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)?
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