X11 and the disturbing trend of Apple removing functionality from OS X

OS X Mountain Lion not only ships without X11, but actually removes X11 from your computer when you upgrade. If you're not familiar with X11, it's a networked graphical user interface that geeks and systems administrators alike use all the time, every day to connect to and run various UNIX applications. It might not sound like a mainstream feature, and it isn't, but it's something that let me and people like me do our jobs using the Mac. It let me connect to work via ssh and use X11 forwarding to view terminal applications, use tsclient, vnc etc... It let me be an Apple customer. And now it's gone.

My roots in UNIX and Linux, and I've always enjoyed using and tweaking them to my hearts content, from Gentoo, to FreeBSD to Ubuntu. A couple of years ago, I got tired of the tweaking and just wanted a beautiful Unix experience out of the box, where I could use Terminals, ssh connections, and X11 to keep getting work done, but have all the bells and whistles of a commercial operating system as well. I went with Mac OS X due to it’s BSD lineage and because it looked nice too. I could stay in Terminal all day, and enjoy the experience.

And now I'm wondering if I made a mistake.

There were always compromises and annoyances. The Terminal was always limited, copy and pasting text in it was non standard, there was no default repository for ports or applications. And no matter how many cores or how much RAM I threw at it, it would beachball when copying and pasting from one terminal to another using the default app on Mac OS X. I installed extra terms and macports and other third party applications to reduce the annoyance, but it seems I was fighting a losing battle.

Over the years, Apple began to neglect, or worse, remove more and more of the traditional UNIX portions of OS X.

Which brings me back to Mountain Lion and Apple coming into my machine and ripping out the X11, and giving me this (opens in new tab) when I search their knowledge base for answers:

X11 is not included with Mountain Lion, but X11 server and client libraries for OS X Mountain Lion are available from the XQuartz project: http://xquartz.macosforge.org. You should use XQuartz version 2.7.2 or later.

Apple also removed the perfectly functional RSS features from Mail and Safari in Mountain Lion. You can't even open an RSS file and preview it in Safari anymore. In previous years Apple stopped installing some features by default, including the Adobe Flash player, but removing features is a disturbing trend.

Imagine if Apple removes Terminal itself in the next version of OS X, or decides iMessage is the future and gets rid of Mail.app?

I'm installing XQuartz and I hope Apple provides support for it going forward. Without its UNIX underpinnings, the Mac becomes less useful for IT workers like me.

Apple is known for their user experience but this was a very bad one. Maybe they figure a UNIX geek like me is perfectly capable of searching their knowledge base and finding alternatives, and I certainly can and did.

But there's no knowledge base article to explain away the feeling of violation that comes with a vendor reaching into your personal computer, even during an OS upgrade, and removing something you depend on every day.

iOS 6 is Apple's next major OS update, and now I'm left to wonder, what if any functionality will that remove from my iPhone or iPad? Will RSS still work in mobile Safari? Will something else I rely on be gone?

And that's not the kind of thing Apple users, even the geeks, should have to worry about.

