What Software Is Apple Going to Sell in the Mac App Store?

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Who buys desktop software anymore? I remember a time when cruising the aisles at CompUSA was kind of thrilling. It seemed like any box you picked up was going to change your life in a small but important way.

But those days are long gone, as GDGT's Ryan Block notes in a very nice essay about the upcoming Mac App Store, which will try to create a good marketplace for desktop apps. Much of the world's useful software is free and/or open source. So what's Apple actually going to sell?

[W]hile building mainstream consumer desktop software is still a fairly big business, it also stopped being a fast growing industry a very long time ago. (How many new paid desktop software startups do you hear about starting up these days? I don't even remember the last time I saw one.)

Assuming you have one, take a look in your Mac's Applications folder. If you're anything like me, you've got an overwhelming number of amazing free or open source apps (Chrome, Adium, Quicksilver, Handbrake), a bunch of great clients to various (sometimes paid) web services (see: Dropbox, Hulu Desktop, Flickr Uploadr, TweetDeck, etc.), and Apple's own suite of pretty damned decent bundled apps (Mail, iCal, iPhoto, etc.).

That isn't to imply that the Mac App Store can't spur a new wave of sales of desktop software, but even if the desktop software business is ripe for disruption or revival (and I'm not sure that it is), the space is nothing like mobile apps prior to 2008, where distribution was the primary problem. The real issue with the desktop software market is that (unless you're talking about productivity software) there just isn't all that much consumers need to buy anymore. The boxed software business didn't die because of app stores, it died because of an overabundance of great programs that are free, open, or otherwise subsidized that are available through other web or internet services. To put it another way: lately, how often have your parents bought software for their computer (that wasn't Microsoft Office)?

Read the full story at GDGT.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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