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2011: The year of the desktop app store?

Installing software on your PC is as easy as on your smartphone

Apple's Mac App Store is only the latest effort to make finding and installing software on your PC or laptop as easy as it is on your smartphone. We look at what else is on offer.

App stores' mobile roots

The apparent early success of Evernote in the Mac App Store notwithstanding, download and sales numbers for the other app stores we've mentioned - all of which serve Windows users - are currently too small to determine whether app stores will become a significant player in software distribution.

Stephen Baker, an analyst at The NPD Group, says he doesn't think app stores will become the dominant software sales channel. He points out that the initial appeal and success of app stores has been tied to mobile computing: App stores offer smartphone users a more convenient way than searching Web sites to shop for, choose, download and install software. Using a smartphone to visit a website in order find and install software would be a hassle for several reasons: Mobile internet connections have limited speeds, smartphones have small screens and many don't have physical keyboards.

Because users of full-fledged computers don't face such barriers when searching the web, Baker thinks app stores will have a tough time catching on as a means of selling software in the notebook/desktop market.

"App stores for computers would have to have a demonstrable advantage over searching for products directly on the web. Since computers offer more open ecosystems than tablets or phones, it is fairly easy to bypass an app store and download applications directly," he says.

Benefits for computer users

Thibauld Favre, CEO of AllMyApps, believes he can answer that question. "Discovering and managing applications on Windows is still one of the most frustrating experiences you can have as an end user," he says. AllMyApps, currently in beta, offers Windows software in an app store format.

Traditional software download sites are focused on the transaction, Favre says - exchanging payment information for a download link and licence key. "The scope of an application store is much broader: a complete environment to make it easy to discover, buy, install, update and reinstall applications, be they paid or free. The level of service is what makes it so attractive for end users," Favre says.

One service that app stores provide is automatic software updates. If any of the apps you downloaded or purchased through an app store is updated, the app store will notify you and provide one-click download and installation of the update. On the other hand, many applications auto-check for updates over the Internet anyway; the app store just centralises the process.

Another selling point of an app store for computers, especially one run by a well-known company, is that it would give customers a sense of trust and security about the software they buy.

"You don't know if you should trust any of the small players making security or backup software who want you to download and install things on your machine," says IDC's Hilwa.

"It is great to have the platform owner or some other trusted source offer such software and certify it."

This assumes, of course, that PC app stores follow Apple's model, in which all apps that appear in the store must go through an approval process and meet certain criteria.

NEXT PAGE: From bricks to clicks

  1. Installing software on your PC is as easy as on your smartphone
  2. App stores' mobile roots
  3. From bricks to clicks
  4. An app by any other name

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