The new MacPro (2013) was designed by… the National Security Agency (NSA)

The new MacPro (2013) was designed by… the National Security Agency (NSA)

by Rodrigo Fernos

With its black cylindrical design, the new MacPro has been touted by Apple as a 'radical innovation'--as if innovation was important only for innovation's sake.  Perhaps with the departure of Steve Jobs, the company felt it needed to 'prove' to the world that it was still capable of 'radical new products'.  Jobs, after all, was known to have transformed the company from near bankruptcy by his brilliant tour de force of "iProducts":  iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, etc.  Whereas the tablet under Bill Gate's Microsoft had languished as a failed product, Jobs brought the latest technologies to the masses, thereby providing noticeable improvements in their owner's lives.  What had been daily witness at the turn of the 19th century--the idea of progress as embodied by radical new labor saving technologies as the automobile, the telephone, and electricity--was re-experienced in the US (and abroad) as a result of the magical hand of the master.

Yet it is wrong to presume that the 'spirit' of Steve Jobs remains in the company, as has been claimed by John Gruber.  While there can be no doubt that the new MacPro is very different from its former version, one can equally certainly claim that it is a machine that Steve Jobs would not have approved of.  Three different principles will be analyzed in this regard: 1) openness 2) security and 3) autonomy.  A 'Steve Jobs machine' it is not. 


There has always been an inherent 'tension', in the Kuhnian sense of the word, between Apple's corporate driven 'closed' systems, and the Unix based 'open' systems on which its operating system was run.  As a long time Apple user, I have observed that the general trend has been moving from one end--BSD's open Unix system--to a much more closed computing experience.  I was dismayed when the efforts to buy 'Dashboard' from an innovative company  (Konfabulator) basically led to Apple's monolithic creation of a widget system all for itself, thereby bypassing its originators and leadings these to forego any financial benefits that would have been derived from their invention--a bully at its worse.  (NOTE: "Dismayed" is a gross understatement.)

But, generally speaking, Apple's systems were extremely open, both at a software level and a hard ware level, the latter which I will focus on mainly.  You could open the machine up, and replace anything you wanted to, as long as it met broad and general requirements, which were so general that 95% of the time, these implementations were 'no brainers'.  I remember  repeatedly upgrading my hard drive from 160 gigabytes, which the machine came with to 250 GB, 500 GB, 1 terabyte, and eventually 2T drives. Wow.  Also, there were a multiplicity of PCI cards, which would provide benefits not thought of by Apple--a competition which led to a great degree of third party products and services for the market.  Since I produced videos for a website (, I eventually bought a Sonnet 5 bay raid box, which provided what was at the time a quick solution to video processing bandwidth issues. The online store OWC ( had a large number of toys one could plug into the computer, to enhance or expand its capabilities--so many, that I will not bother including these in the essay.  

The machine was the 'user's machine' in the true sense of the word: a machine to be molded and plied as the user wished, without any interference from the originating company (Apple).  There was so much space inside, that many began using the machines as servers, buying extensions to  drastically increase the number of drives in the machine.  If memory serves me right, some third-party add-on were designed for 5 extra hard drives in the machine.  The G5 was literally a 'tierra incognita' which users to roam in, explore, and claim as their own.  It was perhaps the epitome of the earliest Apple machines, with multiple PCI bays allowing for expandability in any direction. (This space was originally present in the G5 because of heating issues with the IBM chip set, which Apple 'resolved' by transferring its systems to Intel chips--without eliminating the large box and the many secondary benefits that came from it.)

The new MacPro eliminates the totality of this vast internal 'territory' which was available to users of the MacPro generations during the last decade (2000-2012).  The machine has no PCI slots (PCIe being the last derivative), no hard drive bays, and only 4 memory slots--as opposed to 8+ in the previous models.  Come again?

These drastic changes and of themselves have also a number of consequent implications: 1) they vastly increase the dependency on Apple as a corporation for any enhancements to the box, while 2) inversely, reducing the third party market which had developed around these machines by restricting the possibility for new and innovative products within them.  Finally, 3) they sharply reduce the incentive for innovations within the Apple product brand, which had been an indirect source of the company's demand /supply structure.

