The Mac App Store: Evaluating the pros and cons

The Mac App Store: Evaluating the pros and cons

Summary: Guest post: TechRepublic's Vincent Danen, a member of works on the Red Hat Security Response Team, a Linux developer and veteran Mac user, weighs in on the pros and cons of the Mac App Store.

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This is a guest post from TechRepublic's Macs for Business blog. Here Vincent Danen, a member of works on the Red Hat Security Response Team, a Linux developer and veteran Mac user, weighs in on the pros and cons of the Mac App Store.

Back in October 2010, Apple announced that a Mac App Store was coming, and in January it delivered on its promise. The Mac App Store is similar to the iTunes App Store for iOS applications: it allows you to find, purchase, and update your Mac applications from one central location: the App Store application that was delivered as part of Mac OS X 10.6.6.

When I first heard about this announcement, I had many misgivings. I could see, much further down the road that, depending on its success, Apple could very well force developers into using the App Store for the distribution of all things Macintosh. Considering that OS X 10.7 is going to sport a lot of changes taken from iOS, how far might Apple take it? Certainly 10.7 will still allow applications to be installed by more traditional means, but what about 10.8? Or 10.9? Apple is the biggest control freak in the industry and they control the whole stack: hardware and software. Forcing developers to follow their rules, explicitly, gives them an edge in control, and profit.

You can see this with the rules that developers must abide by for application acceptance in the App Store (http://developer.apple.com/appstore/guidelines.html for those with an appropriate developer account, and here for those without). There are a lot of stipulations here — a lot of ways for Apple to fully control what they distribute. Granted, they have the right to refuse and accept applications (it is their store, after all) and no one can rightfully complain since we can install applications in other ways, but what happens if, or when, Apple dictates that all future application distribution for OS X has to come through its store? A whole lot of useful applications won’t make the cut. And our choice, as users, would take a serious hit. Because they own the whole stack, this is a very real possibility.

There are some rules that simply don’t make sense. For one, discounted upgrade prices will no longer exist (i.e., paying a smaller upgrade fee for a new major version), and paid updates to the developer will be gone (said upgrade fee). So a developer must either make the application free for life, once it’s been paid, or submit it as a completely different application, without any upgrade benefits for long-time users (the same price for new and existing users).

Applications that require administrator privileges are not allowed. A whole class of useful utilities and applications are cut out of the App Store. VMware Fusion, for one, will never make it. Neither will applications like TinkerTool System (this one likely for multiple infractions).

Finally, my biggest problem with the App Store is the glaring omission of demo and trial downloads. In the App Store, you either buy the app or you don’t. There is no 24-hour trial, no three-day demo period to determine if you like the application or not. For a $0.99 app this isn’t really a big deal, but for a $20 app? How about a $50 app? Many of the big ticket items may have, for now, a demo version you can download from the developer’s web site to give it a trial run first. But if the store doesn’t tell the user this, how will they know? Does the omission of demos in the App Store prey on the ignorant? That’s what it feels like to me.

Sure, there are some benefits to the App Store. For many users, it’s a convenient and easy one-stop shop and while many may disagree with the App Store, there are enough people out there who have become accustomed to the experience, due to the App Store for iOS devices. It will certainly make searching for new applications easy, for those who choose to purchase as well as those who choose not to.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of the App Store is its ability to track and notify of updates. Gone will be the days of outdated and potentially vulnerable applications, because the App Store will diligently notify you of new applications. This will keep you up-to-date, which is a great thing from a security perspective. Another security-relevant benefit is that with all of these vendors, you are providing your credit card information to one company: Apple. You will not need to hand out your credit card to every payment handling company or system on a per-vendor basis. One company holds the information and they handle dispersing payment after you have paid them. This keeps your valuable credit card information from being in multiple systems, reducing potential exposure or loss. Similar in concept to PayPal, love them or hate them, this offers good consumer protection.

It will be interesting to see how the App Store progresses. As it is now, it looks useful, but time will tell how far Apple pushes this as a primary distribution channel. It also depends on developers: some may have multiple distribution channels, using the App Store as one means of making their applications available, but what about those who will use the App Store exclusively as their storefront?

