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      Storing your Dropbox folder on an external drive is no longer supported by macOS.

      As someone who has used Windows, macOS, Linux, and FreeBSD extensively as professional desktop OSs I still don’t understand the love so many hackers have for Apple kit.

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        Because not everyone needs the same features as you. I like that MacOS behaves close enough to a Linux shell, but with a quality GUI. I particularly like emacs bindings in all GUI text fields, and the ctrl/cmd key separation that makes terminals so much nicer to use. I like the out-of-the-box working drivers, without having to consult Wikis about which brands have working Linux drivers. I like the hardware, which is best in class by all metrics that matter to me, especially with Apple Silicon. I like the iPhone integration, because I use my iPhone a lot. I like AppleScript, and never bothered to learn AutoHotKey. I like that my MacBook wakes up from sleep before I can even see the display. I like the massive trackpad, which gives me plenty of space to move around the mouse. I like Apple Music and Apple Photos and Apple TV, which work flawlessly, and stream to my sound system running shairport-sync. I like Dash for docs, which has an okay-ish Linux port but definitely not the first class experience you get on MacOS. I like working gestures and consistent hotkeys, tightly controlled by Apple’s app design guidelines. I like that I can configure caps lock -> escape in the native keyboard settings, without remembering the X command or figuring out Wayland or installing some Windows thing that deeply penetrates my kernel.

        I use Linux for servers. I have a Windows gaming PC that hangs on restart or shut down indefinitely until you cut power, and I don’t care enough to fix it because it technically still functions as a gaming PC. But for everything else I use MacOS, and I flat out refuse to do anything else.

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        As someone who ran various Linux distros as my main desktop OS for many years, I understand exactly why so many developers use Apple products: the quality of life improvement is staggeringly huge.

        And to be honest, the longer I work as a programmer the more I find myself not caring about this stuff. Apple has demonstrated, in my opinion, pretty good judgment for what really matters and what’s an ignorable edge case, and for walking back when they make a mistake (like fixing the MBP keyboards and bringing back some of the removed ports).

        You can still boot Linux or FreeBSD or whatever you want and spend your life customizing everything down to the tiniest detail. I don’t want to do that anymore, and Apple is a vendor which caters to my use case.

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        I am a macOS desktop user and I like this change. Sure, it comes with more limitations, but I think it is a large improvement over having companies like Dropbox and Microsoft (Onedrive) running code in kernel-land to support on-demand access.

        That said, I use Maestral, the Dropbox client has become too bloated, shipping a browser engine, etc.

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          I don’t follow why the - good! - move to eliminate the need for kernel extensions necessitates the deprecation of external drives though.

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            I’m not a Dropbox user so I’ve never bothered to analyse how their kext worked. But based on my own development experience in this area, I assume it probably used the kauth kernel API (or perhaps the never-officially-public-in-the-first-place MAC framework API) to hook file accesses before they happened, download file contents in the background, then allow the file operation to proceed. I expect OneDrive and Dropbox got special permission to use those APIs for longer than the rest of us.

            As I understand it, Apple’s issue with such APIs is twofold:

            • Flaws in kernel code generally tend to lead to higher-severity security vulnerabilities, so they don’t want 3rd party developers introducing them. (They keep adding plenty of their own kernel space drivers though, presumably because of the limitations of the user space APIs they’ve provided. And because Apple’s own developers can of course be trusted to write flawless kernel code.)
            • (Ab)uses of kernel APIs like Kauth for round-tripping kernel hooks to user space lead to priority inversion, which in turn can lead to poor performance or hangs.

            These aren’t unreasonable concerns, although the fact they’re still writing large amounts of kernel vulnerabilities panic bugs code themselves somewhat weakens their argument.

            So far, they’ve been deprecating (and shortly after, hard-disabling) kernel APIs and replacing them with user-space based APIs which only implement a small subset of what’s possible with the kernel API. To an extent, that’s to be expected. Unrestricted kernel code is always going to be more powerful than a user space API. However, one gets the impression the kernel API deprecations happen at a faster pace than the user space replacements have time to mature for.

            In this specific case, NSFileProvider has a long and chequered history. Kauth was one of the very first kernel APIs Apple deprecated, back on macOS 10.15. It became entirely unavailable for us plebs on macOS 11, the very next major release. Kauth was never designed to be a virtual file system API, but rather an authorisation API: kexts could determine if a process should be allowed to perform certain actions, mainly file operations. This happened in the form of callback functions into the kext, in the kernel context of the thread of the user process performing the operation.

