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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.

In reality, app stores have varying policies. Intel's AppUp, for instance, tests apps and rates them for age suitability before making them available to users. Google, on the other hand, says it is "not obligated to monitor the products or their content" but reserves the right to review and remove them from the Chrome Web Store.

Apps could be removed if, for example, they're found to be defective or malicious or if Google determines that they violate the law or infringe on someone else's intellectual property.

AllMyApps, now in beta, offers mostly free software for Windows

App developer Tacconi adds that the sense of security provided by an app store should extend to the suitability of an app for a user's hardware. The store should help users buy software guaranteed to run on their notebook or desktop, he says. That's the same assurance that users of smartphones have come to expect from the app stores they use for their mobile software.

"On the iOS App Store, the number of possible devices to distribute for is very small," says Tacconi. In contrast, he points out, "computers come in a great number of configurations, with different processors, video cards, memory sizes, etc. It's important that the store be able to validate the minimum requirements of your computer".

From bricks to clicks

The app store business model is a "win-win-win" says IDC's Hilwa. He says that hardware vendors like Intel, Apple and Acer win by running an app store to promote and nurture their platform and brand, "developers win by having a place to market, sell and make money, and users win because they get a one-stop shop they can trust."

Critics of the model, however, fear that requiring apps to meet certain criteria in order to be included in an app store means that the store owner has too much say over which apps users see. Apple's requirements for products sold in its app stores, for instance, have often been criticised as being too restrictive, leaving some developers' apps out in the cold. Some even worry that 'non-approved' applications could eventually disappear entirely.

The critics have a point, says Hilwa. "Most of the rules in such stores are about privacy, security and other protections. But no doubt the platform vendor will also slip in some biases about what tools and utilities should be available for the platform and which should not. It is a dual-edged sword for developers," he says.

But NPD Group's Baker considers it a non-issue. "The computer OS is not a closed system. There is likely to always be the option for consumers to go outside the app store to buy titles that aren't in there," he says.

Acer's Alive store, due to launch later this year, will offer both applications and multimedia content.

For his part, Favre of AllMyApps believes that the app store is more of a bridge than a barrier; he calls it the "missing link" between developers and consumers that will encourage distribution and sales of mini-applications for computers. "With 1.2 billion PCs running Windows, it is a huge new business opportunity for application developers," he says.

He compares app sales to music sales. "First you bought CDs, then you downloaded MP3s on Napster and finally you bought songs on iTunes. The same goes with software: You bought boxes, then you downloaded setup files and finally you'll buy apps. In a few years, the traditional download paradigm will have disappeared," he predicts.

Of course, Favre has a personal stake in that argument, and many would disagree with him. Still, it's clear that app developers and companies that are launching or planning to launch app stores are betting that a significant portion of software for all computer devices will be sold through an app store. "Over time, app stores will be how most software becomes distributed," says Hilwa.

Even skeptic Baker thinks the app store model will have a place in selling software to users of both computers and mobile devices. "But [app stores] will only be one of many ways that consumers find and buy applications for their computer, versus being the primary way they do that on their tablets or phones," he says.

NEXT PAGE: An app by any other name

  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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