Blog Post

How the Mac App Store Can Become Truly Transformative

One of the sleeper features of the Mac App Store (s aapl) was Apple’s new approach to “suite” products. Instead of forcing users to upgrade the entire iLife suite, applications are available as individual purchases. Is this a taste of things to come in OS X 10.7? Could this approach even make it possible to upgrade Lion via the App store? I hope so. Here’s why.

While the DVD for Snow Leopard has a full suite of potential drivers, developer apps, and localizations, the average Mac users needs very little of that. For the first time, Apple decided not to install a standard set of print drivers in Leopard, but install only those for printers directly connected to the Mac at the time of install. If you change to a different printer, Snow Leopard will offer to download the latest driver. Similarly, Rosetta is not installed by default, but can be installed on demand upon running an application that requires it. Nice! Ironically, Windows (s msft) has had that driver on demand install function for some time.

In fact, Windows 7 takes it one step further by allowing you to install some of its features and applications on demand. You can even upgrade to different versions of Windows 7 directly from within the operating system. While these are just different flavors of Windows 7, they do add many features and utilities.

Now that the App Store will be included on every new Mac, I’d love to see the day where I can install and add features on demand via the App Store directly from Apple. As many of us move to faster yet smaller SSD drives, space again becomes an issue. Even if space isn’t an issue, I want to be empowered as a user to install exactly what I want on my Mac and not have Apple’s entire suite pushed upon me. I’m one of those who reformats their Mac the minute they take it home so that way I decide exactly what is and isn’t on the machine.

For example, Garageband is a great program for some people. For me, it’s a waste of space. I don’t need it, nor do I ever expect to. Instead of installing it on my Mac and forcing me to remove it along with all the support files taking up space on my disk, give me the option to install it via the App Store. The same holds true for programs that have commercial or shareware equivalents. If I’m a Microsoft Office 2011 user than why waste the space and cause confusion with Apple Mail, Address Book and iCal? Sure, allow me to install it from the App Store if I so choose, but give me the option. Do I really need twenty languages installed when I only speak U.S. English?

Moreover, by using the App Store to unbundle applications from the OS, system updates won’t be the behemoths they’ve become. Instead, use the App Store structure to update non-core OS items, saving us all time and empowering us to update only what we want.

If the OS is stripped to its core and doesn’t include the localizations, drivers, and extras included on the typical upgrade DVD, Lion, could in theory, be an “in place” upgrade available from the App Store, also making it convenient to reinstall when you have a problem. Whether users would have burn a DVD, run it off a RAM disk, or a USB stick — I’ll leave that to the engineers. Resellers would hate this approach, but it would help Apple’s environmental reputation and eliminate useless production, packaging and transportation costs.

The Mac App Store is transformative, and Apple should allow it be even more so by allowing the user to install, on demand, exactly what they want on their Mac — including an OS upgrade.

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14 Responses to “How the Mac App Store Can Become Truly Transformative”

  1. Hamranhansenhansen

    I don’t think they have to strip Lion down that much for it to be a downloadable upgrade. Just one HD movie from iTunes Store is already 2 gigabytes, and that is also the limit for iOS apps (there are games that size). At most, a DVD is 8 gigabytes, even if Lion were using all of that, isn’t a once-every-2-years Mac OS upgrade worth 4 movies or 4 iOS apps?

    The thing with Mac OS updates, though, is that you’re supposed to have them on their own bootable media for maintenance and troubleshooting. MacBook Air now ships with a USB key instead of DVD. In large quantities, DVD-capacity USB keys are very cheap now. So there may be a good reason not to do a downloadable upgrade. Although, they could ship you a USB key later.

    However, I think the trend toward making Mac OS lean is all about MacBook Air and SSD drives. 64 or even 128 gigabytes is pretty lean storage.

    In defense of GarageBand, Macs ship with 5 gigabytes of sounds and loops that you don’t get when you buy GarageBand in App Store, and in music apps this is really important stuff. That’s a really big benefit to many, many users and worth more than the $15 that GarageBand itself costs. It’s a lot easier for you to delete it than for a user to obtain it some other way. The Mac internal disk is still the highest bandwidth delivery method. Throwing printer drivers overboard is one thing, but a Mac is a content creation workstation … a whole music studio in 5 gigabytes is a feature, not a bug.

  2. Are you serious about “Ironically, Windows has had that driver on demand install function for some time.”?

    EVERY computer hardware product that connects to a PC comes with:

    a) an Installation CD
    b) on said CD, and on a piece of paper that you can’t avoid reading to get to the hardware in the box, in capitol letters, the following message: “INSERT THE CD AND INSTALL THE DRIVERS FOR YOUR SPECIFIC VERSION OF WINDOWS BEFORE CONNECTING/INSERTING/TURNING ON/LOOKING AT THE DEVICE YOU JUST PURCHASED. AND DON’T FORGET TO REBOOT BEFORE CONTINUING.”

    I have never even had a USB mouse install the correct driver [one that supports all it’s functionality] without having to disconnect it, install the driver I manually track down on the Internet, reboot, then reconnect the mouse.

  3. Well, this is a an excellent point – but just to clarity – don’t get people to excited to delete applications to free up space. Many people with habits and associated superstitions from windows have a strong desire to “uninstall” to “make the computer go faster.” It is not GalageBand itself – but the loops and instruments that take up a lot of space. You mentioned iCal and Address Book as trash-ready. Perhaps, but remember that those two apps are just 18.3 and 3.4 MB respectively. Deleting only 8 songs off the internal drive would save more space than that.

    I’ve just noticed a lot of people doing very silly things to computers over the years with variable benefit to themselves. So – excellent point, but I just wanted to clarify that some apps are as benign as an uninfected appendix, – leaving well enough alone is good sometimes.

  4. Cold Water

    Waiting is the last thing anyone wants to do if it’s come down to reinstalling the system. I’m going to need the read-only install and diagnostic media on a disc or nonvolatile chunk of memory. When Internet connections are this fast and reliable, let’s revisit the idea.

    Updates to the iLife and iWork apps are already divorced from system updates, just like iTunes. Safari… that’s a slightly different (and much more annoying) story.

  5. I agree with only installing the software that users use. However, certain items may need to stay installed. At the very least the Safari, Quicktime, and Address book “engines” are needed because other applications use apples APIs to quickly add functionality to their own programs.