Anthony Casella
  • Bingo.
    This is the kind of thing that eludes my memory when the following occurs: 1) Someone sees me with an Apple product or two, then assumes I'm a fanboy and use nothing but Apple products.
    2) I correct then explain that I buy what works for me but am concerned about some of Apple's tendencies and philosophies.
    3) Then I draw a blank on what specific things are problematic. Sure, they're more and more about walled gardens and limiting advanced users for the sake of less-advanced users (and control!) but examples don't occur to me until moments like these. I don't just invest in devices. I try to invest in platforms. That speaks to continuity and stability. Apple removing functionality, not just omitting it from future products but removing it from existing ones, puts me on shaky ground.
  • This made me nervous when I read it. After the Mountain Lion upgrade, I fully expected my TASCAM US1800 audio interface to work as it did with Lion but to my horror, I realized that while it shows up in System Properties connected via USB, it doesn't show up in audio properties. Multiple re installs of the driver did not correct the problem. I contacted TASCAM only to find out that the current driver doesn't work with Mountain Lion and they are working on a driver that as of July 25, would not be ready for 4 to 6 weeks. I'm wondering if Apple didn't remove something with the Mountain Lion install that worked with my audio interface, forcing TASCAM to now develop a new driver for it. Luckily, I have no pressing recording projects on a deadline, but this has me wondering what else Apple may have removed, that we are not aware of. This trend started with Lion, where something was removed that allowed an older version of Photoshop to work. So I suppose we can count on this trend to continue and I don't think I'll be upgrading my MBP next time, if that's the case.
  • Re: the Photoshop thing - Lion removed support for Rosetta, which had *already* been deprecated since 2009. This broke CS2 and earlier, but I'm not convinced that an entire set of PPC system libraries, translators, etc should be kept around so that 1% of users can run seven-year-old software. As for the Tascam driver, is this your first time dealing with an OS upgrade? Driver incompatibility with new versions isn't exactly an Apple-specific issue, and a quick Google for the unit you mention brings up no shortage of results describing the poor quality of the *existing* drivers.
  • Re: "...I'm not convinced that an entire set of PPC system libraries, translators, etc should be kept around so that 1% of users can run seven-year-old software." Exactly. Let Apple museum curators keep obsolete technologies running. Backward compatibility eventually becomes a boat anchor. Plain and simple.
  • Excuses excuses. Apple spent millions buying into the company that made Rosetta (Transitive), and that 1% of users would have happily bought it had they spun it off as an product for sale, or sold the product and its original team off as a standalone company. Rosetta itself is supposed to be a marvel of engineering, even now. That kind of technology could have Mac apps and iOS apps running at native speeds on either platform. Rosetta was a user level program and thus needed no heavy engineering whatsoever, unless the changes under the hood of 10.7 were so vast that it was plainly incompatible with 10.6, which obviously was not the case (as 99% of 10.6 applications either worked from release on 10.7 or a few days after). Nobody else stopped making their programs upon the release of 10.7 so why should Apple, the biggest software developer on OSX!? Rosetta was removed as forced obsolescence to make people buy new versions of older programs. Nothing else.
  • "Luckily, I have no pressing recording projects on a deadline, but this has me wondering what else Apple may have removed" Luck should not be a factor, upgrading to a new OS if you DID have pressing projects would be a very bad idea!
  • Sorry, trying not to be too harsh, but this is a junky article. No one is removing Mail.app, that's just ridiculous. As for the rest -- who cares. They're likely being removed because Apple doesn't give them any attention anyhow. This is either as a result of, or a cause of, the fact that there are third party tools that are much better than those that ship with the OS. RSS inside Safari and Mail.app was a nuisance for me personally. And if they remove Terminal.app (which they wouldn't), well, who cares. There are better Terminal emulators (iTerm2) and heh, Mail programs, anyhow. Oh, and "But there's no knowledge base article to explain away the feeling of violation that comes with a vendor reaching into your personal computer, even during an OS upgrade, and removing something you depend on every day." -- please, this is just silly.
  • I'm not sure why. Not everyone does (or should be required to, imo) scour every website that has information about, not only what Apple's adding with a software update, but what's being REMOVED. So yes, it feels like a violation to have your existing functionality removed - especially if it was unexpected. People really do rely on these devices. We lean on them. If YOU leaned on something, then someone kicked it out from under you, what would THAT feel like?
  • Just because Apple removed features that you didn't want doesn't mean everything you want is safe. For now it is but there is no telling what they will do in the future. If there is a better alternative than their in-house developed solution they should negotiate with the company responsible to distribute it with OSX. To simply remove the software is a lazy solution. I agree the original post is a bit melodramatic but I do understand where he is coming from. It sucks to rely on a feature and to have it removed for no real reason.
