Most of the subject matter I write here is political in nature. On rare occasions, I feel the need to cover technology from a perspective that I do not usually hear from the main tech media outlets. I am an avid TWIT listener, so what I do hear via Tech News Today or This Week in Tech usually covers any and every possible story that would be of interest to me.
That being said, the most recent episode of TWIT discussed the recent announcements by Apple, including iLife 11, the new Macbook Air, and OS X Lion. When the discussion began revolving around Lion, my attention immediately shifted to Leo Laporte's astute observations and his understanding of the inner workings of Steve Jobs. Why? Leo knows what he's talking about. However, there was one aspect of the iOS transition I did not hear discussed. Maybe I missed it. Maybe one of the other hosts said it. The fact remains. I did not hear it.
Most of the discussion revolved around the notion that the app store transition reflects a philosophical shift with Apple, but also that the overall interface does not necessarily cater to pro users. It was said that for the casual user, the interface will likely be comfortable, but given that we are now a multitasking society, OS X Lion will most certainly have to learn to evolve.
What did they not discuss? Switchers. No, I don't mean your run of the mill switcher that Apple has been targeting for a few years with their Mac/PC ads featuring Justin Long and John Hodgman. I have a feeling Apple is targeting a whole different brand of switcher, users who have an iPhone or iPod Touch, but still manage the device using a Windows environment.
We've already got them by the balls when it comes to familiarity with the iOS interface. Make OS X something they are familiar with and they will be easily swayed into using what now feels very natural.
Now that I have that point out of the way, I'd like to address some concerns I have about the next major revision of OS X.
In my mind, this transition represents another major shift in development, the likes of which we have not seen since we went Intel. Developers at that time were slapped around a bit, being forced to rewrite all their apps to support the x86 architecture. Sure, we had Rosetta. Sure, many of those developers recall making the switch from OS 9 to OS X. Even fewer developers recall what it took to go from a 68040 platform to PowerPC. I'm showing my age here, I suppose. The fact remains. The notion of an iApp means developers will once again have to rethink their approach to Mac computing.
But that's not all they have to worry about. Apple is going to centralize the application delivery system using an app store in much the same way the iPhone and iPod Touch has access to new applications. With this sandboxed approach, Apple essentially gives themselves ultimate power with a closed system. One can only hope the app approval system is much more lax than the rigid rules used for the iOS store.
Several questions remain, but there are some worrying questions I'd like answered.
Will keyboard navigation be a thing of the past? As a long time Mac user, I am completely reliant on keyboard navigation, whether via command keys or typing the names of folders and documents as I move around in the Finder. As Leo Laporte said, this looks like the death of the Finder. Power users, like Photoshop users, are invested in keyboard shortcuts. Surely there are reasons to maintain that level of interactivity? Lion looks more mouse and gesture oriented, two areas I don't use a lot of in Snow Leopard, at least not as much as keyboard navigation, even if I'm using Spaces.
Will the app store be the only place I can get my apps? Will I be able to go to MacUpdate, a well known application repository, to get my applications?
Will developers start charging small fees for their apps? In other words, is this the end of freeware on the Mac?
I know what you're saying. Think of it this way. In the iOS app store, there is no real try before you buy business model in place. If an app costs money, you have to buy it to try it. If you don't like it, I'm sure there is a refund process, but as with anything we buy these days, getting a refund is not as simple as it used to be. In the current store, free choices certainly do exist, but look at all the other apps that cost money. Am I going to have to pay for everything now? I'm certainly not advocating being a freeloader, but Freeware is what makes using a computer enjoyable. When everything starts costing money, owning a computer becomes a major expense. When all I want to do is perform a simple task or make my interface a little different, an application is usually out there to remedy my problem for free. Consider it a friendly relationship we have with developers.
I had a similar fear when we made the Intel switch, and yes, for the most part, my suspicions were correct. The idea was to bring in more developers and in turn, more applications. The Intel switch made a Mac a more appealing platform to write for. Unfortunately, at the time of the big switch, Windows apps were notorious for being shareware-only. I was afraid the Mac world would become inundated by greedy shareware devs wanting to charge too much for an application. The trend certainly is on the rise, but with the advent of the app store, I'm afraid freeware might be on the way out.
Although jailbreaking allows piracy to continue, a centralized app store also helps combat the illegal distribution of copyrighted software. If we are required to use an app that acquires our own personalized usage signature when we download it, sharing apps between machines will become a thing of the past. No more will you be able to try out something a friend has in an attempt to decide whether or not you should buy it. No more will you be able to go to a friend's computer with a utility and fix their problem without having the proper license.
I'm scared of where Apple is taking us in terms of usage and licensing.
That also brings up the notion of "sideloading." At least I think that's the correct term. What I mean by "sideloading" is that if I buy an app on my Mac for use on my Mac, but the developer has coded it so it supports both use on an iDevice as well as my Mac, will I be allowed under the license to use it on both systems? I'd hate to have to buy the same app twice, or worse yet, three or four times. Face it. We are at a time when one user controls several devices. Licensing language should change accordingly to allow one user to spread an app across those devices. Here's a perfect example. Let's say I own a Mac Pro and I do my heavy lifting on that machine. Let's say I travel and do business on the road. I'd likely have a Macbook Pro or even a Macbook Air for doing all the light work that usually happens on the road. I'd like to be able to install the same program on both systems without worrying about licenses. It's not like I'd be using the program simultaneously on two machines. This philosophy has yet to be embraced by developers, but I'm hoping they come around instead of offering the grotesque insult that is the "family pack."
I'd like to close with one other interesting point in defense of the closed system that is the app store. It may be closed, but Apple has shown that it works. How many apps have been sold? How many iDevices are out there? People do use this interface regularly. It stands to reason that using it on a desktop will work equally as well for Apple as a company. It may not be good for the pro user, but it works for Apple.