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App Store II: Steve Jobs sucks Mac's soul

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Comment Apple has hacked the Mac's software ecosystem in two.

When Jobs & Co. opens its iOS-style Mac App Store early next year, there will be two types of apps available for the company's flagship — but aging — Apple Macintosh platform: simple consumer-level apps that the vast majority of users will purchase through the online store revealed by Steve Jobs last month, and professional apps sold in traditional ways — for now, at least.

And the Mac universe will be a less interesting place.

As revealed in Apple's recently published Mac App Store Review Guidelines, Cupertino's control over the future of consumer-level Mac software will discourage innovation, and will be defined — quite literally — by what Apple believes to be Good for You™.

The Mac App Store, for all intents and purposes, will bring an end to the rogue, piratical culture that Jobs once championed.

"Why join the navy if you can be a pirate?"

— Steve Jobs, 1983

Up until the day the Mac App Store opens, Mac apps will be able to jostle for advantage on a level playing field where developers wrestle to out-innovate one another, and where — more importantly — the arbiters of success are folks who buy Mac software, and not folks who are employed as Apple's App Store police.

That's called the free market, and it has been a cauldron of innovation since Adam Smith stirred the pot with his timeless invisible hand.

The day that the Mac App Store opens for business, however, buyers of Mac software might feel as if they're free to choose which apps to install on their iMacs and MacBooks, but in reality their choices will be "curated," to use Jobs' deceptively kindhearted term.

As has been true with the iPhone/Pod/Pad App Store since its inception, Apple will decide the universe of apps from which consumer-level Mac users will be allowed to choose.

We'll quickly admit that Jobs, when introducing the Mac App Store, noted that "It won't be the only place [to buy Mac apps], but we think it'll be the best place." Unlike iPhone/Pod/Pad users locked into the current iOS App Store, Mac users will still be able to load non–App Store apps onto their Cupertinian desktops and notebooks.

But let's be realistic: most won't.

Consumer apps

Jobs described his company during his surprise appearance at Apple's recent financial-results conference call by saying: "We're a very high-volume consumer-electronics manufacturer." Consumer-electronics companies sell stuff to consumers. Consumers, well, consume. Once they've chosen their platform, they predictably follow its guidance.

And the Mac App Store will be there to provide that guidance by narrowing — "curating", in Jobs-speak — their choice of apps. And those choices will be determined solely by Apple and its view of what's acceptable.

And how will Jobs & Co. decide from which apps consumers will be able to choose? Well, the Mac App Store Review Guidelines detail 93 strictures that narrow the range of what Apple's new iOS-meets-OS-X store will accept.

Many of the elements of that superabundance of no-nos are reasonable restrictions that protect against fraud or promote privacy. Wonderful. Thanks, Steve. Really. The positive side of a curated App Store is that someone is watching your back.

On the other hand, however, some of the 93 no-nos are ridiculously over-reaching. Our favorite, for example, is the commandment that "Apps that exhibit bugs will be rejected."

If bugs make an app unacceptable, then Mac OS X — especially in its earlier incarnations — would be banned. If Apple software were bug-free, why would the company's Safari browser have a Report Bugs to Apple menu item?

And let's not even start on Microsoft Office, Adobe Reader, or other popular Mac apps. Software has bugs; that's just a fact of life.

A conspiracy-minded observer might see the "no bugs" stricture as a catch-all kick-out that Apple might use to reject apps it simply doesn't want aboard the Mac App Store. That may or may not be the case, but we don't need a tinfoil hat to be concerned about many of the the store's other guidelines.

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