  • If I install a program, no matter how degraded it is, they shouldn't REMOVE it themselves. Maybe they could say "Hey, we don't support this anymore, use it at your own risk". What if (insert car company here) took out the cigarette lighter and replaced it with a 3-prong when you went in for a 5000mile tune-up? The majority of people don't use their cigarette lighters in their cars for cigarettes, and would like a 3-prong, but for those who smoke in their car, what right does (car company) have to change it without asking? This policy gives the impression that Apple can remove whatever software they want without asking. Other things were taken out, because they weren't compatible, but Apple announced it beforehand. PPC support removal was announced, as was Rosetta. But there was logic there, PPC support was too legacy, and Rosetta wasn't needed because by that time most programs were already Intel compatible. However, this wasn't announced.
  • >If I install a program, no matter how degraded it is, they shouldn't REMOVE it themselves. Apple won't go about removing third-party software. They may disable incompatible kexts, but they won't delete them for you. But it makes sense for them to be able to remove unsupported and incompatible software that was *part of an OS install*.
  • Rosetta was not part of the OS install on 10.6. Also, why could they not do what they did with X11? Why not let Transitive (the guys who did most of the work under the hood) have the tech and sell it to the public? Why not open source their own part at least, especially when they know that they built it in a way that would be impossible to compete against.
  • Well...some day I hope you suddenly lose something of value that you have used for years to get your job done. Something that your entire work flow was based on. I'm sure then you could relate and wouldn't consider such a problem "junk" or a "who cares" kinda dilema.
  • If you are an IT worker and aren't flexible enough to be able to work under non-ideal circumstances, you are not an IT worker, you are a button clicker who doesn't deserve his/her salary. I'm a linux admin, 16 years of linux experience (yes, that's pre-1.0 yggdrasil), 10+ years of working as UNIX/linux sysadmin, 4 years Mac user, and...I've never had X11 installed on my Macs. Ah! And *all* linux distros do this too...if you do a dist upgrade on debian, it'll kill non-supported stuff that was installed as part of the previous version's Base. Same if you do an upgrade on Ubuntu, RH, Mandriva (or whatever it is now) and most other distros I've used...if it's part of Base (as X11 was on OSX) and gets killed as supported software, it'll usually get killed on upgrade...mostly because deps can't be supplied, but it happens almost every time, specially if the distro is moving support of it out of channel, as is happening with X-on-Mac (going from an internally supported port to telling you to install an external port). As for the "I hope they support it in the future"...pffft! That X version they are pointing you to isn't an Apple project, it's an external project...pray better for the project to continue, Apple doesn't care about X anymore...just as they don't care about RSS...let outside developers work on the problem, Apple doesn't see enough upside on it for them to invest time and money on it...Apple supporting it or not is completely immaterial from today on. So...adapt and overcome, if you are really a sysadmin...whine if you aren't.
  • Spoken like a true ..., condescending tone and all. It's a very familiar attitude common to you Linux pipsqueaks. Who cares what Linux does? Not nearly as many folks as you wish cared, that's why you're in a Mac thread with a post that's more than 50% wholly unrelated to the subject. You're bored of only conversing with the other 433 Linux fanbois left in the world. DISmissed! Soggy, I agree with you. IT folks deal with unstable apps and platforms all day, no way I'd want the tool I use the most to be just as unstable as the stuff I have to fix. And it isn't just IT folks that feel this way. I updated to Lion one Friday evening shortly after it was released (and after using SuperDuper to clone my existing drive). I used it all weekend and finished off Sunday night by restoring my SL image back to my hard drive. There was nothing exciting enough in Lion for me to figure out how to work aroundthe changes that affected how I do most of what I already had working in SL. I don't see anything exciting enough in ML either, so upgrading will have to wait until there's something new and exciting enough that I decide it's worth the churn.
  • > I'm a linux admin, 16 years of linux experience Sounds like "16 years old", nothing else.
  • The two largest toolsets that Apple has removed are Java and X11. Both were replaced with stubs that prompt for downloading the toolsets when someone attempts to access them. Both were replaced because the primary source of the toolsets began superseding Apple's version. Apple first began providing their own X11 and Java because their platform was too small to get first-class support. Over time, that has ceased being the case. Nothing else has substantially changed. Terminal works just fine and received updates in Lion. OS/X has never had a ports system - even when you initially chose it. If you have a problem with the third-party Macports or Fink, that seems to speak more to those projects then to Apple. Personally, I've never had any issues with Homebrew. You seem to think this is all unique to Apple. Look at the crap-storm the Gnome team unleashes when they decide to remove features or change the way the UI works. Software changes. It's the way it works.
  • Maybe it's just me, but I'm still a tad bitter on Lion dropping PowerPC / Rosetta support. I bought a ton of games and apps for my kids when I got their iMac, but when I upgraded, I had no clue how many of them were no longer compatible. I wrote to some of the companies of these games and they either shifted to the Mac App Store (eventually), but then giving me only the option of re-purchasing it there, or they abandoned their product or support altogether for it. What really bothers me is that many of these apps are written with Macromedia Director, so if I had enough tinkering/hacking knowledge, I could probably finagle some of these apps to work again if I ripped out and reapplied their resource files, but there's probably just too much headache involved to do so.