            Unfortunately it wasn’t very good at being an authorisation system, as it was (a) not very granular and (b) leaving a few gaping holes because certain accesses simply didn’t trigger a kauth callback. (Many years ago, around the 10.7-10.9 days, I was hired to work on some security software that transparently spawned sandboxed micro VMs for opening potentially-suspect files, and denied access to such files to regular host processes; for this, we actually tried to use kauth for its intended purpose, but it just wasn’t a very well thought-out API. I don’t think any of Apple’s own software uses it, which really is all you need to know - all of that, sandboxing, AMFI (code signing entitlements), file quarantine, etc. uses the MAC framework, which we eventually ended up using too, although the Mac version of the product was eventually discontinued.)

            Kauth also isn’t a good virtual file system API (lazily providing file content on access atop the regular file system) but it was the only public API that could be (ab)used for this purpose. So as long as the callback into the kext didn’t return, the user process did not make progress. During this time, the kext (or more commonly a helper process in user space) could do other things, such as filling the placeholder file with its true content, thus implementing a virtual file system. The vfs kernel API on the other hand, at least its publicly exported subset, is only suitable for implementing pure “classic” file systems atop block devices or network-like mounts. NSFileProvider was around for a few years on iOS before macOS and used for the Usual File Cloud Suspects. Reports of problems with Google Drive or MS OneDrive on iOS continue to this day. With the 10.15 beta SDK, at the same as deprecating kauth, everyone was supposed to switch over to EndpointSecurity or NSFileProvider on macOS too. NSFileProvider dropped out of the public release of macOS 10.15 because it was so shoddy though. Apple still went ahead and disabled kauth based kexts on macOS 11 though. (EndpointSecurity was also not exactly a smooth transition: you have to ask Apple for special code signing entitlements to use the framework, and they basically ignored a load of developers who did apply for them. Some persevered and eventually got access to the entitlement after more than a year. I assume many just didn’t bother. I assume this is Apple’s idea of driving innovation on their platforms.)

            Anyway, NSFileProvider did eventually ship on macOS too (in a slightly different form than during the 10.15 betas) but it works very differently than kauth did. It is an approximation of an actual virtual file system API. Because it originally came from iOS, where the UNIXy file system is not user-visible, it doesn’t really match the way power users use the file system on macOS: all of its “mount points” are squirrelled away somewhere in a hidden directory. At least back on the 10.15 betas it had massive performance problems. (Around the 10.14 timeframe I was hired to help out with a Mac port of VFSforGit, which originally used kauth. (successfully) With that API being deprecated, we investigated using NSFileProvider, but aside from the mount point location issue, it couldn’t get anywhere near the performance required for VFSforGit’s intended purpose: lazily cloning git repos with hundreds of thousands of files, unlike the kauth API. The Mac port of VFSforGit was subsequently cancelled, as there was no reasonable forward-looking API with which to implement it.)

            So to come back to your point: these limitations aren’t in any way a technical necessity. Apple’s culture of how they build their platforms has become a very two-tier affair: Apple’s internal developers get the shiny high performance, powerful APIs. 3rd party developers get access to some afterthought bolt-on chicken feed that’s not been dogfooded and that you’re somehow supposed to plan and implement a product around during a 3-4 month beta phase, the first 1-2 months of which the only window in which you stand any sort of slim chance of getting huge problems with these APIs fixed. Even tech behemoths like Microsoft don’t seem to be able to influence public APIs much via Apple’s Developer Relations.

            At least on the file system front, an improvement might be on the horizon. As of macOS 13, Apple has implemented some file systems (FAT, ExFAT and NTFS I think) in user space, via a new user space file system mechanism. That mechanism is not a public API at this time. Perhaps it one day will be. If it does, the questions will of course be whether

            1. 3rd party developers actually get to use it without jumping through opaque hoops.
            2. The public API actually is what Apple’s own file system implementations get to use, or whether it’s once again a poor quality knock-off.
            3. It can actually get close to competing in terms of features and performance compared to in-kernel vfs. I’ve not looked for comparative benchmarks (or performed any of my own) on how the new user space file systems compare to their previous kernel-based implementations, or the (more or less) highly-optimised first-tier file systems APFS and HFS+. (FAT and ExFAT are hardly first-tier in macOS, and NTFS support is even read-only.)

            (The vfs subsystem could be used for implementing a virtual file system if you had access to some private APIs - indeed, macOS contains a union file system which is used in the recovery environment/OS installer - so there’s no reason Apple couldn’t export features for implementing a virtual file system to user space, even if they don’t do so in the current kernel vfs API.)

