Even More Arbitrary Rules for the New Mac Store

Of course I am going to be drawn to a Lifehacker article exploring reasons why the new Mac store is going to suck (to be fair posted as half of a pair of articles, the other exploring the store’s virtues). I’ve made no secret of my wrath at Apple’s authoritarian control of their mobile platform. Mostly this arises from my frustration with the fact that there is no good reason for it to be this way. Given that you could describe the Mac App Store as a fancy package manager, the extra rules and constraints chafe all the more.

I will admit to being curious at the source of Whitson Gordon’s list in this article. Some of the items I’ve read elsewhere, like the inability to offer seamless paid upgrades, but some are complete surprises. I find it a little hard to credit that Apple is seriously going to forbid desktop applications from starting themselves when a user logs in, run components in the background, or forbid asking for escalated privileges. If true, these limitations really would turn the Mac into more of an appliance than a computer.

Mostly what I have to wonder is how the presence of the store is going to affect the environment of a typical Mac over time. The biggest reason not to get to incensed at Apple is that (for now) OS X doesn’t in any way prevent the more traditional ways of installing software. In fact, Anil Dash offered some food for thought on taking advantage of that fact to provide a competing app store with more sane policies. (My thoughts on the matter are here.)

The comparison of an app store to a Linux package manager is not far off the mark and it is easy to understand the appeal of bring some version of this concept to normal users (for values of normal excluding hackers, tinkers, early adopters, et. al.). A straw poll of comparable Linux users is likely to reveal that for distributions with robust package managers, hand compiled or manually installed software is a fraction of the total software on a system swiftly approaching zero. Why would a tool from Apple for installing and keeping software from all comers up to date be any different? That’s what drives my prediction of Macs becoming little better than beefier iPads with bundled physical keyboards.

Why the Mac App Store Sucks, Lifehacker

feeds | grep links > Microsoft Charging Linux Royalties (Again), Aussie Kids Foil Fingerprint Readers, Adobe’s Flash-to-HTML5 Demo, and More

  • Microsoft charging PC makers royalties for installing Linux
    Slashdot links to a DigalTimes piece with the details, namely that the vendors in question are minority players in the handset and netbook spaces, Acer and Asustek. Given the low volume of units they ship, this is a deterrence move, not for generating any kind of real revenue. Pretty sleazy but also consistent with Microsoft’s patent dealings in other spaces.
  • Aussie kids foil fingerprint readers
    Slashdot links to a ZDNet piece describing students using the already well know ability of gelatin, the main ingredient in readily accessible gummy candies, to bypass not just the pattern matching of scanners but also capacitance sensors. I wonder if card scanners and fingerprint readers really save the schools in question all that much versus a manual taking of attendance, one of the reasons for using these systems.
  • Adobe demos Flash-to-HTML5 tool
    In a post to both Ars Technica and Wired, Scott Gilbertson discusses a demo from Adobe of a tool that really is pretty consistent with past efforts, if you think about its support for exporting from its design tools to static HTML pages. The quality of output in the past has been pretty miserable, apparent to anyone with the intestinal fortitude to wade through View Source on resulting page. From what little can be seen in the embedded video, it looks like the markup generated by the latest offering continues that dubious tradition.
  • China may have built the new number one super computer, InformationWeek
  • Citizen Lab collaborates with users to map Blackberry servers, The Register
  • Chrome web store delayed until December, ReadWriteWeb

Concerns Over, and Details of, Mac App Store

I spotted this Download Squad story on Hacker News. It was prompted by a tweet from Mike Beltzner, the director of the Firefox project at Mozilla. There is a link in it, now being shared more widely, to a copy of the text of the developer agreement for the new app store. The problem Beltzner highlights is the set of unrealistic expectations encoded in the agreement–that betas will be disallowed along with any software that has bugs.

The Register has a longer piece, expanding on Beltzner’s criticisms of the move by Apple. I am not entirely sure I agree with his further contention that Jobs is moving to bypass the web. After all, we are only talking about “apps” (see below for how Apple is trying to make that term more than just a lazy abbreviation for application software). I will concede that it does feel like the Mac is getting a little claustrophobic between iTunes as the all encompassing media environment and now this for software. I am wary of Apple’s long term schemes but have confidence in the attractive power of the open web, especially as it much more readily invites the sort of disruptive innovation that is the bane of all attempts at walled gardens.

