Given the resounding success of Apple's iTunes App Store, direct-sales portals are all the rage in mobile application development. Just this week, Google introduced support for paid apps in its Android Market, while Microsoft, Nokia, and Samsung all unveiled competing stores of their own.
It's easy to see the attraction for software vendors. App stores offer one-stop shopping, which increases customer retention. They streamline the process of handling micropayments, making it easier for mobile application vendors to collect sales priced at $10 or below. And Apple and other store providers screen and validate software from third-party vendors, so customers can trust that the apps they download will be functional and free of malware or other surprises.
Some pundits have even gone on to speculate that the app store model might be effective not just for mobile apps, but for desktop software as well -- that it could go on to become the dominant software distribution method for phones and PCs alike.
On the surface, this sounds like an attractive idea, but it could also be a dangerous one. If Apple and Microsoft opened their own one-stop shops for PC software, they would be elevated from mere platform vendors to become the sole gatekeepers of developer access to their platforms. The result would be a radical transformation of the software market as software developers would literally require permission to distribute their apps for a given platform.
Who controls software distribution?
We're a long way from that outcome yet, but the idea of an app store for desktop software is not without precedent. Desktop Linux distributions, such as Ubuntu, routinely provide software repositories where users can locate and download a variety of applications software. Similarly, Valve Software's Steam service has enjoyed success as a distribution mechanism for PC video games on Windows.