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        Part of that may also be the hardware, not the software.

        My datapoint: I’ve never really liked macOS, and tried to upgrade away from a MacBook to a “PC” laptop (to run KDE on Linux) two years ago. But after some research, I concluded that - I still can’t believe I’m saying this - the M1 MacBook Air had the best value for money. All “PC” laptops at the same price are inferior in terms of both performance and battery life, and usually build quality too (but that’s somewhat subjective).

        I believe the hardware situation is largely the same today, and will remain the same before “PC” laptops are able to move to ARM.

        macOS itself is… tolerable. It has exactly one clear advantage over Linux desktop environments, which is that it has working fonts and HiDPI everywhere - you may think these are just niceties, but they are quite important for me as a Chinese speaker as Chinese on a pre-hiDPI screen is either ugly or entirely unreadable. My pet peeve is that the dock doesn’t allow you to easily switch between windows [1] but I fixed that with Contexts. There are more solutions today since 2 years ago.

        [1] macOS’s Dock only switches between apps, so if you have multiple windows of the same app you have to click multiple times. It also shows all docked apps, so you have to carefully find open apps among them. I know there’s Expose, but dancing with the Trackpad to just switch to a window gets old really fast.

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          [macOS] has exactly one clear advantage over Linux desktop environments, which is that it has working fonts and HiDPI everywhere

          Exactly one? I count a bunch, including (but not limited to) better power management, better support for external displays, better support for Bluetooth accessories, better and more user-friendly wifi/network setup… is your experience with Linux better in these areas?

          My pet peeve is that the dock doesn’t allow you to easily switch between windows

          Command+~ switches between windows of the active application.

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            better power management

            This is one area that I’d concede macOS is better for most people, but not for me. I’m familiar enough with how to configure power management on Linux, and it offers much more options (sometimes depending on driver support). Mac does have good power management out of the box, but it requires third party tools to do what I consider basic functions like limiting the maximal charge.

            The M1 MBA I have now has superior battery life but that comes from the hardware.

            better support for external displays

            I’ve not had issues with support for external monitors using KDE on my work laptop.

            The MBA supports exactly one external display, and Apple removed font anti aliasing so I have to live with super big fonts in external displays. I know the Apple solution is to buy a more expensive laptop and a more expensive monitor, so it’s my problem.

            better support for Bluetooth accessories

            Bluetooth seems suck the same everywhere, I haven’t notice any difference on Mac - ages to connect, random dropping of inputs. Maybe it works better for Apple’s accessories which I don’t have any of, so it’s probably also my problem.

            better and more user-friendly wifi/network setup

            KDE’s wifi and network management is as intuitive. GNOME’s NetworkManager GUI used to suck, but even that has got better these days.

            Command+~ switches between windows of the active application.

            I know, but

            • Having to think about whether I’m switching to a different app or in the same app is really not how my brain works.
            • It’s still tedious when you have 3 or more windows that look similar (think terminals) and you have to pause after switching to ensure you’re in the correct window.
            • I really just want to use my mouse (or trackpad) really to do this kind of GUI tasks.

            I’ve used a Mac for 6 years as my personal laptop and have been using Linux on my work laptop.

            Back then I would agree that macOS (still OS X then) was much nicer than any DE on Linux. But Linux DEs have caught up (I’ve mainly used KDE but even GNOME is decent today), while to an end user like me, all macOS seems to have done are (1) look more like iOS (nice in some cases, terrible in others) and (2) gets really buggy every few releases and returns to an acceptable level over the next few versions. I only chose to stay on a Mac because of hardware, their OS has lost its appeal to me except for font rendering and HiDPI.

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              better support for Bluetooth accessories

              A bluetooth headset can be connected in two modes (or more), one is A2DP with high quality stereo audio, but no microphone channel, and the other one is the headset mode which has low quality audio but a microphone channel. On macOS the mode will be switched automatically whenever I join or leave a meeting, on Linux this was always a manual task that most of the time didn’t even work, e.g. because the headset was stuck in one of the modes. I can’t remember having a single issue with a bluetooth headset on macOS, but I can remember many hours of debugging pulseaudio or pipewire just to get some sound over bluetooth.

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          My pet peeve is that the dock doesn’t allow you to easily switch between windows

          It sounds like you found a third-party app you like, but for anyone else who’s annoyed by this, you may find this keyboard shortcut helpful: when you’re in the Command-Tab app switcher, you can type Command-Down Arrow to see the individual windows of the selected app. Then you can use the Left and Right Arrow keys to select a window, and press Return to switch to that window.

