Software Updates & Moving Toward the Mac App Store

To be honest, I rarely use the Mac App Store. I appreciate it because it does let me quickly get Apple applications without fumbling for a restore DVD somewhere, but otherwise I get all of my non-Apple apps directly from the source. The app store makes sense to me on iOS because that's the only option we were presented with from the start, but even there I would appreciate the flexibility of installing apps from any source. On a Mac the opposite is true. Just as was the case on PCs, I've always grabbed and installed software on my Macs from a multitude of sources and I've never really wished there was a centralized, policed repository of Mac applications. That being said, I do understand and accept that I may be a part of a shrinking minority. Apple's most successful products have been those sold effectively as appliances. The MacBook Air took many steps in the same direction by offering no end user upgradeable CPU, memory, storage or battery options. With the MBA you're buying some sort of a Mac appliance hybrid. It's a good device (I'm typing this article on an MBA now), but in many ways it's an inflexible one.

My fear is that as Apple straddles this line between the old and the new, that it will step over too far into the walled garden/appliance territory. That OS X, just like iOS, will become a platform powered only by the app store. That isn't the reality today and I hope that it never will be, but the temptation is surely there. Apple gets a cut of all software sales through the Mac app store, it doesn't elsewhere. App stores are a way of continuing to profit off of a platform after you've sold the initial hardware and operating system. From a customer experience standpoint there's also significant motivation behind supporting only a centralized app store. With complete control of what can run on the platform, Apple could guarantee and maintain the level of experience that it's always been in pursuit of.

Again, today, this isn't a problem but there's definitely movement in that direction. Mountain Lion does away with Lion's Software Update mechanism and instead integrates that into the Mac App Store directly.

There's no change in functionality, just a change in physical location. I will admit that the software update tool always felt like it needed...updating, but I don't know that I would've put it in the MAS application.

Remember all of the new APIs that developers now have access to? A couple of them are only available to applications distributed via the Mac App Store. The big one is iCloud. Any application that interfaces with or uses iCloud is required to be in the MAS. It's the tradeoff you make when you start using Apple's cloud storage as a selling feature of your application. There are ways around this requirement (you could decouple any cloud storage features from your main application and simply offer the former through the app store) but it's a bifurcation of the Mac software feature set for the most part.

The notification story is a little different.

New Notifications API & Interface

Revamping notifications was a major part of the iOS 5 update last year and Apple decided to bring some of that to OS X. Mountain Lion sports a new iPad-like notification center that's accessible by performing a right to left, two finger swipe on a multitouch trackpad. The gesture is unique in that it's the first gesture that must be started at the very edge of the trackpad. A two finger right-left swipe starting in the middle or even an inch from the border of the trackpad is different entirely. To bring up the notifications menu you have to start the gesture at the very edge of the trackpad. It's easier to just start swiping off of the trackpad first, allowing the gesture to then continue onto the trackpad surface. The notification center gesture is very reminiscent of the PlayBook/webOS bezel gestures that have similar requirements for starting outside or at the beginning of the touch area.

Notifications are summarized in the notification center but as they happen they appear in a little box in the upper right of your screen. You can configure notifications to accumulate or automatically disappear after a short period of time. Growl users have had something similar for a while now, but Apple is now officially offering a native notification service to all developers.

There's been a bit of confusion about the new notifications API (NSUserNotification) and whether or not it's available to applications not in the Mac App Store. Local notifications using the new API are available to third party apps regardless of their distribution model (they don't need to be in the Mac App Store). Push notifications on the other hand currently require that the application is distributed only through the Mac App Store. The key word is currently because a lot of Mountain Lion decisions have yet to be finalized. I wouldn't be too surprised if Apple decides to open up push notifications, in some form, to third party applications not distributed through the app store.

This is another example where Apple has to carefully straddle the line between pushing everyone to the Mac App Store and not abandoning the rest of the Mac software ecosystem. I would like to see feature parity regardless of distribution model (perhaps with some restrictions) on OS X going forward, but I'm not sure that will happen.

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  • steven75 - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    "But my 10 year old needs to understand computers properly"

    And why, exactly, is that?

    Will you require her to build her own car, slaughter her own meat, assemble her own furniture?
  • bji - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    Is it really possible that so many people can't see the difference in the expected benefit of having deep technical knowledge of computers versus knowing how to build a car, slaughter a cow, or build furniture?

    Seriously - are you living in 1912 or 2012? I personally live in 2012 and can readily see the benefit of technical knowledge.

    Furthermore, experience with building/programming computers is fairly easy to impart when a) the parent is already interested in and knowledgeable about them, and b) it is an easily accessible, "clean" topic of study. We can easily teach our children about computers, it is much harder for a whole variety of reasons to give them hands-on experience with car manufacturing or cow slaughtering.

