Will Apple's App Store change the desktop app market?

It worked for the iPhone, so maybe it could work for other devices

Apple is probably in the best position to deliver a netbook with an App Store. The company is no stranger to creating stripped-down versions of its flagship Mac OS X operating system, and its upcoming Snow Leopard OS X update is designed to be more streamlined. In fact, the iPhone and iPod Touch both run a version of Mac OS X, as does the Apple TV. It wouldn't take much for the company to create an operating system, the developer frameworks and an extension of the existing App Store for an Apple-based netbook.

Apple isn't exactly without experience in the netbook arena, either. In the late 1990s, Apple create the eMate 300 - a small, low-power laptop intended for use in education. The eMate ran the same operating system as Apple's Newton PDA line, and in many ways, it was the world's first netbook.

Whether Apple will release a netbook is unknown. In a conference call last fall, CEO Steve Jobs flatly denied the possibility, calling the iPhone Apple's netbook. It's also worth noting that the eMate 300 and the Newton were both terminated not long after Jobs returned to Apple in 1997. However, that hasn't stopped Mac users and rumor sites from speculating that an Apple netbook is on the way. Nor has it stopped analysts from predicting that Apple must create a netbook to cash in on the popularity the devices are beginning to enjoy.

More recently, Apple COO Tim Cook, who is running day-to-day operations while Jobs is on a six-month medical leave, indicated that while Apple is watching the netbook market, it has no immediate plan to release its own . Of course, Apple also denied rumors that it was developing a mobile phone for months before ultimately unveiling the iPhone two years ago.

Taking the App Store to the Max

While netbooks would be a next logical step for the App Store concept, what about relying on such a store for all software distribution for full-featured computers? At first glance, the idea seems unfeasible.

First, the major operating systems including Windows, Mac OS X and Linux are all much more complex than smart-phone operating systems. There's also a great deal more variation among individual operating systems on full-featured computers because of user-specific installation options, third-party add-ons, hardware drivers and a slew of configuration choices. Even issues like home directories, profile names and locations can make each computer more unique than most smart phones. Users also have free range to access and modify parts of the file system (even system files) on a computer than on a smart phone.

That doesn't mean the App Store concept is impossible. In businesses and schools, a variety of solutions exist for mass deployment of applications to work stations. Many of those solutions allow IT staffers to define which applications are installed on particular computers -- and which users can access them. That system works much like an App Store would, except that the decision to install software is made by IT staffers or department managers -- not the individual users. Once an application is set to be deployed to a given machine, the process takes place largely in the background without the user needing to do anything -- mimicking the simplicity of the App Store install process.

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Ryan Faas

Computerworld
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