To give a sense of this innovative third party market structure, here are a few examples.  OWC had created a PCIe SSD card for the MacPros.  Certainly, they were an imitation of OCZ's products, which could not be used on Apple computers and were dedicates exclusively to Microsoft machines, thus very unusually given these a drastic technological edge over Apple's powerhouses.  Yet OWCs PCI SSD cards were very expensive (around $2,000 per card), thus reserving these for a very affluent community. However, noticing the trend, new products eventually emerged, which produced a direct competition for OWC's produces: Sonnet's dual SSD card holder reaches equivalent speeds at a fraction of the cost.   This internal competition has been very good for Apples customers, because they gained benefits from market competition (better faster products at lower prices) and indirectly benefitted Apple by making its machines themselves the very forums for innovation. The stability of the platform lent itself to this dynamic, and partly is a key motivator for the purchase and sale of such machines.

In one fell swoop, Tim Cook and company undermined and killed the vibrancy of the platform; committing what I have privately referred to as corporate 'hari-kari'.  (What can you expect when accountants run a business?)

It could be counter-argued that the rise of network attached storage (NAS) devices make these arguments obsolete.  As individuals produce and consume greater amounts of data, their need for 'digital space' implicit in the hard drive had been drastically increasing, outside the bounds of what a few hard drives can keep. I do regular measures of my own 'digital consumption' on a yearly basis and have noticed that with each passing year, the amount of data I store, consume, and produce grows in a near 'exponential' curve: the amount added each year is not equivalent to the prior years, but substantively larger.  (It actually varies somewhat, but such is the underlying trend.)  Hence, the move towards external NAS devices is a natural one, rendering obsolete the notion of internal supply bays as the principal means of long-term storage.

However, the counter-argument is simply a failed one as a result of the second principe: security.


One could always tell Steve's Job's direct participation in the design of the machines, because there was always some subtle security element embedded in the machines, which made them harder to render than other similar windows machines. I presume that the nuance for detail, the ever present hallmark of Steve Jobs, always made itself felt in this field; and probably helps account for why the company has been the very last company to have joined NSA's PRISM program of domestic spying.  When confronted, Jobs probably told the NSA to bug off, thus making Apples machines truly 'consumer oriented machines' in the real sense of the word, very unlike their Microsoft counterparts. (Notice that Microsoft was the first to joint he PRISM program.  Microsoft, not unexpectedly, is the largest producers of computers for the corporate environments: computers which can be easily and regularly monitored by higher level hierarchs.)

Yet, why is the hard drive an issue?  Let me explain.

A computer is made up of many different components, but perhaps the most 'important' component is the hard drive--the place where all of the user's personal information is stored.  Take a computer's hard drive away, and you will be stealing 'the person'; inversely, put the hard drive in any other computer, and there is no loss of 'person' by the consumer.  Hence access to the hard drives has always been a key component of security in any computer system; the easier the access, the less secure. Inversely, the harder the access, the more secure a system.  Since hard drives are generally small, visa viz. a computer; they can be easily stored in a bag or backlog, and stolen without notice, but which is much harder to do with a computer itself, literally speaking.   

Anyone who has directly worked with Apples's early models--ie the multi colored iMac or the 'sun flower' iMac (white with rotating display floating above a half-dome computer), knows how hard it was to take hard drives out of the machine.  Anyone who wished to steal a person's data directly by stealing the hard drive would have had to separate a long amount of time simply to break open the machine and tinker away.  Given the inherent complexity of its internal structure, meant that removing a hard drive took time--and time is usually something which crooks are in a constant lack of.  The computer's internal structure thus helped increase its overall security--a fear which tended not to be touted by Apple or other companies so as to not tempt crooks in the process.  The same was true of the 'eMac' (iMac for education), and even more so with the G5 and the MacPro. 

However, there's was another security benefit with the MacPro that is not usually talked about--the open firmware password, or what is now referred to as the EFI password.

