Does Lion’s Safari-Only Mode Push it Into Chrome Territory?
The upcoming Mac OS X Lion includes a mode that only loads the Safari web browser when the machine is turned on and does nothing else, thereby creating a web-only computing environment. Does this sandboxed version of Safari have implications deeper than guest convenience? Here’s a little speculation on whether this feature is Apple’s counter to Google Chrome, as well as the potential channel implications …
Apple clearly has been paying attention to how computers are being used and borrowed, and the new Safari-only mode is proof of that. According to the company, Mac OS X Lion’s “restart to Safari” feature is exceptionally “safer” than a multi-user setup with guest accounts. The reason is two-fold: The locked-down Safari mode cannot access the local file system, so no one can access files on the machine. And, if the screen is locked and someone wants to use the computer, “reset to Safari” won’t destroy the work of the previous user of the machine. Mac OS X Lion is able to take a snapshot of all apps when users log out or the machine is shut down. Workflow, data and settings can be instantly revived and put to back the way they were.
Some reports say that Safari-only mode was designed to help “encourage” Mac thieves to make an Internet connection so that “Find My Mac” services can be utilized more easily, but I think that’s not the main purpose. Apple understands clearly that the browser is where the majority of desktop computing is done, and for some, it’s all they need. Implementing this mode on a Mac can instantly make Mac OS X Lion more attractive to computer labs or computer kiosks, too. VARs working with Macs now have an instant value-add without having to install software that essentially provides the same locked-down features.
But here’s where it gets more interesting: Some users have reported the Safari-only mode boots from Mac OS X Lion’s recovery partition, not the main partition, so not only is it virtually isolated from all the owner’s regular data, the mode is running on a partition with very little data — likely, a compressed and stripped-down version of Mac OS X.
Users could, theoretically, deploy such a bare-bones version on a small laptop with limited localized solid-state storage and create a Chrome-like user experience. Imagine this: an Apple device that runs only Safari and the Mac App Store. It could be a device somewhere between an iPad and a MacBook Air. It’s not likely Apple would ever do this, but the fact that Apple has created this feature shows forward-thinking. It’s not a direct threat to Google, but Apple seems to be watching and listening (maybe even lurking) from afar and slowly implementing features at its own pace.