Editorial: App store monopolies could kill open computing

By Mike on 11:19 pm

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Installing new software on your PC is about to get a whole lot easier. Apple says they're bringing an "App Store" to desktop Macintoshes. It's a move that will change computing as we know it. But sales monopolies could threaten to turn back software innovation and limit consumer choice.

In the last couple of years, the United States Air Force has been buying up several hundred Playstation 3s. They can run Linux, an open operating system. They are easy to network, allowing its powerful Cell processors to work together to run simulations. Then Sony decided Linux was a security risk. All PS3s were have been of this feature. The military can keep running the cheap super computers they already have, but had no way to replace broken units.

This is the problem with closed systems. You're completely at the whim of the companies that own them. If they decide they don't want you doing something, you have no choice but to comply.

Apple has done this with the App Store. They are the gatekeepers who decide what is and isn't allowed on your iPhone. The rules for the store are arbitrary. If your program does something similar to one Apple themselves is selling, it's not allowed. Same goes for developers they simply don't like, such as Adobe.

Could the Mac App Store lead to closed desktop computing?

On the up side, closing devices does enhance security. It's difficult to infect them with viruses and other malware. They also limit what users can do this makes the devices easier to use for people who aren't tech savvy.

The downsides are the risks of censorship, monopolies, and limited innovation created by putting blocks on developers.

Desktop PCs have remained open for so long because they allowed flexibility and innovation. They can be customized for any task under the sun. There are no gatekeepers to determine what is acceptable. Something like Napster would never be allowed on the iPhone. But it did launch the download revolution. Something that provides Apple its bread and butter.

Beyond that, the customizability of legal software like Linux has changed computing for the better. This is because it is open. Open software allows you to create the user environment you want. Not what Apple, Google, or Microsoft want.

Desktop based app stores, if done wrong, threaten to take that away. They could make your home computer into another iDevice. It may work for some but businesses and power users will not benefit. It will strangle them.

The PC gaming world is doing app stores right. Software like Steam is multi-platform and innovative. It allows convenience with limited restrictions. Plus its not the only game in town. Users choose where to shop, instead of a single store hardwired into the device. Companies like Amazon could do well pushing for a system like this.

When Apple launches the Mac App Store in next couple of months, they promise it will work alongside other sources. You can still use discs or download software elsewhere. This could soon change. Don't let the likes of Apple monopolize your software buying. In end, it stifles all of us.

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