The Apps That Came in From the Cold

| Particle Debris

The operation of the Mac App Store is fairly well understood. Apps found there are especially trustworthy because of Apple’s imposed security requirements. But there is a wealth of apps that are great and yet cannot be in the MAS. Maybe it’s time for a new store. Or new nomenclature. Or new marketing.

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One of the things we know about the Mac App Store, from interviewing developers, is that many new or inexperienced customers look at the MAS first for solutions to their problems. It’s a convenient and trustworthy watering hole, and it provides many developers with incremental revenue.

Mac App StoreHistorically, many experienced customers know how to go out on the Internet, find a website, make a technical judgment and buy a solution. Nowadays, however, customers who are new to the Mac or who are less experienced, are uncomfortable with that. So they fall into the safe zone of the Mac App Store, at least knowing that Apple has vetted the app, even though they may not completely understand why those apps are sandboxed and what the implications are.

The good news is that Apps that aren’t sandboxed can still be signed by the developer with an Apple provided digital signature. With such credentials, Mountain Lion’s Gatekeeper facility will let the app run anyway. If it transgresses, its certificate can still be pulled by Apple remotely.

The MAS is so wildly successful that one can imagine a day when some developers might have to, based on financial considerations, abandon traditional offerings of powerful apps that don’t meet the MAS requirements. It’s not happening yet, but we know how those things tend to go.

Meanwhile, some developers are in a bind. A few have had to withdraw their apps from the MAS to meet the evolving requirements, and there is likely to be some confusion by new customers as to why they might want to buy a “mere” signed app from the developer’s website instead. It can be very confusing for the newbie. For a detailed analysis of this whole affair, I highly recommend this article by TUAW’s Richard Gaywood. I’ll wait… Okay, now you understand the issues.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a variation of the Mac App Store where developers could host their non-sandboxed but signed apps? It’s a shame that excellent apps like Ecamms’s Printopia and Smile’s TextExpander don’t qualify for the MAS. Well, there is such a non-Apple store, and it’s called Bodega. It’s not very well known. Whether a new consortium of developers could do a better job and get more visibility is hard to quantify.

On the other hand, it would be nice for Apple to help out. If Apple expects customers to know the different kinds of apps in the Gatekeeper prefs, why can’t it expect the customer to have that awareness when shopping in the MAS?  It seems Apple has to take some of the blame for creating a technical distinction in the first place, then glossing over it by touting only the MAS.

The situation cries out for some kind of clarification, nomenclature, and marketing by Apple. Perhaps, and I’m just reflecting, Apple could emphasize the nature of the different apps by declaring them Class A (MAS), Class B (digitally signed) and Class C (renegade) apps. Or maybe filter the user by making them declare themselves experts. In any case, it would be nice to have some very self-explanatory labels rather than geeekspeak. After all, Apple is a master at communicating and dreaming up cool names.

Once the meme is in place and widely understood, Apple might be able to confidently declare multiple departments in the MAS: Class A and Class B apps. (Assuming the developer wants to give up a 30 percent fee for a Class B app and be subject to approval and lose more control.) See how crazy it all gets?  In meantime, I predict that many customers will be faced with confusing choices, and even be victimized by the nuances of two kinds of apps, found in multiple places.

Anyway, it’s just a thought. More like a fantasy.

Mountain Winter

Tech News Debris

Earlier this week, I wrote about how questionalble it is to get all giggly and teary-eyed about the prospects of the Microsoft Surface long before we see any deep specs or sales figures. I was therefore pleased to see this very astute summary by John Brownlee that explains “Apple’s Secret Weapon.

That’s Apple’s real mojo. They can actualize. Apple can say to themselves that they are going to revolutionize the professional laptop, or the smartphone, or the tablet, and then not only follow through with an enviable purity of design, source all of the parts and manufacture their product in utter secrecy, then ship the resulting en masse and sell them at unheard of profit margins. No one else can.”

Until Microsoft proves that they can do that also, all bets are off on the success of the Surface tablet.

Geek time. Have you ever wondered about Access Control Lists in OS X? Here’s a great tutorial, the best I’ve ever seen. “Introduction to OS X Access Control Lists (ACLs)

It greatly annoys me that notebook computers are called laptops. That’s because laptop computers were a distinct technical phase, and those products were superseded by notebook computers. But, alas, the careless like to call them laptops anyway. Anyway, those who love to work with a laptop, on their lap, will like this: “Dude, why must you put that MacBook Pro laptop on your lap?”

One of the things I have written about in the past is that the Internet itself doesn’t provide instruction on how to evaluate the validity of material and documents on the Internet. Some kind of external wisdom, taught by other human beings, is required. It’s called a great education.

We run across all kinds of claims on the Internet in many circles: politics, science and technology. How do we analyze those claims for their truth value? I bring this up because it applies to our life as Apple customers, or more generally, technological consumers. This article speaks to scientific claims, but it’s also a great read for the rest of us. “How to Determine If A Controversial Statement Is Scientifically True.