Sarah Perez at ReadWriteWeb has extracted some of the more interesting conditions in the agreement that legitimately bolster Beltzner’s cause for concern. Basically, just about everything we’ve come to expect of the store for Apple’s mobile platform will carry over into the one for their desktop platform. Well, everything except the fact that the Mac app store will not preclude other means of distributing software for Macs. Of course the Apple managed store will represent a distinctly non-level playing field. They are undoubtedly betting that even with the possibility of installing applications as folks do today, most will flock to the new store out of sheer convenience. All the more reason to look at Anil Dash’s ruminations on open alternatives about which I posted yesterday.

One other point to consider, if true, is that apparently the “apps” in this store will be distinct from actual applications. I didn’t bother viewing the live stream of the Apple event (because you have to use their proprietary codec to do so). What I can parse out of the various live blogs is that an “app” will work much like the programs on a smart phone: intentionally single tasking and unconditionally full screen. Even if I thought that particular interpretation of an application were a worthwhile notion, which I don’t, I am certain there are applications that will suffer considerably in terms of usability and utility if shoe horned into this model. I suspect that fact more than anything will continue to pressure Apple, preventing them from closing down software distribution on the Mac exclusively to the very thin straw that is this app store.

Updated: A reader, Alex, did watch the live stream and while the full screen mode was presented in a confusion fashion, it does seem to be separate from the app store.  Thanks for the clarification.

Director of Firefox fires opening salvo at Apple’s tyrannical Mac App Store, Download Squad

Considering App Stores

Anil Dash has a couple of posts worth a read that bracket Apple’s announcement of a forthcoming app store for OS X. The first simply considers app stores as a class. I am a little concerned at the inclusion of Linux package managers in this category but Canonical’s recent change to offer for sale software in Maverick Meerkat’s GUI front-end to apt certainly blurs the lines. I suppose I am really just thinking about this pedantically, that the term “app store” denotes something far more narrow than what Dash actually does an excellent job defining.

But wait — how could there be many, maybe even dozens, of app stores? Because they often take forms that we don’t expect, or piggyback on other platform pieces that weren’t originally conceived as an app store. To help make the concept clearer, I’ve outlined a few of the categories of app store that exist today, and collected some initial data about the size of these different app stores. Keep in mind: Many of these app stores serve more than one category, and those lines will only get blurrier in the future. I’ve deliberately erred on the side of stretching the definition of “app store” because I think it’s very likely that new contenders will rise in areas that weren’t previously considered competitive in this space.

Do read through his list of characteristics that define the contours of this space. I don’t disagree, at the very least his proposal is a clear and excellent basis for further discussion. He even assembles some empirical data to demonstrate how many examples fit into his definition.

His second post hits a little closer to home, asking how Mac OS X developers can work to ensure that Apple’s forthcoming app store for the platform isn’t the only offering available in a post-Lion world. It is hard to argue with the pragmatism in his suggestion of evolving existing systems to provide open, competitive distribution mechanisms.

It’s actually quite doable, if two unheralded but influential independent projects coordinate their efforts, or even merge. Their quiet ubiquity among third-party applications could create an emergent app store, turning a broad base of already-distributed and successful independent apps into a force with a lot more marketing and bargaining power in their discussions with Apple. So, who has the ability to change the balance of power here?

Personally, I do feel a bit vindicated in my recent decision to undertake a complete exodus (save for replacing perfectly serviceable hardware capable of running Linux) from all things Apple. What isn’t clear in the coverage from Apple’s press event earlier today is whether the Mac app store will be as closed as the iPhone one. The only data I’ve seen is on the revenue sharing, a hint at a similar approval process, and the proposed user experience. I’ll reserve further judgment on the perils of the Mac app store until we have more data on the DRM question. In the meantime, those who are still a part of the Apple ecosystem would do well to read Anil’s posts. If you are in a position to act on his plan for an open app store, seriously consider doing so.

All The App Stores, Anil Dash

How to Make an Open App Store on the Mac, Anil Dash