The big question everyone is asking is whether the Mac App Store is a step toward the closing of the Mac platform, making it a walled garden like iOS where you can only install applications by way of the App Store. This was the big worry when the iPad was originally released — is the closed model the future of personal computing? Migrating the App Store model to the Mac platform isn’t very comforting to those of us who like to be able to install and run any software we like on our computers.
Today the App Store Review Guidelines have been leaked, answering one of my big questions, which is whether Apple is going to exercise control over which Mac applications can be distributed via the store. The answer is yes, they will.
The next question is whether Apple is moving toward the App Store being the only way to distribute Mac applications and the only way to install them. I think the answer that is that Apple is not headed in that direction. Here’s one reason why:
Apps that use deprecated or optionally installed technologies (e.g., Java, Rosetta) will be rejected
Apple is stating flat out that Java applications will not be allowed in the app store. This is important because developers in general, and Java developers in particular, make up a substantial part of the market for Apple computers. Many people migrated to the Mac specifically because it was a nice place to set up a full Web development environment that mirrors what you might use in production — you can install Eclipse (or your favorite Java IDE), Tomcat, MySQL, and Apache and get work done. It doesn’t seem like you’ll be able to install any of those applications in the App Store.
So the question is, will Apple turn its back on developers who use OS X completely? That seems highly unlikely to me.
My sense is that we’re going to see people using App Store apps and traditionally installed apps side by side for a long time. The review requirements make it clear that users will be unable to install the kinds of applications they need for many kinds of work by way of the App Store, so the Mac will need to remain an open platform in order to accommodate those users.
Oddly enough, this gives me some hope for future opening of the iOS platform. The Mac platform is going to be an experiment in running App Store-style managed applications alongside applications that require open access to the operating system to install. If the combination works out very well, it seems like Apple may decide to further open iOS.
I can see a future where a sizable percentage of Mac users only use applications that they installed through the Mac App Store. But I don’t see a future where the Mac App Store becomes the only way to distribute OS X applications. Apple is foreclosing that possibility itself with its review policy.