Why Apple's new Mac App store gives me the willies

Why Apple's new Mac App store gives me the willies

Summary: A Mac App store could inspire other vendors to shut down software freedom and finally, drunk on DRM, make the nightmare of Orwell's 1984 into a reality.

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Update: Special thanks to TalkBacker denisrs for posting this link describing official Mac App store guidelines.

To me, at its most fundamental, software means freedom. Hardware is generally fixed, in that it's physical, and, well, hard. But software is malleable; the very same RAM, CPU, and hard drive can be made to do wildly different things based on the arrangement of bits into different sequences of ones and zeros.

To be fair, I'm a programmer, so I look at a computer differently than do regular users. When I look at a computer, I always factor into my thinking whether I could do better, whether the CMS I'm using is good enough, or whether I'd be happier writing my own code, whether the CRM system I'm using is good enough, or I'd be better off writing my own code, and so on.

Programmers can do that. Real users can't. Of course, we programmers are often so busy we wind up using the same off-the-shelf (there's an anachronistic term, eh?) software everyone else uses, but we know we have the freedom to bust out our development environment at the drop of a hat and code up what what we'd like, however we'd like it.

Apple's App store approach

I think that's why Apple's App store approach has always given me such a set of the willies, first for the iPhone, then the iPad, and now for the Mac.

I don't mind that Apple takes its 30% for software sold through the store. Actually, that's a great deal. Back in the olden days when I wrote boxed commercial software and sold it through brick and mortar stores like Egghead, the distribution channel wound up taking closer to 60-70%. Apple's share is a lot fairer to developers.

I also appreciate that Apple is essentially providing a warehouse and fulfillment function in electronic form. I think that's why developers have so taken to the App store concept. Rather than having to set up my own online store with download capability (easy enough, but nice that I didn't need to for iPhone apps), Apple does that part of the hard work.

Developers also don't have to make sure the cart is working, that the credit card gateway is working, and all the moving parts are in good working order.

In fact, I wrote 40 quite silly iPhone apps in September of 2008 and I haven't had to touch them in two years. I just let the (rather small) deposits accumulate in my bank account and occasionally use them to make a car payment. They've been completely maintenance free.

Fundamentally, it's the gatekeeper factor that I don't like.

That was then

When it came to the iPhone, the gatekeeping factor made sense. Apple has this completely unpredictable application approval process, where you submit your app for approval and, if you're lucky, sometime in the next 4-8 weeks, it'll be approved for sale.

But there's no predicting Apple. We all know the stories of Apple's capricious denial of apps for all sorts of reasons, including no reason at all.

In fact, that's one reason I never developed any applications for the iPhone bigger than my silly little apps. I didn't want to put six months or a year of coding into something (in a programming environment and language that didn't work anywhere else) only to have Apple decide that, oh, that email app duplicates their own minimal email functionality or that launcher app touches other applications in the system.

I just didn't want to lose a year of work to the random whims of Apple's developer-unfriendly policies.

But that was on a phone. It made some sense for the handset maker to have some restrictions because the device had to work on AT&T's network. So it made some sense for Apple to restrict, say, a podcast player application because Apple didn't want to stream video early on over AT&T's network.

When the iPad came out, I was deeply curious. Would Apple relax some of its restrictions and simply allow anything to run on the iPad?

In fact, Apple did back off some restrictions, including their insistence that programmers only use Xcode for development. Of course, there's no telling whether they'll reverse that almost-reasonable behavior out of the blue, because, you know, it's Apple.

Apple still doesn't allow anything to run on the iPad without restriction. iPad apps have to go through the same random, who-the-heck-knows app review process as iPhone apps, and unless you want to jailbreak your iPad, you're stuck with just the apps that Apple allows.

Now, we all know there are a lot of apps, so why complain, right? The reason is freedom. As long as Apple restricts what apps can be run, the device isn't free. It's not a computer, it's an appliance.

Some of you might argue that the iPad isn't meant to be a computer and it is, in fact, an appliance, and you're good with that. I'm not thrilled with that view, but I can accept it.

Next: This is now »

« Previous: That was then

This is now

But what about the Mac? Windows fans have long maintained (incorrectly, I might add) that the Mac is a toy. It's not. It's a full-fledged, quite powerful computer. A computer. Not an appliance.