A key element to all Macintosh computers has always been the open firmware password, OFP or EFI.  If you are confused, don't be.  All computers use 'firmware' to connect and organize all of its disparate components into a coherent whole; you could view it as a underlying 'software' layer that glues printers, monitors, keyboards, hard drives, etc. together.  Why is this such an important issue?  Well, simply because if a person could bypass the start-up  drive with a foreign start-up drive, this would give direct access to a computer's hard drive, enabling third parities to any portion of it, including to even make a clone of an individuals drive for later analysis.  Placing a password basically meant that only the hard drive selected by the user would be startup operating system for the machine.

I am getting to the point. Just bare with me a little more.

However, the OF or EFI password could be bypassed if you had direct access to the computer's memory.  Toying with this memory--implicitly with physical access to the machine as opposed to 'web access'--allowed one to bypass the internal security measures taken by a user and 'own' the computer,  which basically meant that a third party was in a sense 'owning' the consumer as well.

One of the key benefits to the over MacPro 'G5 box version', was simply that it allowed for the user to place an industrial grade lock on the machine, thereby drastically reducing the probability of this noxious event.  The new MacPro has no such features, but is 'open for all to see and observe'.

But even more interestingly, the older MacPro's also added to their security simply by being so damn heavy.  Weighing in at 50 lb. or so--around 60-70 lb. with internal devices--it was a damn heavy machine that could not be casually lifted and run away with as it it were a purse.  It was a 'solid' machine that was meant to solidly lie unmovable on the ground.  Some of us are of stronger musculature, thus more adeptly able to move the computer from place to place--i.e. to the store for repair if need be--than others. Yet I am sure the vast majority of users, graphic desinger 'weaklings' could not as easily move the machine.  They might be happy over the new model for this reason, without considering the inherent benefits they gained from the older systems.

To repeat, the new MacPro is 1/8 the size of the old machine, and would would have to assume that the proportion of weigh reduction is reduced in equal measure.  What this implies is, obviously, that it can be that much easier to lift a new machine to steal it that it was with the former model.  

Again, the well known truism applies: convenience and security are inversely related.


The old MacPros were truly 'autonomous machines', which was quite a relief for those who have suffered any form of 'digital persecution'.  One simply did not have to be connected to the internet to be able to use the machine; a copy of the operating system came with the machine on a DVD, and any programs could be readily purchased via a DVD/CD and installed on the machine.  The copy you installed was the same that every other owner recieved, lending to an inherent standardization of experience; by contrast, downloaded systems are much more amenable to modification 'on-route' if they are not verified against teir md5 or sha1 hash.  You could hum merrily along, doing all your work routines without ever touching the web; it was, truly speaking a 'safe box' where one could be guaranteed absolute privacy and the implicit creativity this affords.  It was, one might suggest, the 'unabomber's dream machine'--that frail scientist who had been so abused by common men, that he ultimately deciding to forego any human contact to live in the woods.  Amen, brother.

It is clear that Apple is pushing for the elimination of things CD/DVD as many of its latest machines--the MacBook Air, MacMini and MacPro--lack an internal CD/DVD drive.  Yet the mere suggestion commonly made that this is analogous to the elimination of the floppy disc is a huge and outright lie.  The abandonment of the DVD opens up the possibility of untold terrorism, and is one of the governments and the corporations biggest mistakes given the inherent vulnerability of man-in-the-middle attacks of softare and operating system downloads.  Again, never hand power over to an accountant, who knows nothing of human or technological history.

Let's begin with a comparison between the floppy disk and the CD/DVD.

There can be no doubt that the floppy disc was simply 'out of touch' with the times.  It was minuscule, holding only around 1.4 megabytes of information on a dis that was commonly used towards the latter half of the 1980s.  Given that you could run an entire operating system off of the floppy disk at the time, its functionality and importance were not even questioned.  However, as computers increased in memory, and began incorporating hard drives and later the compact disk (CD/DVD), the functionality of floppy discs were overtaken by these new technologies because of their greater capacity.  

