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Mac has malware problem and that is unacceptable, says Apple's software chief

Apple's macOS lets you download software from the internet and the company thinks that amounts to a level of malware.

Craig Federighi, Apple's VP of software engineering Craig Federighi, Apple's VP of software engineering

Apple and Epic Games are fighting the antitrust case the latter filed over the Fortnite debacle. The latest person to appear in court in favour of Apple is the company's software chief, Craig Federighi. Federighi is an important executive in the company's hierarchy, sitting just below CEO Tim Cook, and he is responsible for Apple's revered yet controversial iPhone software, the iOS. He is also responsible for other operating systems in Apple's ecosystem, including macOS. While defending iOS against the claims by Epic Games only to prove iOS is better being closed as it helps ward off threats, Federighi revealed something startling about macOS.

Federighi said that there is a level of malware on the Mac that Apple does not find acceptable. Apple's software chief straightaway criticised the open nature of Mac -- even though that is significantly less effective for developers and consumers than the way Microsoft's Windows 10 is. He has a solid point though. Federighi was trying to prove that iOS is much more secure being walled-off, and that includes no admission of an alternate app marketplace, unlike macOS, which can have different app stores. And because Apple wants iOS to stay that way, it cannot allow third-party app stores or payments systems for the iPhone -- something that Epic Games has criticised in the lawsuit.

To quote Federighi verbatim, "iOS has established a dramatically higher bar for customer protection. The Mac is not meeting that bar today. And that's despite the fact that Mac users inherently download less software and are subject to a way less economically motivated attacker base. If you took Mac security techniques and applied them to the iOS ecosystem, with all those devices, all that value, it would get run over to a degree dramatically worse than is already happening on the Mac. And as I say, today, we have a level of malware on the Mac that we don't find acceptable and is much worse than iOS. Put that same situation in place for iOS and it would be a very bad situation for our customers."

Apple's iOS has a closed ecosystem and developers that offer apps and games on the iPhone need to comply with a long set of rules. Over time, these rules have become contentious because big developers such as Spotify, Epic Games, and Netflix are no longer in favour of the huge app commissions that Apple charges its developers. The entire fight over Fortnite is based on Apple's 30 per cent margin on app revenues, which the company has justified as an incentive to keep the App Store secure and free from threats. As a part of this security measure, Apple does not allow developers to install their own stores or payments systems on the iPhone. macOS, on the other hand, can have alternative app stores and payments systems -- and that is not acceptable to Apple.

It is good Federighi is defending iOS because agreeing to Epic Games' demands would strip Apple of one of its biggest revenue streams. But while doing so, the Apple executive sabotaged the image of macOS. Apple has time and again extolled the security on its operating systems, be it iOS or macOS.

Federighi also compared macOS with something like a car, as he wanted to show differences between the desktop operating system and iOS. "If operated correctly, much like that car, if you know how to operate a car and obey the rules of the road and are very cautious, yes," Federighi said when asked whether macOS is safe. "If not, I've had a couple of family members who have gotten some malware on their Macs." On Macs, you can download practically any app or software from the internet but, on iOS, you cannot do that without the App Store.

For Federighi, the iOS is a child-safe version of macOS. "With iOS, we were able to create something where children heck, even infants are able to operate an iOS device and be safe in doing so. It's really a different product," Federighi said. Well, that is not entirely wrong. Even for payments, iOS requires you to enter your password or show your registered face for Face ID authentication.

The trial between Epic Games and Apple is expected to continue over the next few days, and the next person to record testimony will be the man behind the show, Apple CEO Tim Cook. Cook will take the stand on Friday.