  • I agree. I have one of the last 17" macbook pro's running 10.6 Snow Leopard. I dont intend to upgrade hardware or software for a while. The coolest thing about OS X has always been its swiss army knife capabilities. It can run OSX (PPC+Intel) it can run unix stuff (x11 based) and it can run windows through Parallels/Vmware. Lion and Mountain Lion have removed/changed those abilities, sort of like if someone broke a few tools off of the swiss army knife. Sure there are some work arounds, but they seem to be a klugey step backworks rather than the elegant, refined solution they have been.
  • I understand your point of view. I'm a devoper and I changed to OS X from Linux in 2003. But for one year, I reversed the move and I came back to Linux thanks distribution like Ubuntu.
    For more about my experiment, the link of my article: http://chrixsoftwarethoughts.blogspot.fr/2012/07/why-i-quit-apple-os-x.html
  • iOS 6 does not have RSS functionality. It asks you to search an app in the app store to open RSS. Did mobile safari ever support RSS?
  • Download Xquartz. Quit your bitching. Now it's a single app you can download separately if you need it. Smart move in my opinion.
  • Completely agree @tuscanidream. Why waste space?
  • And for Rosetta??? Yeah, who's the bitch now. RTFA.
  • Wow, this makes me worry. I was a very long-time Unix & Linux user who switched to Macs about 4 years ago. All my stuff is written in C, and uses X11 for its graphics. I also run my stuff with OpenMPI fairly often now. Apple stopped including OpenMPI as of Lion (I believe they also switched from gcc over to clang as the included C compiler), which was a pain. Now X11 is being taken away too. Fortunately I haven't upgraded any of my machines to Mountain Lion yet (I've got about a dozen machines in my labs, and am usually cautious about updating them until I'm pretty sure nothing will break for me or my students). From the little bit I've read about XQuartz, it looks like it could be fine. But definitely a pain that it's an extra step to go through to get my stuff working. X11 used to be an optional package to install from the OS discs, it was nice when they started installing it by default. I'm definitely somewhat nervous about where things are heading.
  • I think what some people are missing here is not that you can't go and download Xquarts, but the fact that it X11 was REMOVED without bothering to inform the user. That's like taking your car in for service, having something you use removed, you not being informed of that, and only finding out when you go to use it. That does leave a feeling of violation and that feeling is valid because we're talking about the vendor removing a function of something YOU OWN without first informing you of it. Maybe that doesn't bother some of you but it does bother others and that's not ok with some of us. The fact that it may not bother you doesn't invalidate that it bothers someone else. We don't all have to agree on something, but let's try to at least communicate without being the "mean girl" from highschool? Just a thought.
  • I'm sorry, but thanks for upgrading to Moutain Lion. I rely on early adopters and forums like these to find any and all problems facing an upgrade. I'll continue using Lion for a while.
    P.S. my wife's machine is always the last to upgrade...if I know what's good for me ;)
  • I've learned the early adopter lesson and in the future, will not be jumping to upgrade my Mac OS until I know there will be no problems supporting hardware and software I need to use.
  • this is it in a nutshell: apple puts out the best most elegant and eloquent products there are, as long as you use them the way apple wants you to use them and eeven with wishful thinking, this approach is not going to stop on apples part. What I don't understand is this: Apple for some time has used intel processors - the same as windows based computers - with the same type of processors and memory and even new solid state har drives, why buy a mac for over $2000 when yo can buy the sme configuration in a windows based PC for around half that price??? doesn't make sense.
  • While I understand your surprise - I experienced the same - it should be understood that, in fact, this is a trend toward *improving* the experience for UNIX users. Traditionally, X11 has not been installed in OSX for a long time, if it ever was by default. Past OS upgrades have removed and disabled it and other things which wouldn't work properly on the new version. When I first logged into Mountain Lion, I was able to launch X11.app from /Applications, and it popped up a window instructing me to download XQuartz. Past versions actually made it very difficult to install X11 if you didn't have your install DVD handy, probably due to issues with Apple having a mixture of code in the package - some f/oss, some not. Let's also remember that a lot of OSX contains patents that belong to other companies like Adobe, and that a lot of us have been pushing for years to see this change. A similar thing happened with the command-line tools installed by XCode - things like git and gcc. Here's the great part about both - XQuartz is fully open-source and Apple developers contribute heavily to it, as they always have. Also, a gentleman built a standalone gcc installer during the Lion cycle last year, which Apple since mimicked. The result from one point of view is that XCode does not install things you'd expect like gcc and git. The result from my perspective is that I have a fully open-source X11 environment, and that I can install gcc and git from Apple with the full OSX SDK without installing the other 4GB+ of XCode. I've heard a lot of this zaniness over the past couple of years that Apple will rip out essential features of Mac OS X, even from an otherwise well grounded former coworker whose brother works at Apple. It's simply unlikely. If you think that Apple does not know that every tech giant and startup in the valley from Google to the latest Y-Combinator startup plasters their office with iMacs and attracts employees by promising Apple laptops to programmers, and that they can't abandon this audience, you're a fool. :)
