Software Stores

From where I was sitting, there was a huge hub-bub when Apple released the upgrade to OS 10.6.6 where the Macintosh App Store was made available.  I read comments like “game changer” and “this will change everything” and the like.  Don’t get me wrong; I like the concept.  For years, we’ve had to walk to the local computer store or go online and purchase software that comes in cardboard containers, complete with huge printed manuals, inside a plastic shrink wrap, on a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM, and complete with serial numbers for legal compliance.

Upon cracking into the software where even getting access can be painful on the fingers depending upon the packaging, it’s a matter of slipping the media into the drive and running the installer, entering your serial number carefully, and then running the software.  It only takes being burned once or twice following this procedure until you realize that you should run the update feature of the software first to overcome the problems of software rot that sets in when a title has been sitting in store inventory for too long.  A week?

Like most people, I suspect, I carefully repackage everything and try to find space on a bookshelf for the box.  After all, the instructions are explicit that I would need the original media if I ever need to reinstall the software and the manual will be handy in case I need to look up things.  For some reason, I’ve even been known to keep the compulsory French manual for some reason that must have made sense at some time.  (My knowledge of French is passing and certainly not at any sort of technical reading level).

So, what sort of game does this change?  Hopefully, there would be two fallouts on this.  First of all, it respects the environmental impact that traditional distribution thumbs its nose at.  Let’s face it.  We live in an online world and built-in help installed and online is all that most people need anymore.  Gone are the days where people master one or two programs from A-Z.  Instead, we’ve opted for a world where there are so many applications that are very well written to perform one task and do it very well.  Secondly, we’ve become increasingly reliant on the knowledge that any tool is available the moment that we need it and just don’t have the patience to wait for a trip to the store or for a shipping service to drop it off at the front door.  Wouldn’t it be nice knowing that when we install software, that we’re installing the best available version and we’re not doing to install/patch/install software shuffle?

This philosophy does change the game.  But, it didn’t happen this week just because the Macintosh App Store went online.

If you’re a Ubuntu or any Linux user, you’ve had this facility for years.  The Update Manager and other other utilities get you into the software repositories immediately.  New titles and updates have always been available this easily.  Perhaps the concept originated with Firefox years ago when you could download an excellent browser and then make it so much better when you add add-ons to provide additional functionality.  It wasn’t called a store but you sure could go shopping for what fills your software itch.  Earlier, the Google Chrome browser and OS opened a store where you could add additional functionality with a click.  I even asked the question “Could I live in a browser?”  If you’re a netbook user, you’ve had to rely on these repositories or stores since a media to install software creates all kinds of other issues.  On the Macintosh side of things, the Macintosh Air faces the same challenges.  The Store solves it.

The concept is not new to Apple.  Through iTunes, we’ve been able to purchase music, applications, and movies for a long time now.  iTunes is a very effective store that manages both the original purchase and pushes out updates.  On the Android side of things, the Android Marketplace does the same functionality.

In its totality, I don’t see the Macintosh App Store by itself as a game changer.  For some folks who haven’t dabbled outside their comfort zone, it may be new, but the store approach is just a way of modernizing the approach.  When you need software, you just go and get it.  It may be the downfall for impulse buyers but so be it.  On the positive side of things, you should be able to trust the reliability and malware free availability of the titles.  On the other hand, a store can pick and choose whatever it elects to sell.  Apple has made this well known with its pick and choose approach to resources through its iOS store.

This concept of a store puts responsibility on the store to safeguard any information that it collects from you.  Unlike the traditional computer store where you present a debit or credit card upon purchases, your information is permanently stored online.  Unfortunately, it makes for a perfect target for hackers.  The story about the iTunes hacked accounts was disconcerting.  Of course, this would never happen in the Ubuntu world because the applications are free.  I look to yet another smack down between the two approaches.  I don’t see the Ubuntu approach gaining much traction though because Apple fans seem to overlook a number of things as Apple works to get things right.

I do see an opportunity for a new type of store.  Right now, the current paradigm is around the operating system.  You can’t go to the Ubuntu store, for example, and get the latest and greatest Macintosh or Windows application.  And, for good reasons too.  Companies do exist by protecting their product or their brand.  The reality of education, for example, is that there are diverse collections of platforms, even within the same building.  If those who offer platform dependent stores offer an API, then a SuperCentre could be a one-stop shop for education.  If you need a copy of XXXXforKids, instead of shopping at various stores at your online mall, this SuperCentre could provide click-through shopping in a single point of presence.

For the technology savvy classroom teacher, the promise of differentiation can be delivered by easily choosing the application that is needed for the job instead of trying to shoehorn people into a one size fits all solution.

The winners in all of this will be we end users.  The promise of a personal computer becomes much more personal when we increasingly become more in charge of our digital lives.  Education and offices that persist in presenting locked down user hostile environments will feel more pressure as clients who learn how to work in this world at home demand the same functionality at work.  If you continue to have an environment where you want to keep them back on the farm, you’re not going to change any game.  You’ll be bringing out an old beaten up deck of cards with a couple of the aces missing.  The contemporary kids will be playing with a full deck while the others will have Ace of Hearts written on one of the Jokers that you weren’t using anyway as they struggle in a world of make do.

It is an exciting concept and I don’t think that we’re done.  There are clever people working on ways to add value to their product.   There will be a path of growth in this concept and we’re all going to be there becoming more productive as it happens.


links for 2011-01-07