Alien

Many years ago, a friend told me that FOX Broadcasting was going to air a special report, an “Alien autopsy.” He was excited about the prospect of the innards of a captured alien. I quizzed him. “Where is the Scientific American article? Where are the PBS news reports? What Did Carl Sagan have to say publicly?” He hadn’t thought of those avenues as sanity checks on what was clearly an entertainment event with commercial breaks. That thought process, evaluating technical claims and more, is discussed in Dr. Phil Plait’s excellent article above.

Along those lines, related to something closer to home, namely the Apple iPad, take a look a this article at ComputerWorld and see if you can ascertain the assumptions and scientific technique used to come up with actual numbers. Numbers by golly. Numbers are always right, you know. I’d list the technical mistakes, but shucks, you’ll have more fun. A Saturday exercise for the student.

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Image credits: Winter and alien, Shutterstock.

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12 Comments Leave Your Own

Ross Edwards

It’s still kind of a crapshoot.  I bought two highly-regarded apps from the MAS: iDentify and TuneUP, to help manage my huge collection of video and music.  Neither one was all that impressive and neither one had the kind of accuracy that a hypothetical first-party Apple app or integrated feature in iTunes would have.  If these are supposed to be “good” apps, I’d hate to see how bad the lousy ones are.  Of course Apple’s oversight has more to do with malware management than actual app quality, so this may not be something that they can readily solve.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

I guess it just goes to show that if you repeat a premise enough times, you start to believe it and maybe it becomes some kind of fact. But in the real world, Apple taking 30% doesn’t make software better and it doesn’t make it safer. It just makes software more expensive for end users and drives development talent to service oriented offerings.

graxspoo

Hi John, I find it odd that one article over you’re arguing how great ios-ification is going to be for the Mac, yet here you bemoan the very gentle early stages of what this actually will entail. As Apple tightens the screws of the MAS developer agreement all sorts of useful features in current apps will need to be excised. This won’t matter to the throngs of casual computer users that are now Apple’s target audience. They’ll still be able to watch movies, check email, surf the web, and write term papers, so, who cares?
Unfortunately, this will also nix the Mac as a development platform. Developers need to get under the hood. They need access to the file system. So then, Macs will wind up with the same relationship to app development that iPhones have. i.e. you can’t develop iPhone apps on the iPhone, you need to do that on another computer.
What will this other computer system be? Maybe a “pro” version of Mac OS. Maybe Linux. Either way, the developers of the future will see the Mac as a platform to target for financial gain, but not one to love. And this, I think, is Apple’s greatest danger in ios-ification: alienating the talent that has made the platform what it is. The Linux grass is starting to look pretty darn green.

Peter

Remember when Apple kept a website with third-party developer applications?  From the Apple menu, you chose “Get Mac OS X Software” and it opened Safari and went to this site?

Ah, those were the days…

iVoid

I’d suggest a Mac ProApp store, but I don’t think Apple really knows what “Pro” means any more. :(

John Martellaro

graxspoo: Just because some apps, not all, are built by developers to be sandboxed doesn’t mean that the developer tools will cease to function.

iJack

Bodega is something akin to AppFresh (http://metaquark.de/appfresh/mac) except it’s not as pretty and Mac-like as AppFresh.  It’s also free.

aardman

If Apple gimps OSX down to iOS levels, what computer and OS do nervous developers expect Apple to recommend for developing iOS and OSX apps?  Windows?  Linux?

A little common sense eliminates a lot of the hand-wringing surrounding the iOSification issue.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

@John: How would you expect third party development tools to fit into the picture? Real Studio, RunRev LiveCode, and Adobe AIR platform are some examples. Are users of these products not serious enough to consider “developers”?

Here’s what I really wonder… Do you expect that in order for anyone to develop software on the platform with third party tools, they will have set Gatekeeper to “let all the viruses in”? Do you think they’d have to weigh that risk?

(For the record, I think Gatekeeper is 100% about Apple getting the 30% which it thinks it is entitled. The sandboxing rollout is a simple charade to support the security myth. Nothing more to see here.)

John Martellaro

Brad: I think developers will be just fine. Their tools are built without the (possible) restrictions that apply to end user apps, built by those tools.

Gatekeeper itself simply selects the level of security. Developers are expert users, and that’s not the kind of user we need to protect.

An app that’s signed and sold on the developer’s website doesn’t pay Apple the 30%.

Every developer we’ve interviewed has had a big revenue boost from the MAS.

iJack

Developers are expert users, and that?s not the kind of user we need to protect.

“The kind of user we need to protect?  Really?
That’s condescension and paternalism all rolled into one nice iThought.

iVoid

If Apple gimps OSX down to iOS levels, what computer and OS do nervous developers expect Apple to recommend for developing iOS and OSX apps?  Windows?  Linux?

Yeah, the fact that you need Macs to make iOS apps is at least something that will prevent Apple from totally neutering the Mac.

I’m thankful for that, at least.

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