The announcement of the Mac App Store has been greeted with some mixed feelings.
Because of the closed nature of the App Store for iOS devices, there has been some worry about whether the Mac App Store will continue that legacy of tight control – with Apple dictating which apps can appear based on seemingly arbitrary criteria, or whether or not they compete with Apple’s own business model.
More generally, people are wondering whether the somewhat constrained, simplified version of the operating system was heading to the computer – and the ‘install whatever you want’ approach that stands now would disappear.
The problem is, there’s no way this is going to happen. And more to the point, the simpler and more like iOS that desktop operating systems get, the better. Yep, better. Here’s why.
Closed App Stores Are Just One More Market Choice
The fear that the Mac App Store will suddenly shut down all other avenues of getting applications on a Mac is absurd. What’s obvious is that it’s neither in Apple’s or consumer’s interest to close off how people use their computers.
But what’s more, there’s no historical precedent for the idea that the arrival of one closed ecosystem leads to more closed ecosystems, as if the Mac App Store will suddenly produce a slew of 1984-like worlds.
The history of technology has not been one of the war between open and closed, but the balance maintained between them. Yes, iOS is closed, but it was precisely its tightly controlled nature that led to the success of Android, as consumers, handset manufacturers and app makers realized the benefits of Google’s ‘do whatever you want’ approach. Are there downsides to Android? Sure. But that’s why you get to choose between them.
The point is that ‘closed’ vs ‘open’ isn’t an either/or option, but a question of consumer preference. Do you like things to be integrated, unified? Then closed system like iOS or Xbox Live work for you. Like choice and customizable experiences? Then more open systems like Android or Windows, OS X or Linux are for you. (And no, I’m not saying those are all equivalently open.)
No, instead, for every closed system that has emerged, an open one has also arisen to offer consumers choice.
App Stores Are a Welcome Improvement
But beyond the question of open vs. closed, App Stores are an improvement over the current situation of how most people deal with applications.
Think of is this way. Trademark law is often guided by what people call the ‘moron in a hurry’ principle: would a proverbial ‘simple person in a rush’ confuse one brand for another? Well, apps on computers should be guided by something similar: could a moron in a hurry find a piece of software that does what they want, install it and keep it updated?
Because with current implementations, our friendly, frazzled moron couldn’t do that. Think about what happens now: On Windows, you have to scour the web, verify the legitimacy of both the site and the software, click to download, remember where you downloaded it to, double click the .exe, verify that you want to let it do something, and then let it install, all the while being careful it doesn’t install a toolbar or spyware or whatever else. Even on the ostensibly ‘more user-friendly’ OS X, the process isn’t that much simpler.
What App Stores do is provide a unified ecosystem and process for the addition of applications to an operating system. You click a button and install a piece of software. That’s it. When there’s an update, you get a notification, and you click one button again.
What’s important in tech is not just ‘retina screens’ or 3D TVs, but improvements to how easy it is for everyone to use technology – not just tech nerds. And by proving a simplified, centralized option for installing software, the Mac App Store is a step in the right direction.
It won’t stifle creativity; it won’t be the only choice; but it will be better for the millions of people who, rather than fiddling with installation directories, just want to get stuff done.