The Apps That Came in From the Cold

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.


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.


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.


Image credits: Winter and alien, Shutterstock.