As promised, Apple opened its Mac App Store today, stocking it with more than 1,000 games, utilities and productivity programs.
To access the new e-market, users must be running Mac OS X 10.6, aka Snow Leopard, and download and install the 10.6.6. update that Apple issued today.
"We think users are going to love this innovative new way to discover and buy their favorite apps," said CEO Steve Jobs in a statement.
Although access to the store is through is a new application -- complete with docked icon that appears beside the Finder -- and not via iTunes, customers must link their iTunes account to the Mac App Store to purchase programs. Those without an iTunes account can download free apps after entering an existing Apple ID account username and password, or creating a new account.
The Mac App Store interface will be familiar to anyone who has downloaded apps from the iOS App Store to an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. Apple categorizes the software, offers best-seller lists and staff picks, and provides a search tool for rooting out a specific piece of software.
A single click downloads and installs a program, a process that does not require users to type their administrator's password, as is often demanded by traditional software installations.
Users will be notified when an update to any of their downloaded apps is available, as in the iOS App Store.
Apple has placed several of its own applications in the new store, including the Pages, Numbers and Keynote programs from its iWork '09 suite. Each is priced separately at $19.99, a savings of $19 for the three over the boxed suite's $79 list price. Apple also priced its Aperture 3 photo manipulation program at $79.99, less than half the $199 list price of the traditional package.
As of mid-day Thursday, the top paid app in the store was Rovio's Angry Birds, a $4.99 puzzle game that's the rage on smartphones. The most popular free program was Twitter's Mac client, formerly known as Tweetie.
For the purchase price, users can install an application on up to the five personal Macs, the maximum number that can be linked to a single iTunes account and associated credit card. Apps can be re-downloaded free-of charge to new machines or existing Macs after a debilitating crash.
While analysts have predicted that the Mac App Store will disrupt the decades-old Mac software market -- and some developers have complained about restrictions that prevent their products from being included -- one retail expert wondered what all the fuss was about.
"I think the Mac App Store is fundamentally at odds with the Mac operating system," said Stephen Baker, an analyst with the NPD Group, which tracks retails sales of consumer goods and software.
"Apple may be herding all the cats together, like they did with the iPhone's App Store, but as long as the Mac remains an open platform, there will be plenty of other places to buy software, whether it's Best Buy or downloaded directly from the developer."
Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said that the disruptions would be minor, if only because they affect only those developers whose software is excluded from the new online store. "Absolutely, this is important for most Mac developers," he said.
More important was the strategic sense that the Mac App Store makes.
"It's part of the overall iOS-ization of Mac OS," said Gottheil. "Apple wants to carry over the simplicity of iOS to the Mac and make the computer less complex."
Apple's CEO has touted the next version of Mac OS X, dubbed "Lion," as "Mac OS meets the iPad" to explain the company's plan to bring some of the functionality of its iOS mobile operating system to the Mac. Lion, slated to ship this coming summer, will also support the Mac App Store.
Apple takes a 30 per cent cut of all Mac App Store revenues to fund the market's maintenance, an amount that Gottheil sees as contributing little to Apple's bottom line.
"It may give a little tweak to its revenues, but remember, this is all about supporting their hardware, just like the iOS App Store," Gottheil said.
Mac OS X 10.6.6 be downloaded at the Apple site or installed using the operating system's integrated update service.
Apple's Mac App Store debuted today with the rollout of Mac OS X 10.6.6.