          This is a little fiddly mechanically, so here’s a more detailed explanation:

          1. Press the Command key and keep it held down for the rest of this process.
          2. Type Tab to enter the app switcher.
          3. Use the Tab and Backtick keys to select an app. (Tab moves the selection to the right; Backtick moves it to the left.)
          4. Press the Down Arrow key to enter “app windows” mode.
          5. Press any of the arrow keys to activate the focus ring. I’m not really sure why this step is necessary.
          6. Use Left and Right Arrow keys to select the window you’re interested in.
          7. Press Return to open the window.
          8. Now you can release the Command key. (You can actually do this any time after step 4.)

          (On my U.S. keyboard, the Backtick key is directly above Tab. I’m not sure how and whether these shortcuts are different on different keyboard layouts.)

          This seems ridiculous when I write it all out like this, but once you get it in your muscle memory it’s pretty quick, and it definitely feels faster than moving your hand to your mouse or trackpad to switch windows. (Who knows whether it’s actually faster.)

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            Thanks, I’ve tried this before but my issue is that this process involves a lot of hand-eye loop (look at something, decide what to do, do it). On the other hand, if I have a list of open windows, there is exactly one loop - find my window, move the mouse and click.

            I hope people whose brain doesn’t work like mine find this useful though :)

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              It’s kind of nutty, but my fix for window switching has been to set up a window switcher in Hammerspoon: https://gist.github.com/jyc/fdf5962977943ccc69e44f8ddc00a168

              I press alt-tab to get a list of windows by name, and can switch to window #n in the list using cmd-n. Looks like this: https://jyc-static.com/9526b5866bb195e636061ffd625b4be4093a929115c2a0b6ed3125eebe00ef20

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                Thanks for posting this! I have an old macbook that I never really used OSX on because I hated the window management. I gave it another serious try after seeing your post and I’m finding it much easier this time around.

                I ended up using https://alt-tab-macos.netlify.app over your alt tab, but I am using Hammerspoon for other stuff. In particular hs.application.launchOrFocus is pretty much the win+1 etc hotkeys on Windows.

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          Once you factor in the longevity of mac laptops vs pcs, the value proposition becomes even more striking. I think this is particularly true at the pro level.

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        I use both. But to be honest, on the Linux side I use KDE plasma and disable everything and use a thin taskbar at the top and drop all the other stuff out of it and use mostly the same tools I use on macOS (neovim, IntelliJ, Firefox, etc…).

        Which is two extremes. I’m willing to use Linux so stripped down in terms of GUI that I don’t have to deal with most GUIs at all other than ones that are consistent because they’re not using the OS GUI framework or macOS.

        There’s no in between. I don’t like Ubuntu desktop, or gnome, or any of the other systems. macOS I am happy to use the guis. They’re consistent and for the most part. Just work. And I’ve been using Linux since they started mailing it out on discs.

        I can’t tell you exactly why I’m happy to use macOS GUIs but not Linux based GUIs, but there is something clearly not right (specifically for me to be clear; everyone’s different) that causes me to tend to shun Linux GUIs altogether.

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        If I cared about hacking around with the OS (at any level up to the desktop) or the hardware, I wouldn’t do it on Apple kit, but I also wouldn’t do it on what I use every day to enable me to get stuff done, so I’d still have the Apple kit for that.

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        Go ahead. Kick the hornets’ nest.

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      more seamless experience

      What does that mean? The page does nothing but list ways in which Dropbox is about to get worse that it was before.

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        I assume it means you no longer have to jump through the hoops Apple makes you jump through to load third party kernel extensions on macOS. (Or worse, having to work around the fact that the kext in question won’t load at all from 12.3 onwards.)

        Or, you know, corporate double-speak.

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      Updated a couple of days ago. Moves the folder but leaves a symlink where it was before. Have some apps (DBeaver, KeepassXC) reading from Dropbox folders (more symlinks involved), those work the same, but a dialog appears to confirm permission for the app to access the Dropbox folder.

      It’s fine for me.

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      Sounds like macOS could use an XDG base directory spec.

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      What’s the reason for these changes? Is the “Apple’s updated API for a more seamless experience” the source of the limitations and regressions?

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        I’m led to believe that Apple is requiring apps that provide features like “local files transparently download on first open” to use the File Provider API in macOS, which has restrictions.


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      Does anyone know when (or in which version of Dropbox for macOS) these changes are expected to happen? There’s no mention of either in the article, which is itself undated.