See also: Apple's iPad Gateway Drug: The Mac App Store and Beyond

What happens, though, when Apple introduces its App store concept to the Mac? Initially, it'll just be a distribution option. You'll still be able to install non Apple-approved software on the Mac.

But what about the iteration after that? Will Apple eventually lock down the Mac, so the only software allowed to run is Apple approved? Then what?

Then there's the question of how the Apple approval process will work when it has to test real, big, or special purpose applications? Angry Birds is one thing. A process control application or, what about, oh, I don't know, Firefox?

Apple doesn't allow plug-ins in the App store. That shoots down essential applications like Firefox and, even, Photoshop.

Then, what happens to all those Adobe applications, now that Apple seems to hate Adobe? What happens to all those great email applications and Finder-tweaker applications? What happens to any application that doesn't fit Apple's political, moral, and ethical worldview?

What happens is, at that point, the Mac becomes just an appliance.

Even then, I'm not too concerned. The Mac still has only about a 10% market share, which puts it squarely into the not-particularly-relevant-to-the-real-world category. Heck, that's about half of what Ross Perot got in the 1992 general election and no one besides old politics junkies like me even remember Ross Perot (or 1992).

So, essentially, in the real world, the Mac isn't particularly relevant.

Most computer users have already voted, and they've resoundingly voted the Mac down. It's a marginal, fringe product, at best.

The problem is that while customers don't really care about the Mac -- I know, those of you commenting below are going to go off the edge about that statement, but numerically, it's true -- Apple does tend to be a trend setter in the computer industry.

That means that other companies are likely to set up their own App stores. Other companies like Microsoft.

To be fair, I honestly can't see Microsoft going out and filtering every application they're willing to allow to run on Windows. Microsoft has never, really, cared all that much how people use their wares, as long as they sell.

But what if Microsoft does decide to care? What if, suddenly, for Windows 8, say, Microsoft decides it, too, is going to filter the software you're allowed to run?

At that point, most computers will cease to be computers, we'll lose an absolutely essential set of freedoms, and the world will be that much worse off for it.

If anything, this could be the Mac's legacy.

Not that it's a machine with an undersold OS that has a user interface still stuck in the 1980s. Lower-left corner-only window resizing, they're singing your song.

Not that it's a machine built and marketed to insane fanbois who buy into it because of their sad, desperate belief that if they love their Macs enough, they'll be cool enough to be loved by real people.

Not that it's a machine priced, not based on the quality of the components inside (which are the same commodity components inside Windows machines), but priced double what it's worth because of the silly Apple logo and the lemmings to whom that means something everything.

No. Instead it's that OS X with a Mac App store could inspire other vendors to shut down software freedom and finally, drunk on DRM, make the nightmare of Orwell's 1984 into a reality.

Of course, there will always be Linux.

Topics: CXO, Apple, Apps, Hardware, iPad, Mobility, Software

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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Talkback

93 comments
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  • Well, as Apple does not have a monopoly, all of this is completely legal.

    Hopefully, customers will see through it, and demand that they can continue to directly install applications. Hopefully there will be other app stores, as has happened with Android.
    DonnieBoy
    • RE: Why Apple's new Mac App store gives me the willies

      @DonnieBoy true, completely legal but a sad glimpse of the future of Apple
      Techloaded
      • Because, of course, Apple, in it's mad dash to convince users

        To purchase a Mac will deliberately antagonize those users. Just more evidence that the blog author isn't the only one completely ignorant on what a market economy is.
        frgough
      • frgough, why dance around what you already know

        You know why Apple wants everything to run through the app store: Money, Money, Money. Period.

        Look at all the lost revenue Apple has endured: Once someone buys a Mac, they make their money, and don't see them again.

        And yet the programmers for companies that make software for Macs continue to make money after the sale by people buying their software. Photoshop. Then a couple years later the new Photoshop. Maybe another Adobe product.

        Apple makes no money from those sales, do they do?

        Yet force everything through their App Store, and suddenly Apple makes money off of every Photoshop install, every Office install, ect. Or maybe deny a program because it competes with iWorks, or Facetime, who knows?