In other words, the floppy disk was eliminated by Steve Jobs in his iMac not because they were 'obsolete' but simply because they were redundant.  You could store 500 floppy discs on a CD, hence greatly reducing its utility as a storage medium.

However, to suggest that today the CD/DVD has been superseded by the 'cloud' is simply a mischaracterization and (one might suggest) a grotesque lie.   The reason for this is that the 'cloud' is not a physical medium that the user/owner directly controls.  While the cloud might have the appearance of control, given that you can access it, one can never forget that this control is virtual rather than tangible. This means that, under any unforeseen circumstance, the owners of the 'cloud' can cut access from the user at any point in time. While this might appear ludicrous today, one can never underestimate historical change--just as a Hilter might have been unimaginable to a German of the 19th century.  

Another important distinction is that the CD/DVD is digital information that is stored in a physical container. What this means is that it is extremely difficult to change or modify this information; the CD/DVD becomes a 'written record' of sorts that can be used as a reference at some future date. There is stability in its digital structure.  This is an extremely important feature given the inherent flexibility that is intrinsic to things digital. (Blue-ray disks retain this trait; however, their large size and rather poor adoption have kept this technology at a high cost, above the pockets of most users, including myself.)

One should also note that this benefit has been even more greatly enhanced recently, with the creation of a new technology known as the M-Disc, which purportedly can keep information for millennia as opposed to a decade, the current limitation of existing CD and DVDs.  Regardless of the validity of the claim, it might be fair to suggest that they will last as long as the user that is currently using them.   In other words, at a time when the use of CD/DVDs becomes even more revolutionary for its long-lasting feature, Apple is suggesting we go to a gross dependency on the corporate environment for safeguarding personal information.  Oh, those accountants.

Many consumers will probably wonder 'what is this guy talking about?'  In most instances, internet transactions are 'secure', relatively speaking. However, when you become subject to persecution, you become extremely aware of how illusive the tangible nature of the digital actually is.  What seemed to be solid ground, 'melts' before one's feet; and that which seemed to be bedrock, suddenly obtains the consistency of quicksand. Such is the actual world of computing that companies and governments want to keep hidden from ordinary customers--and more the reason to constantly implement technologies which counter these noxious elements.


There used to exist an implicit presumption across the entire Apple product line; higher priced products meant greater 'freedom and liberty' to the user who purchased those products.  The laptops and the macmini's were hard to get to their insides, but because they were relatively 'cheap', there was an implicit trade-off involved in the purchase. The MacPro might cost a lot, but reaching its innards was easy to do, easier to upgrade, easier to upkeep, and broadly speaking akin to a mechanic's automobile that one could truly dig one's hands into.  Put this in, take this out, twist this, etc. etc. To top it off, it was an industrial level metal container that tightly and securely held all of its elements together: autonomy, security, and openness all packed into one machine.

The new MacPro (2013) simply lacks the integrity and unity of traits that characterized the older machines.  While one can access the machines, one cannot fiddle with them.  While they are made of 'steel grade' aluminum, there is no lock to securely kept the machine 'intact'.  While it has fast PCIe memory, there are no PCIe slots per se, which would allow the users to repeatedly upgrade the machines with the demands of the times or the users. 

It is the inherent vulnerability of the machine--its utter lack of security--that leads me to mockingly suggest that it was designed by the NSA.  (It does appear that the new operating system will likely render all Apple machines even more dependent on the web.)  One tragic element is that it exclusively relies upon Thunderbolt for its external expansion--a technology that is well known to have inherent security vulnerabilities, as indicated by Steve Gibson. Thunderbolt is basically 'firewire4', based on the same technical elements of the 400 firewire, which allows direct access to RAM--a very dangerous idea, and known vulnerability.

Simply speaking, too much is being traded off in the 'desire for speed'--criteria which under the tenure of Steve Jobs were also counterbalanced with the above mentioned principles of 'security', 'autonomy' and 'openness' in the prior systems.

The new MacPro is, simply put, a dud lacking the nuanced complexity of the former models.

© 2014 Rodrigo fernos riddick