The Mac App Store- Day One

I need to spend more time with it but here are my preliminary reactions to the Mac App Store in no particular order:

  • The standard license is actually nicely liberal in terms of what you’re allowed to use where. (Any Mac you own or control if you’re not a commercial user.)
  • The pricing model, for now anyway, is hardly settled. It appears Apple will discount and unbundle some of their products for sale on the App Store as compared to their retail price. (Aperture as an example of discounting and iWork and iLife apps as examples of unbundling.) Some third party Products are priced oddly. Full versions of RapidWeaver and upgrades of RapidWeaver are the same price.
  • The installation process is, to me, creepily opaque. It is exactly like iPhone/iPad. Download, a little icon proxy flies from the App Store application to the dock and an iOS-like progress bar appears on the app icon in the dock while it downloads and installs.  No idea what goes where, no way to inspect a package prior to install to see what you can about what might go where.
  • The installation process leaves you nothing ‘portable’. While you may own a license, it appears you must pull down each copy of your App Store purchased software from Apple on each machine you use it on.
  • Because what you download doesn’t seem to be kept in any kind of package or, better yet, a .dmg, you loose control of configuration management. If you are in the midst of a project on one machine and need, for example, to move it to your laptop, you have to install whatever version is currently available on the App Store. That version may not be bug for bug compatible with the version you’ve started your project with. It’s an essential truth, once in the full throws of production you avoid changing your tool chain if at all possible. If you rely on the App Store, you have lost this control.
  • Apple seems to be able to tell a lot more about my Mac than I want them to by simple dint of my launching the App Store. They know what third party software I have installed. This is, arguably, good for the the user so they don’t re-purchase something they bought via another channel but the App Store application should ask me if I want it to check. What third party software I’ve bought via other channels is, frankly, is none of Apple’s business. It’s unclear whether Apple gets a complete list of all apps or only query my machine for those apps that are made available in the app store. The former is surely more troubling but even the latter doesn’t give me a warm fuzzy. Now, before you call me paranoid, The law allows me to, under some circumstances, decrypt CSS encoded DVD’s. Getting into the question with Apple, or anyone else, whether or not my possession of the tools to do so is in keeping with fast changing law isn’t something I would pro-actively choose to share with Apple.
  • I actively use no less (and often more) than 3 Macs (and sometimes WinTel and Linux machines) at a time in the course of doing both my personal and professional work, all of the above poses administrative challenges for me but, for clients where I manage sometimes hundreds of Macs, it could get very messy very fast.
  • Creation and maintenance of install (deployment) images could be nightmarish given the issues above. If you maintain 100 Macs, you build a standard install disk image(s) and you clone to your machines as you deploy new hardware. The use of receipts as authentication for legitimate licenses and the lack of stand-alone installers will make this as unfun as online activation. There’s a reason corporate volume licensing usually includes an installer that doesn’t rely on online activation. (Adobe and Microsoft for example)

Here are my predictions as of day one, the App Store is going to be a mixed bag:

  • The iOS app store is essentially an uncurated disaster area. Discovering quality applications is next to impossible for the novice user and the frivolous applications crowd out those of genuine utility and refinement. Even at day one, the Mac App Store is littered with faux-free apps that are useless without the purchase of a commercial iOS app. Cluttered with apps that fall well below any kind of reasonable design quality standard (language NSFW) and chock-a-block with casual games. This will make it VERY hard for some publishers and there will be good products killed.
  • The presumption of a broadband connected computer is not the same as the presumption of a network connected mobile device. This could undermine Apple’s currently improving place in non-consumer environments. The valid usecases where desktop computers are not connected to the public internet (or shouldn’t be) include:
    • Forensics Workstations for law enforcement
    • Administration Consoles for Servers in a Data Center
    • Production workstations for video and graphics in some environments
    • Production workstations used for live performance
    • Software development environments for life-safety critical environments.
  • The perception of Apple as a closed company is not aided by the walled garden of an Apple-mediated software marketplace. This will undermine Apple’s claims about openness, the value of open source and will alienate significant portions of their developer community.
  • Laws of economic inertia risk making it impractical for third party software vendors to sell their products outside of Apple’s App Store ecosystem. Retail boxes, online stores, distribution providers like Kagi etc. are all jeopardized.

As of today, I will not be purchasing my software from the App Store and do not recommend clients and colleagues to either. There needs to be a lot more thought put into how it works and how the above concerns can be addressed. For now, the traditional distribution chains solve many of these problems in many cases. In the cases they don’t, you should already have been seeking alternate vendors. If you stick to those chains and communicate your concerns to the companies whose tools you rely on (including Apple), you can help ensure your options remain workable.

**Updates** (note, there will, surely, be new articles on this subject, updates below will only be for corrections and minor additions during early days)

Also, via Daring Fireball:

(some updates inline)

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  1. pdpinch
    January 6th, 2011 at 23:36 | #1

    So, I got an iTunes gift card for Christmas from my in-laws. Should I stick to the music, or adventure in the app store?

  2. January 7th, 2011 at 00:11 | #2

    Me? I’d stick to nice DRM-free music.

  3. pdpinch
    January 7th, 2011 at 09:32 | #3

    Eh, good point. How can you tell what’s DRM-free in iTunes now?

  4. January 7th, 2011 at 10:53 | #4

    As far as I know, all music is by now.

    AFAIK- Video, TV, Movies and AudioBooks still are DRM-wrapped.

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