Apple has taken a lighter approach with its Mac App Store, both because Mac apps have other sales venues -- brick-and-mortar and Web stores -- and because Apple doesn't have the same need to control the user experience. In the case of iOS, Apple feared -- with some justification -- that runaway apps could slow the iPhone and interfere with other apps, as well as create security vulnerabilities. Apple doesn't face that problem with desktop apps, which can take advantage of Macs' much higher CPU, memory, storage, and bandwidth resources, and of Mac OS X's well-established security model through the administrator account.
Existing Mac OS developers appear to find porting their apps to the Mac App Store reasonably straightforward. SmileSoftware's Scown notes that Apple required some changes to its TextExpander and PDFpen apps, but most of the changes were geared toward reliable operation. "Apple did a pretty good job of laying out 'these are the rules.' It did require modifications to the apps, such as eliminating unpublished calls, which are mostly good things. Apple forces developers to go back and use the correct methods in these cases."
But developers with existing Mac apps may find that their software doesn't operate within the Mac App Store guidelines, despite having a reliable track record with Mac OS X. For example, "our TextExpander requires that the user turn on Access for Assistive Devices, with requires administrative account login. But Apple's guidelines say apps can't require users to make administrative mode changes. Apple asked why we needed that capability, and we explained that it is critical to the app functionality. So it permitted it."
Alas, vestiges of Apple's iOS arbitrary rejections persist in the Mac App Store realm. Araeulium Group's QuickPick application and document launcher was removed from the Mac App Store by Apple after initially being accepted, reportedly because the years-old app resembles the Launchpad in Apple's upcoming Mac OS X Lion release.
Apple's capriciousness in the Mac App Store has many in the developer community up in arms, calling for an alternative open source store free from Apple's control. But is an open app store remotely possible? Certainly, says Cydia's Freeman. An open app store contender could make a difference by offering more liberal terms: lower commissions, fewer content and architectural restrictions, and shared ownership of the customer. "With a desktop OS such as Mac OS or Windows, we [open source developers] have the chance to do things right. There are no barriers to third-party Mac app stores, none at all," he says.
"There is a concern that the platform maintainers, such as Apple, will attempt to gradually lock the system down to a single application sales channel, as there is on the iPhone today [for nonjailbroken iPhones], and [developers want] sales models that give more access to metrics and customer relationships for subscriptions, upgrades, and incremental changes," Freeman says.
An open Mac app store would also address the open source conflict inherent in Apple's offering, by freely welcoming applications consisting of, or based on, open source software. GPLv2, a very popular open source license, and Apple's Mac App Store license are incompatible, according to Apple. The Mac App Store's terms of service restrict certain usages, while GPLv2 expressly prohibits use restrictions, an impasse that currently bars GPLv2 and most other open-source-licensed programs from the Mac App Store.
Despite Apple's tight grip on customer data and heavy commission hit, the Mac App Store is seeing steady growth, and app makers expect that growth to accelerate as more Mac users upgrade their to add the App Store capability. "We're looking forward to Mac App Store growth," says SmileSoftware's Scown, "since there are millions of users pending upgrade to 10.6.6. As they update to that or Lion, that expands our audience."
Given Apple's Mac App Store success, and the willingness of developers to endure moderate hardships, can Microsoft be far behind? It will be a different application world, and not just on Apple's platforms.
This story, "What the app store future means for developers and users," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in software development at InfoWorld.com. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.