        So why would they worry about losing some customers when an addition reveue stream will compensate for it?
        John Zern
  • interesting.......

    very good article - interesting perspective.<br><br>I'll guess we will have to wait and see what happens over the next few iterations of operating systems in both the apple and MS camps. I do however find apples sentiment regarding an app store for the Mac quite unnerving. I have a Mac (and a windows PC) but I will not buy an iOS device as I will not tolerate someone telling me what I can and cannot do on that device. I guess the dilemma for all of us involved in coding applications is that the general public seem to have responded very well to app stores and so the temptation to apply that model to PCs (inc Macs) is very real for MS / Apple etc.
    RonanSail
    • man, pulezz

      @RonanSail
      don't fall for the bs meme of closed. you can use any web app on your iphone, ipod or ipad without any restrictions.
      banned from zdnet
      • Apple just announced great **MacAppStore guidelines**: no sh!t is allowed

        @banned from zdnet

        http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/10/10/20/apple_issues_review_guidelines_for_mac_app_store.html
        DDERSSS
      • web apps

        @denisrs<br>no, i mean web apps, html5 web apps. has nothing to do with the appstore. everyone can install any web app on their iOS machine.
        banned from zdnet
      • RE: Why Apple's new Mac App store gives me the willies

        @banned from zdnet: yes, I know; I posted the link not to confront or dispute anything, but to show that "Apple's order" is actually good thing. A masses of sh*t will never go trough Apple's rules.
        DDERSSS
      • What does it matter, denisrs

        isn't it the end users phone to put **** on or not?

        Or are people just leasing it?
        John Zern
    • Very bad article: Jobs directly said that all ways to buy apps will *STAY*

      @RonanSail: no one prohibits others to create their own app stores or buyers to by the software as they do it now.
      DDERSSS
      • RE: Why Apple's new Mac App store gives me the willies

        @denisrs As did Obama and Company said the same with your Healthcare Provider/insurance. Look at what's started now...health insurance goes up, coverage goes down, and the incentive is to use the big G....the same will happen with Apple.

        The only difference? The market has a choice to use Apple or leave. The other example, not so much.
        JT82
      • RE: Why Apple's new Mac App store gives me the willies

        @denisrs The same was said about Obama and company with regards to your health insurance...as we're seeing, not exactly the case. The same will happen at Apple, with incentives so great the only viable distribution method will BE the Apple Store (a la big G exchanges for health insurance). The only difference between the two examples is that consumers (the market ) will have the option to keep supporting Apple or leave - the other, not so much.
        JT82
      • Obama and the Stimulus saved my life...

        @JT82
        In the stimulus I get my COBRA covered up to 60% of the cost. Being unemployed and a life long diabetic with a transplanted kidney that was KEY to me.

        As for health care well since when year after year have insurance companies NOT charged more? They being the blanks they are are running down the clock till the entire plan kicks in in 2014 as well was to be expected. However the donut hole for seniors and their medications has been closed. One can not just "Kick" one of an existing plan when they get sick any longer and children with pre existing conditions can no longer be denied. It's all good my man. It's far from perfect however but there in our history there has been no major legislation that has not required tweaks as time goes by.

        Pagan jim
        James Quinn
      • @JT82

        The current health care issues are directly related to government interference in the market, just like the housing crisis. To even make the comparison is ridiculous.
        frgough
  • I love the picture!!!

    It is SO accurate! Jobs has finally shown the world what he was all along: big brother.
    NonZealot
    • If anyone needs a big brother it is you...

      @NonZealot
      You need to get out of the basement. Play some football, meet some girls.. Or at least one. Your big brother could help you will all that. Heck simply getting out of your mothers basement and getting some fresh air would be good for you.

      Pagan jim
      James Quinn
      • Don't feed the trolls.

        @James Quinn Opinions are like @ssholes-everyone's got one, and some smell worse than others.
        matthew_maurice
      • RE: Why Apple's new Mac App store gives me the willies

        @James Quinn I'm 99% sure he's someone hired by Microsoft to sit at a desk and post anti-Apple on every article.
        I12BPhil
    • RE: Why Apple's new Mac App store gives me the willies

      @SuperZealot Dude, why don't you stop your f**k*ng b***hing? Its quite obvious your world is entirely safe. Big Brother won't be hunting you down any time soon. <br><br>Let it go for f**k's sake!
      I12BPhil