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Developers, Big Sur, and Vindication

Big Sur

Apple had a big event yesterday. They started the process of moving to their own processors, introduced three new Macs, and announced the imminent release of Big Sur. (Yes, we’ll have Mac minis available right away. We ordered 600+ units yesterday. You can sign up to be among the first to get one.)

A note before we carry on: File this post under "opinion" from me, Brian Stucki.  I don’t speak for MacStadium's legal department, MacStadium future services, or Apple's legal team. I never speak for Apple legal. Hi, friends.

All of this is big news, but for me personally, there was some even more massive news. Apple has updated the macOS software license agreement for Big Sur. This doesn’t happen very often. It went from 15 sections to 16 sections. The last significant change I can remember was in 2012 when they confirmed that you could buy a Mac OS X upgrade and install it on all the Macs you own. (Yes, we used to pay for OS updates.)

More significant than a simple agreement change is that the whole section is so directly pointed at what I care deeply about with my work.

I have been working with Macs in data centers for sixteen years now. I’ve pushed through many of the "Mac mini/Xserve/Mac Pro is dead" comments and "why would you want macOS in a data center" insults. I’ve had Apple account reps very eager to introduce me to their large clients only to have Apple system engineers shoot down the whole idea as a "gray area." Well, this new section of "Leasing for Permitted Developer Services" feels like a massive pat on the back and I’m so happy for all my friends at Apple who saw the need and have been pushing for this update.

macOS hosting is now approved and written out in plain terms in a very Apple way. Incredible! It is a recognition of a need for developers and a market that has huge growth ahead. This will significantly improve software quality for all of the Apple platforms.

Let me just point to some incredible highlights, themes, and important rules of engagement:

Sharing is not caring

Apple software and the hardware on which it runs must be leased "in its entirety to an individual or organization." We have always done this at MacStadium and at Macminicolo before that. However, this is not the case with other companies that come and go.

Other hosting companies will try to slice up Macs, offering virtual macOS machines with lower specs to many customers at once. This is often what you get with Windows or Linux hosting companies but it’s just not allowed with macOS. Not only does this take away from the performance experience Apple wants, but it is wise to remember that Apple is primarily a hardware company. They want to sell Macs. One customer to one machine.

Length of use

A "lease period must be for a minimum period of twenty-four (24) consecutive hours." I can’t tell you how good it is to have this in writing. We have always landed on the side of caution by making it a one-month interval for hosting. Customers often ask for hourly rates - "the way Amazon does it" - but that never felt right to us. (By the way, it’s often more expensive as well. Enjoy the flat rate life.) I’m happy to have an absolute guideline from Apple, so we know how to do it right.

Know what is running on the Mac

Customers, or "lessees" as Apple refers to them, need to review and accept software agreements for all installed software. This includes Xcode and any other Apple or third-party software. This has always been the right thing to do. It’s convenient to have a Mac delivered with all the developer tools that you’d need pre-installed. Xcode isn’t exactly the fastest download in the world. However, customers deserve to know what is running on their systems and what parameters they are expected to keep.

A particular use case for developers

All of this can only be offered for "Permitted Developer services." This is defined as "continuous integration services, including but not limited to software development, building software from source, automated testing during software development, and running necessary developer tools to support such activities." (I still can’t believe this is all so clearly spelled out. I can’t tell you how great this is to know.)

Virtual machines. Yes, for real.

The developers "may install, use, and run additional copies or instances of the Apple Software within virtual operating system environments." We offer Orka built to streamline precisely this process in exactly the way developers prefer it. (Read: quick, easy, and automated with Docker and Kubernetes.)

Enforcement is a good thing

The Lessor (aka MacStadium) is responsible for ensuring all of these requirements are complied with, by, and for customers. Some might see this as a burden, but I see this as a huge benefit. We have invested heavily in security, certificates, protocols, and people to be sure this can be done right. We’re on par with or ahead of the major cloud players.

The biggest and most security-aware companies in the world can walk in our door and know that they are working with a hosting company that does it right and can stand by it. This has been a long and expensive process, but Fortune 100 companies that didn’t think it was possible to outsource their macOS needs a few years ago are now coming with blank checks and short timelines. They need to know that Apple is all right with this setup, and now it’s crystal clear for all.

Working with Apple

And finally, all of this is to be done in coordination with Apple and their incredible Apple Developer Relations team. I love it. I’ve worried for years that the bad actors in this space will push it to a point where Apple blows the whole thing away. Instead, Apple wants to work with those that are doing it right. (Hi!) Anyone interested "must provide Apple with advance notice before leasing or subleasing the Apple Software."

I’ve been assured that MacStadium is first on the list.

In case it’s not clear, all of this is incredibly exciting for me. They could have named this section "To my Beloved Brian" and that wouldn’t have felt out of place at all. Not at all.

If you’re running Big Sur, you can read the license agreement in “About this Mac -> Support” anytime. Apple will probably add it to this page as well. If you want to chat about any of this, find me on Twitter at @brianstucki.

For updates on how MacStadium will go forward with services and offerings, follow MacStadium on Twitter.

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