, you can take advantage of the Powerpack and of pre-releases, which give you a sneak preview of new features.

Andrew has also been hard at work on the next release, which brings you the much-anticipated QuickLook, 1Password integration improvements and many more improvements. That’s something to look forward to in the next few weeks!

[Photo credit: Nick Schooley, The Gates at Buckingham Palace on Flickr]

Alfred Powerpack and the Mac App Store (or not)

Note: Before I start, this only affects software obtained through the Mac App Store. Any software purchased outside of the Mac App Store isn’t affected by this and continues as before.

The Mac App Store and Sandboxing

The Mac App Store is currently in transition. From March 2012 (update: Apple delayed it until June 2012), all new submissions / updates need to be sandboxed.

Sandboxing is a way of protecting users from malicious or naughty software by severely restricting the access an application has to underlying resources. It also makes the app approval process easier for Apple as sandboxed apps simply cannot do things outside their own resources. While this works remarkably well on iOS (I am personally happy to be in the “walled garden” on my phone), it really changes the landscape for OS X applications.

As you know, Alfred isn’t a self-contained application like a game, graphics package or todo list. Many of the things Alfred does are to do with OS X itself… he searches, navigates and opens files and apps on your Mac, he runs AppleScript to interact with other applications, he even allows you to create and run lower-level shell or AppleScript extensions… he is basically your quick interface into the heart of OS X. This is where Alfred starts to throw his toys out of the [sand]box.

I would LOVE Alfred’s Powerpack in the Mac App Store

Having the Powerpack in the Mac App Store would not only bring me more revenue, but it’s also a trusted discovery channel for new users – I *know* Alfred would have significantly more Powerpack users by selling through this channel.

Alfred has always used safe, public APIs and been extremely well behaved. Nevertheless, sandboxing means that many of the “OS X allowed” Powerpack features mentioned above would need to be limited or removed if I wanted to continue selling through the Mac App Store from and after March 2012.

Therefore, the Powerpack won’t be going in the Mac App Store [quite yet]

Alfred’s users are most important in this decision. I want to do the best thing for users rather than maximising the money I could get from the Powerpack. As such, I will be keeping the Powerpack out of the Mac App Store until the shortcomings of sandboxing are fully understood and I can make a full evaluation of wether this suits Alfred or not.

ULTIMATELY: The scenario I want to avoid…

If the Powerpack went into the Mac App Store for v1.0 at the end of this month (which I could very well do) and then in March 2012, the Mac App Store sandboxing policy is strongly enforced, I would be unable to provide further updates through the Mac App Store without significantly changing or removing features which do not comply with the sandboxing policy.

I *WOULD NOT* want to provide an update to users that removes features which people are already using and enjoying just to get the latest version into the Mac App Store. This is a problem which may plague current apps in the Mac App Store as well as Alfred, and it wouldn’t be fair on anybody.

But what if you want the Powerpack?

Just remember, the Mac App Store is one of many ways to buy software for your Mac, and the sandbox restrictions only affect software sold / bought through the Mac App Store. Your freedom as a consumer still remains!

To make things easier for Alfred users, I have recently changed Alfred Powerpack’s payment process to use our own bespoke system based on the excellent Foxycart. You no longer need to sign up for Google Checkout to buy the Powerpack as we now accept Credit / Debit cards and PayPal directly. Foxycart is also heavily PCI and Safe Harbor compliant and we do not store credit card information, which means you can buy with the utmost confidence.

I do hope that the sandboxing guidelines are relaxed or that at least Apple provides further mechanisms to interact with OS X before March as I would love to use the Mac App Store as another way to bring the Powerpack to Alfred’s users.

Version 1.0 is just around the corner

This being said, Alfred is just about to hit 1.0, an extremely exciting time for me! He is better than ever and this is just the start of great things to come for him. Take a look at the change log to see what’s coming or, for the more adventurous, why not download the development version to have a play and help us test it :D

Also remember that buying the Powerpack now will save you some dosh as he is only £12 until v1.0 is released!

Cheers,
Andrew