    I imagine that there are in fact some carpenters for whom the last suggestion - furniture assembly - is a reasonable thing to try to teach their children, but those people are probably underrepresented here. But I would not begrudge them a desire to pass their knowledge onto their children either, although I suspect those of you in the deliberately-obtuse crowd would.
  • solipsism - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    Is it really possible that so many people can't see the difference in the expected benefit of having deep technical knowledge of computers versus only having a computer if you've built it yourself?
  • bji - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    Although your comment doesn't make any sense as written, I'll assume you meant to point out that you don't have to force someone to build their own computer as the only way to help them to learn about computers.

    Nobody said that building your own computer is the *only* way to learn about computers; but the burden of proof would be on you if you are suggesting that it isn't a good way to get some knowledge about how computers work and what they are made of.
  • cjs150 - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    If all children are taught is to use certain software packages, for example Word, you are not teaching computing but merely a more modern version of a typist course. Children deserve and need to learn more because they will be the next generation of programmers, system designers, graphic designers etc

    Yes children should learn about how the meat they eat is farmed, the slaughtering techniques, hygenie issues. Actually slaughtering animals is probably off the agenda in a inner city school though!

    I believe that assembling her own furniture would get taught in woodworking (or whatever the course is called now), although that covers a bit more as well. And she did (with help) assemble her own flat pack book case
  • Conficio - Tuesday, February 21, 2012 - link

    As a father, I'd only remark that you should carefully weigh if your daughter has an interest in building a computer.

    Nothing wrong with teaching your kids a subject where you are an expert. Just they have to be motivated.

    School teachers these days (not much to their fault) are not experts in anything they teach. In a modern (city or Internet connected) world there are always better writers, critical thinkers, mathematicians, biologists, farmers, woodworkers, typists, etc. in easy reach. It used to be 100 - 150 years ago that a teacher was one of the elite (besides the mayor, priest, doctor and lawyer in town) based on his/her academic training and ability to read/write and have some understanding of the world beyond the village boundaries. The world has changed often you find among the parents alone way more expertise in most subjects taught.

    Anyhow in most cases teachers do not and can not stretch the knowledge of their pupils into current expertise in almost any field. So being able to teach some of this yourself is a good thing.

    However, you got to see that at the end of the day you are not imposing your own desires and like onto your child. Because that won't help and make the child only feel misunderstood by its parents. Have an eye of the fact that it is not so much about what you learn, but more to what level of effort (and academic abstraction) you learn it. That is what teaches you how to learn any kind of complex subject and that is the skill that sustains you in life (besides social abilities and [self] motivation).
  • FWCorey - Tuesday, May 1, 2012 - link

    "As a father, I'd only remark that you should carefully weigh if your daughter has an interest in building a computer.

    Nothing wrong with teaching your kids a subject where you are an expert. Just they have to be motivated."

    Part of being a parent and helping your child to develop is giving them knowledge of a broad range of subjects. Just because something the have no knowledge of doesn't interest them, doesn't mean that might not change once they've been given a little experience with it. And if it doesn't change, at least they can honestly tell themselves it's an informed choice.

    We should all have at least a little knowledge of a wide range of topics anyway, whether they appeal to us or not for the simple practical reason of communication with others who do. You also never know when a tidbit of info from some other topic can help you see something you ARE interested in from another perspective.
  • suprem1ty - Tuesday, February 21, 2012 - link

    Theres nothing wrong with providing some education.

    Especially when said education (computing) is so important and fundamental to our current society.

    If I had a child I would want to make sure that they were well educated when it came to things I found important; it's not until they're old enough to choose for themselves that I would let them "take their own path" as it were.
  • cyabud - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    "I want to know how things work, I want to be able to fiddle with settings, add programs that genuinely extend or enhance my working experience."

    Apple hasn't removed any features from Mountain Lion that prevent you from fiddling with settings or adding programs that genuinely extend or enhance your working experience.

    I am a power user running OS X, Windows and Ubuntu on multiple machines/VMs. All three systems offer plenty of configuration options (from a client perspective, as oppose to server) and third party software to do pretty much anything I want from any system I choose.

    Sure, AirPlay Mirroring is 720p only for now but don't act like alternatives don't exist... My copy of Lion is running a DLNA server streaming 1080p video to my Samsung blu-ray player without issue.
  • KPOM - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    Windows 8 ARM will be an even tighter walled garden than Mountain Lion. It will be like iOS, actually. Apps will be available exclusively from the Windows Store.

    I think computers have started to arrive where cars have been for the last 20 years or so. They are complex appliances that are turnkey to the end-user. Most of us don't know how to tinker with our cars the way people did back in the early days (or as late as the 1970s and 1980s).

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