An app that I looked at today, Pixelmator, is available in the App Store, and their web site indicated that the next major release would be exclusive to the App Store. So if you are a Pixelmator user, you will soon have no choice but to get the next major version from the App Store.

When all is said and done, I can’t say that I’m a big fan of the App Store. The success of the App Store for iOS devices pretty much made a similar mechanism for OS X a foregone conclusion. Its success, along with Apple’s need for absolute control, guaranteed that something like this was coming. I liked the fact that Apple’s Walled Garden had not reached OS X, and now that it’s here I’m very sceptical about what the future may hold. Apple doesn’t often have the best interests of users in mind. They have some great gear and some great software, but this kind of control just doesn’t sit well with me. I love the platform, but am keeping my options open. Time will tell what the next step for Apple is.

Source: Mac App Store pros and cons: What it means for developers and users

Related:

Apple's Mac App Store arrives and the world doesn't end

Topics: Operating Systems, Apple, Hardware, Software, Software Development

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42 comments
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  • The store is a good lesson.

    It's a good lesson taken from iOS. It's almost impossible to install software on an iOS device without some sort of online distribution channel however I don't know how Apple could enforce this type of channel on the Mac without really removing the platform from what is considered a computer that can be expected to be used offline.<br><br>I welcome the Apple store on the Mac. I have not checked to see however if Apple is morally censoring applications found on the store, but I suspect they are. I don't welcom this. Since OSX was released, there has not been a consistant and single method for removing and installing applications. I see this as a step in the right direction to correct for this.<br><br>Finally, for Linux, the installation of applications on this platform is so convoluted that online distribution of software has become the defacto method of software dissemination. Kudos for Apple having taken a page from the Linux world. MS, are you watching? I'm sure you are.
    People
    • MS already has an app store

      @People
      [i]Kudos for Apple having taken a page from the Linux world. MS, are you watching?[/i]

      I'm surprised that someone as technically advanced as you doesn't know this already. You normally come across as being so smart.
      NonZealot
      • Sure they have ....

        @NonZealot ... where they mostly sale MS products at full retail prices.
        wackoae
      • Glad you agree with me

        [i]Sure they have ....[/i]

        Yes they do. Before OS X did. :)
        NonZealot
      • RE: The Mac App Store: Evaluating the pros and cons

        @NonZealot

        ZAP
        People
      • @People: ZAP?! LOL!!

        I get it! You are making yourself look like an idiot by making stupid statements in order to goad me into responding?! LOLOLOL!!!! Okay buddy, I guess you "win"! ;)
        NonZealot
      • RE: The Mac App Store: Evaluating the pros and cons

        @NonZealot

        Actually, before the Mac App Store, you could buy Mac and other software at the Apple Store on the web.
        jorjitop
      • Yeah this is a common point with you

        what you fail at comprehending time and time again is that everything else you claim was first obviously lacked something that makes it useful...call it gestalt or completeness. Over 10 billion apps sold...what more is there to say, the proof is in the puddin mister.
        CowLauncher
    • RE: The Mac App Store: Evaluating the pros and cons

      @People Macs are not computers, they are appliances.
      Tommy S.
      • What are you talking about?

        @Tommy S.
        Macs are computers. I installed Windows 7 on my Mac and it works just fine. Apple even supports installing Windows on a Mac with Bootcamp.

        iOS devices are appliances which is actually a good thing.
        NonZealot
  • Cons?

    "...A whole lot of useful applications won?t make the cut."...
    I truly respect the author point of view but it's just gets me started :-)

    Here we go again - what apps are useful for 95% of the iOS devices that aren't there yet? Among 300k+ apps?
    I can't see problems with having a control over your own app store on both iOS and Mac OSX devices. Really. Measure mobile app development success in terms or "freedom" vs. curated app store model and it becomes obvious which one works better.
    ComboApp
    • Backup Apps for one

