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  • The Great Search for Mac Software

    April 10th, 2008

    Do you remember the good old days, when there was virtually no Mac software at any local computer shop? Well, you’d think, what with Mac sales going through the roof, you’d find a rich selection at such dealers these days.

    But expectations and realities are far, far apart these days.

    Consider those hundreds of Best Buy electronics stores, where there are special areas for Apple products. You go there and you’ll be lucky if you find a few dozen common titles, such as Adobe’s Creative Suite, Office for the Mac and, of course, Apple’s own applications.

    But what about an Apple Store, you may ask?

    Well, visit any of them, even the flagship stores, such as the ones in New York City, and you’d expect to see hundreds of products from which to select. True, the variety is much greater, but it doesn’t even begin to reflect the wide scope of Mac applications that are now available.

    Now I do remember all those complaints from Windows diehards over the years that there was no software for the Mac, or very little, and I resented it, because I was able to find a pretty good choice, at least for the stuff I wanted. But you didn’t find it at the local store. No, you had to get a Mac mail order catalog to find the products you wanted, and this was before you could easily download most of your favorite applications from the publisher’s own site.

    Nowadays, if you check Apple’s own online Macintosh Products Guide, you’d be amazed to find that there are over 20,000 to choose from. At one time, Apple would list the actual number, but it has grown too fast to keep up.

    Understand we’re talking of a lot more than simple shareware here. There is a growing selection of the significant vertical applications that are required to run such businesses as legal or medical offices. Indeed, some of the publishers who abandoned the platform years ago are back with a vengeance.

    But where do you find these products, other than Apple’s catalog, which, in turn, sends you to individual thousands of sites to get more information and place orders?

    Well, it won’t be those classic Mac catalogs. You see, the costs of paper and printing have gone through the roof, and so they concentrate largely on high ticket items, such as new Macs, high definition TVs and other gear. Software gets short shrift, often at the back of the book, as it were. This doesn’t mean they don’t have much available. If you actually write or call the mail order merchant, you’ll probably be able to order lots of products that aren’t listed, or just do a little searching at their sites.

    From the standpoint of the software developer, this makes sense, though it’s highly unfortunate. You see in the old days, those multipage listings for a single item were subsidized by the publisher, who paid a huge sum to the catalog house to get a preferred listing, plus giving away half of the gross revenue. For a large company, that’s just the cost of doing business. But for the tens of thousands of small publishers with tiny staffs, it’s the difference between survival and failure.

    This doesn’t mean you can’t find those products. Other than Apple’s own listing, there’s MacUpdate and VersionTracker, two sites that are essentially software aggregators that list new products and product updates, and make it easy for you to find the applications and system enhancement and maintenance utilities you want.

    However, Apple already has a better solution, if they choose to extend it to Mac software. It’s the App Store, the place where you’ll be able to buy officially-approved applications for your iPhone when it debuts in June. It’s a one-stop shopping mall, where software developers will give Apple 30% of the take in exchange for not having to handle individual transactions and fight for product listings. Every month, they simply get a check. It doesn’t mean they can’t — or shouldn’t — promote their stuff separately, but it’s certainly a useful way to sell their stuff. That assumes that, like the iTunes store, Apple won’t exert draconian censorship except for common sense reasons, such as products that just don’t work or represent a potential security hazard.

    Wouldn’t it make sense for Apple to add a software department to iTunes as well?

    This doesn’t mean they have to get the exclusive, any more than they have exclusive rights to most of the movie and music product they feature now. But it’ll be solace to the software publisher that fights to get noticed. That, plus a selection of favorable customer reviews, will help the unknown but compelling new application get its day in the sun.

    It will also make it possible for Mac users to have a one stop shopping source for software they may have not previously considered.

    With a greater opportunity to make a living, it will also help attract more developers to the Mac platform, which means we’ll see more of those potential killer apps that are so sadly lacking now.

    In fact, the idea makes so much sense I really wonder why Apple hasn’t set it in motion. Or maybe we’ll see a surprise of this sort later this year at the WWDC. What do you think, readers?

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