Free Idea: "The" Alternative Mac App Store

This is hardly an original idea but I’m surprised it isn’t discussed more often. When the Mac App Sore was released by Apple, there seemed to be a few complaints about the restrictions required to be in the store. These restrictions would prevent a number of apps from taking part (Any app that requires root permission I think? Amongst others.). People started to worry that those apps would be lost in the spotlight. There is also the possibility that once consumers get a taste of the experience from buying from an app store and became reliant on it, Apple may decide to lock down the hatches even further. Like iOS, apps for Mac OS X that are not obtained from the App Store may be locked out entirely one day.

Thankfully though, Mac OS X is still currently running free and you can still install any app you like outside Apple's new walled garden and it doesn’t have to be a Web App. What I hope is that one day, the very first app you install outside of the Mac App Store world will be an “Alternative” Mac App Store.

The Background
This is not such a crazy idea, there is already more than one major online Apple software store… and I’m not talking about Amazon’s barely discoverable effort. I'm not even talking about iOS's Cydia either. There is in fact one MAJOR modern alternative App Store already available and already selling apps for the Mac:


Steam, in case for some strange reason you don’t know, is a cross-platform, digital distribution and digital rights management system for video games and its available for the Mac. It is essentially an App Store.

Created by Valve, it has remained strongly independent and successful despite direct competition from the creator of the largest platform that Steam sells content for. Steam has been so successful that Microsoft had to dramatically change its "Games On Demand" strategy.

Log in with your Steam account from any computer which has the Steam software installed and you can purchase new games, re-download your previous purchases and in many cases, pick up where you left off in a game on a different computer (Windows or Mac).

So… what about it?

The Idea
Well, what I am pitching (for free) to some savvy company out there (perhaps Amazon or MacHeist?) is for someone to create “THE” Alternative Mac App Store.

Obviously, this app store won’t be installed by default on all Macs, so it will lack the advantage of the exposure this provide’s Apple’s offering. However, It’s the kind of apps that are not currently allowed to join the official Apple party, and the users who seek these kinds of apps out, that will drive business to this store initially. For example, one of my favourite “little” apps that is unlikely to be found in the App Store is Super Duper. The need to purchase this app alone would get me, or most savvy Mac users like me, to install the Alternative Mac App Store.

Eventually, over time, and once the platform demonstrates that it is stable, the store could attract much bigger software companies like Adobe, Microsoft and Autodesk. These software makers have licensing terms and paid-upgrade requirements that Apple would not allow in its store.

So Why Do These Apps Need Their Own Store?
There are many benefits that digital distribution stores like Steam and the Mac App Store provide such as:

  1. Single-Sign-On Digital Rights Management.
  2. Re-downloading of previous purchases.
  3. Central App Update Management
  4. Reviews / Recommendations (Engine Generated or Social)
  5. Sales Charts
  6. Seat Management (How many devices are authorised to use that software)
  7. Promo Codes for PR / Press

However, it's not just the more diverse range of available apps that will attract users and developers to support the Alternative App Store. It is the extra features it can support that are currently lacking in the Mac App Store (and some that may never arrive) that can give it the edge. Including:

  1. Free trials
  2. Sort by “Best Reviewed Apps"
  3. "System Utilities" and Plug-Ins available for purchase.
  4. App gifting (Missing from the Mac App Store)
  5. Wish-lists (Missing from the Mac App Store)
  6. Retrospective integration (Already purchased an app outside the store? Enter your old serial code and have that app added to your purchased list with all the central DRM benefits)
  7. Pack sales (Like MacHeist)
  8. Family packs / Business group purchases for bulk “seats”.
  9. Paid upgrades
  10. Automatic background updates for apps (Like Google Chrome)
  11. Support for GPL based software.
  12. Tip-jar support for freeware / open source software.
  13. Retrospective tips for apps you have already downloaded.

With independence from Apple, the possibilities don’t end there!

Solutions That Already Exist
As far as I can tell, the closest thing the Mac platform currently has is Bodega. Bodega allows you to search for, get reviews on and then purchase apps. It stores all your registration numbers from the Apps you purchase as well. This isn't the Steam-like cloud based solution we are looking for but until then check it out.

The Cydia Mac App store was meant to be "just a few weeks" away six months ago. It's absence is partly what has driven me to write this article. Even then, I'm not so sure the Cydia brand would attract major Mac developers.

So what do you think?
What other features should an Alternative Mac App Store have? What companies do you think are planning something like this or should be planning something like this?

Let's start asking for it.


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