Apple’s App Store Is an Old Concept

Apple takes all the credit for inventing the concept of an “app store”. They even want to copyright the name. Copyright aside, Apple did not invent the concept, the open source community did — over a decade ago.

Linux distributions (aka distros) use the concept of ‘packages’. A package can contain any software that runs on a particular Linux distro.

The idea began back in 1998-1999 when Debian and Red Hat recognized the need to give Linux users a way to manage the software on their systems. Debian offered the Advanced Packaging Tool, or APT. Red Hat offered the Red Hat Package Manager subsequently renamed the RPM Package Manager (a recursive name), or just RPM.

These solutions started out as simple command line tools. You had to be technically savvy and you had to know what software you wanted. While the tools were rather crude, they were effective and proved popular.

Technology has advanced a long way in the last decade. APT and RPM have graphical user interfaces today. In fact, there are several to choose from such as the Synaptic Package Manager and Yum.

These graphical tools enable Linux users to search Internet repositories for software using various criteria; display what is currently installed on a system; install, remove, upgrade and downgrade single and multiple packages on a system; find documentation for a package, etc.

Sounds like an app store, right?

The key difference is that most Linux apps (or packages) are freely available. (There are exceptions, of course, and if you want professional support, it will cost you.) In addition, the open-source community doesn’t control the software that is available. It is up to the software developers and the end users to control and influence the contents of the repositories.

Apple’s App Store is a dead end.

Apple’s attempts at total control of its app store are doomed to failure. Independent software developers and big companies alike are getting tired of the unreasonable constraints and changing rules.

As web-based technologies get more sophisticated, software developers will be able to deliver powerful applications directly to end users through browsers. In general, there will not be a need for using specialized tools to create platform-specific applications in most instances.

Apple will have to enhance its iPhone/iPad Safari browser to run these next generation web-apps or risk losing market share to Google’s Android. You won’t need an app store except for software with unique, iPhone/iPad-specific features.

Apple will still prosper. They have much more to offer than a re-packaged software distribution concept they call an app store.

Updated: February 2, 2011 — 9:55 pm