  • Same thing happened to me. I looked for XQuartz after the ML upgrade on my hard drive and found that it had not been uninstalled. So I ran Gimp and it requested XQuartz be installed and opened the download page. I downloaded and installed it, then I attempted to open Gimp again. The program then requested the location of XQuartz and I identified it under Utilities and Gimp started running. Go ahead and open a bug report. I don't think that this is expected behavior. Also, DISH Summer Sales is the Catchpa: DISH Summer Sale. Its a bad deal, though.
  • Is this the smoothest spam/comment integration ever or am I missing something?
  • I don't know, because I already have an RSS reader from the AppStore installed, but if you don't and you click on an RSS link, does it prompt you that you dont have an RSS reader installed and give you a button to go to the App Store?
  • Re: "Maybe they figure a UNIX geek like me is perfectly capable of searching their knowledge base and finding alternatives, and I certainly can and did." Maybe a UNIX geek like you could re-install Lion.
  • By the way,. Lion stopped supporting reading NTFS volumes. NTFS Mounter cures that problem. I can see the point of view of others who adapt and adjust to find other ways to get things to work that are removed. I still believe it better for Apple to at least disclose that they are ceasing support for this or that and then remove it rather than a stealth remove, and you only find out about it as you try to do something you're accustomed to doing a certain way. DISCLOSURE is the issue. Not the removal, per say.
  • Re: "X11 and the disturbing trend of Apple removing functionality from OS X" A better title would be "Obsolete technologies and the predictable and mildly annoying trend of geeks who feel threatened by the removal of said technologies from OS X complaining about it publicly as if anyone cared" Oh. The alternate title is too long, you say? It would turn off readers? Well how many iMore readers know what X11 is? Not many. And how many of them actually *care* what X11 is? Fewer still. The title is irrelevant.
  • Removing X11 from OS X has removed a potentially large security risk, albeit for only a tiny minority of OS X users. Which is better? Supporting an obsolete technology, totally unused by mainstream OS X users? A technology that poses significant security risks and would require substantial effort to maintain and to develop security patches for? Or simply removing it from the official OS X release entirely? http://www.linuxquestions.org/questions/linux-security-4/port-6000-x11-s...
  • Although I appreciate the work you've done in bringing to attention the security flaws and obsolescence of X11, the issue was not with Apple supporting X11. The issue is that Apple removed a previously provided component without notice during an upgrade. X11 app from Lion would not have broken mountain lion had it remained installed on my hard drive. There was no need for it to be removed during an upgrade. A simple, obsolescence warning or perhaps a notice prior to deletion is warranted. I have no issue with X11 not being provided by Apple. I have no issue using third party sources. I have no issue that during a new install X11 isn't provided. And just an aside, X11over ssh with no X server running avoids the security risks you have kindly highlighted. Thanks.
  • Noted.
  • Really don't see the problem here. There is a stub X11 app which directs you to the KB which has a link to the supported and up to date version of XQuartz. In all it takes about 10 seconds to fix this issue. Everybody wins here, Apple can have a more secure OS and users needing these certain class of tools can have a better supported, more secure and up-to-date version of X11.
  • You've hit the nail on the head. We know full well it's a piece of cake, and we know how to address Apple leaving it out.
    That's not the problem. The problem is Apple sending messages "We want you to use ours now".
    They need to do what we want - we're the customers.
    Or we regretfully go away and use something else before we wake up one fine morning and find another essential piece has been hacked out - and one that might not be so easy to put back again. All the need to do is read a few messages and put back what's missing as optional installs.
  • So... of course you followed the directions, and made a complete backup of your system before installing the OS upgrade. Right? Which means, of course, you can simply restore to the backup and get on with your day. You also would have first installed the upgrade on a non-production machine, so as not to interrupt your workflow if something like this *did* happen. Right? Which means you would have not had any downtime on your primary machine. Apple is upgrading/updating all the time... as are Microsoft, Google, etc. They do what's best for the future of their products and the majority of their users. For the rest of us who may have issues with those decisions; we can whine, we can adapt, or we can do nothing.
  • I have to use X11 all the time. And I've used OS 9 and OS X forever for just that: No ifs, on buts, these are essential because of other machines I work with. But the day they take it away is the day I move over to Linix of one sort or another. If Apple decides it can do without academics, so be it.
    We'll move if we have to - I'd just rather not, because these are nicer machines than most others.
  • Bro's. I'm still running Snow Leopard. It's great.
  • My iMac has debian installed - solved.
  • I'm not saying this to insult you but given the reasons for your initial move to Mac and the concerns you have now, I think you'd really be happy with Windows. You can forward X11 using Putty and MingW and Microsoft tries to never pull the rug out from underneath anyone. You can still run programs from years and years ago on Windows 8. Carrying all that baggage is one of the reasons for all the bloat and "curious" behavior, but it's a matter of priorities. Mac has always competed by moving forward at the expense of breaking legacy applications. It's terrifying to check out your system after a version update. Always has been...