Last Week on My Mac: Stuck together or flourishing apart?

The last week or two have brought important lessons in where Apple sees its operating systems going. For years, people have told me confidently that macOS will imminently be swallowed into iOS, and all our Macs will soon be running a slightly tweaked version of the same operating system as our iPhones. I’m afraid that I’ve never bought that idea, and all that I see demonstrates how wrong it is. Here’s some recent evidence to conjure with.


Macs and iPhones have completely different approaches to security. There’s no walled garden for macOS, and Mac users need layered security to protect them from malicious and unwanted software. For the last eight years or more, two of the key components in this have been XProtect and MRT.

Over that period, both have changed considerably: in the early days, much of XProtect’s benefit came from blocking old and exploited versions of Flash and Java. More recently its Yara definitions have grown to focus more on detecting known malware, a task which has progressively overlapped with their removal by MRT.

For the first time since the release of XProtect and MRT, this year Apple has introduced a brand new security feature in XProtect Remediator, which starts with most if not all the capabilities of MRT, and adds specific code modules to address some of the more troublesome types of malware. In its first solo update at the end of last week, Apple released a new module aimed at DubRobber, better-known as XCSSET, which has escaped and evaded the Yara approach for some time. That’s a major milestone for macOS security which is completely independent of Apple’s other operating systems in this respect.

As for app security, Apple has improved notarization, its scheme for ensuring the security of independently distributed software, and in Ventura is tightening its security checks further. Although notarization is only available to registered developers, the service is completely free, and essentially unlimited in the number of apps a developer can get notarized.

Ventura’s image processing

Shortly before Apple released that update to XProtect Remediator, I had been looking briefly at new image processing features coming in Ventura. Its description in the preview documentation is surprisingly terse:
“Lift the subject from an image or isolate the subject by removing the background. This works in Photos, Screenshot, Quick Look, Safari, and more.”

For test images, I visited those here for Visual Look Up to see what this first beta of Ventura could manage. Do you want a Mona Lisa without the landscape background, a cutout image of a Havanese puppy, sunflower, or the Eiffel Tower? On my MacBook Pro with an M1 Pro chip, cutting each of those objects out so I could paste them into a document was instant and at least as good as a pro could have achieved working hard in Adobe Photoshop.

While the Neural Engine inside each M1 chip is a great help in object recognition and isolation, who would have thought it worthwhile to build this feature into a computer operating system, had it not been a hot-selling feature of iOS and iPadOS? As with Visual Look Up and Live Text, such features would have been left to individual apps to implement, but macOS gets them for free.

Stage Manager

Another of the new features demonstrated in Ventura is the ability to minimise apps and their windows at one side of the display in what Apple calls Stage Manager. This is probably the most substantial feature added to the normal Desktop working interface since the Dock was introduced in Mac OS X in 2000, although even that had a precursor in classic Mac OS as the Launcher.

This is currently intended for both macOS and M1 iPads, which has caused something of a ruckus among many who feel this Desktop feature should be more widely available across iPadOS. As iPadOS increasingly differentiates itself from iOS, there are other features more typical of a computer operating system like macOS that will join this tug-of-war.

Bundled apps

Oddly, the strongest evidence of convergence between Apple’s software isn’t in its operating systems at all, but in bundled apps like Music and TV. Another of Ventura’s controversies is its replacement for System Preferences, tellingly renamed Settings, and reimplemented using what looks to be SwiftUI. It’s still a far cry from its namesake in iOS, and it will be interesting to see how it evolves during the beta phase.

Rather than growing, or being thrown, together, Apple’s operating systems are flourishing apart. There’s plenty of cross-pollination occurring, bringing features to macOS that would ordinarily be excluded from a desktop computer operating system. The most significant, and most needed, movement is in iPadOS as it establishes its middle ground between macOS and iOS. The next couple of years could be really exciting there.