      @ComboApp
      Here's a good example: any, and I mean <i><b>ANY</b></i> truly useful application for backing up your system other than TimeMachine (which is severely limited IMHO) will be barred from the App Store. Why? Because in order to create a full, boot-able backup of your system the App has to gain elevated privileges to the level of super user. Apps that gain elevated privileges are forbidden from the App Store. Logging in as an Admin user isn't good enough, either. For a full true clone of your system you MUST log in as super user or root. Specific examples that I currently (or have) use (or used):
      Carbon Copy Cloner
      SuperDuper
      Drive Genius
      All excellent applications that are very useful and I consider at least one of them to be mandatory on all my systems. TimeMachine does not create a boot-able backup. If your system drive suddenly dies, and you don't have a true clone available, you cannot do anything with your system until you reinstall the OS and rebuild from your TimeMachine backup, a process that can easily eat up a day. With these utilities, you simply designate your clone as the boot volume and you are back up and running.
      Drive Genius is a multi function drive utility that Mac Genii use in the Apple Store, but you can't buy from the App Store. Last time I checked you could still buy a boxed version from the Apple Store, though.
      What about data recovery? Apps for that are very useful and will not be permitted.

      I am a 26 year Mac user, a long-term Mac technician, and a former Mac Genius (one who actually knows something, not an elevated sales guy). Trust me, the author is spot-on correct that many useful, and arguably mandatory, <i>categories</i> of Applications will not make the App Store. I'm talking about stuff I used, recommended, and even sold right at the Genius Bar as well as a slew of excellent free/share/donation ware utilities.

      I hope that Apple will never close the loop of software from non-Apple sources. As someone who has literally used every version of the Mac OS ever created (the good and the bad) I am really having my doubts that I will upgrade to 10.7. I just don't fully trust the direction Apple is headed here.
      use_what_works_4_U
      • RE: The Mac App Store: Evaluating the pros and cons

        @macadam ...

        I keep picturing the 1984 commercial, but with Tux whirling the hammer around and chucking it at Steve Jobs giving a keynote on the big screen.
        WarhavenSC
      • @warhavensc: Haha, how true!!

        There is absolutely no denying it, Apple is the biggest of all the big brothers right now.
        NonZealot
      • Mac OS vs the other

        @macadam

        the problem is, I switched to Mac because Vista basic computers was so unreliable. I am stuck on MacOS
        samliu0207
  • It makes sense for an enduser

    From an end user point of view it makes perfect sense. It simplifies software installation and it gives the user peace of mind that what is installed on his/her Mac is malware/Trojan/virus free.
    It remains to be seen whether big software distributors such as Microsoft (think Office for Mac) or Adobe (think Photoshop) will adhere to this distribution model. If they don?t, I somehow don?t see Apple forcing them in the foreseeable future.
    MG537-23482538203179240121698430309828
    • A lot of benefits for the developers too

      @MG537 An "App Store" provide a HUGE number of benefit to developers, not just end users.

      Even with the 30% cut, the potential for sales is exponentially incremented by having access to a relatively LOW COST world wide distribution system. A single developer with a good product or even a silly game (like Angry Birds) can start making money with a $99 investment and an application that sells for as low as $0.99 can generate millions without having to lose money paying multiple middlemen.

      No packing, no media, no shipping, no salesmen, no extra expenses. The end user gets a low cost product, while the developer gets to keep more per sale than thru typical distributions.
      wackoae
      • What you say is true, but...

        @wackoae
        When is the last time you bought any software on physical media? The vast majority of Mac software is already sold or distributed direct from the developer's website to the end user over the Internet. That eliminates a large part of the "traditional distribution costs" you refer to. Of course bandwidth isn't free, but it's less than boxing and merchandising in a brick and mortar store.

        Having said that, I agree that the overall exposure factor of the App Store is huge. In time, developers will let us know if the benefits are worth the drawbacks to them.
        use_what_works_4_U
      • Still, that may be great for smaller apps, but I think

        large, well established players may not want to give up that 30%.
        I said some time ago that Apple was going to go in this direction only because in the past, once a person buys a Mac, Apple makes a one time profit, with no cut from software installed on teh system. Now they can get a piece of everything purchased for a Mac if everything has to gop through Apple.

        But would Apple really want to tick off larger companies? Especially ones in the publishing industry, where Macs are quite prevelent?
        John Zern
      • You forget simple logic

        @macadam You may be able to distribute an application from your own company website. But that distribution is completely useless if NOBODY knows your product exists.

        Big companies aren't going to buy into the new distribution system for some time. Just like it took years for many big companies (including MS) to have downloadable versions of the software, many will resist until it affects the bottom line. At that time, they will embrace change and then claim some success story.
        wackoae