‘Tis the end of software as we know it

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(Remember when it was a million disks to install a 10MB program?)

Today, I had to use four DVDs to install the latest version of Adobe Photoshop on my desktop computer at work. My screen read: “Insert disk 1, and please turn off all programs currently running in the background, browsers included”. The DVD ran for a good 15 minutes as I patiently waited for the installer to ask me to install disk 2, followed by disks 3 and 4.

The entire process took a little over an hour, during which I was unable to check my emails, work on any other design software, or even browse Twitter on TweetDeck, a third part Twitter app.

A few months ago, the same software, Adobe Photoshop, was launched on the iTunes App Store for mobile usage. I downloaded, installed, and was working on it on my iPad in under three minutes. Granted, the app is an extremely “lite” version of desktop Photoshop, but that does not ease the frustration. After all, thanks to Apple, it’s a world of apps. All you need to do is develop a need, easily find an “appy” solution for your need, then install the solution within minutes with a tap of a finger.

The way was paved for an appy world during an Apple keynote in June 2007. That day, Steve Jobs wowed the crowd at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) like no one else can. He informed the audience that the iPhone, announced a month prior, would support third-party “web apps,” in which any developer could develop native applications then sell them on the Apple-managed App Store. Developers were free to set any price for these apps, and would receive 70% of the profits.

Although the iPhone introduced impressive hardware and software innovation, it was this App Store that changed the essence of consumer technology by creating a new method of digital content distribution. It went on to not only influence other phone manufacturers, who launched similar stores, but even more conventional gadgets like television sets, as the new Google TV proves. This month, the influence of the App Store has finally reached the personal computer.

From Apple.com, describing their yet-to-be-released operation system, Lion: “We took our best thinking from Mac OS X and brought it to the iPhone. Then we took our best thinking from the iPhone and brought it to iPad. And now were bringing it all back to the Mac.”

One element that definitely falls under the “best thinking” category is the concept of aggregating third-party software, now available on Mac desktops and laptops, and dubbed the “Mac App Store”. Not only is software made more affordable, it’s also easier for consumers to handle. After 24 hours of release, Apple announced that there was a total of more than one million downloads. As is the case with existing apps, the average prices on the Mac App Store range from completely free to $20. Apple is selling its own iPhoto, iMovie and GarageBand media apps for $14.99 each. Other developers are releasing apps around this very affordable price point, too. Just click once, and your new app is downloaded, installed, and ready to go.

This is good news for almost all parties involved.

From the consumer side, the App Store provides an amazingly rich and accessible platform. As it is a multitude of companies and individual developers supplying apps, there is an endless variety of potential new applications ranging from the niche to the absurd. It is the essence of the Long Tail, where consumer needs will drive the market as opposed to mass appeal. I am personally very excited to see the end of CDs.

For developers and companies, partaking in the software industry is suddenly as easy as developing a website. The Mac App Store means that they don’t have to worry about securing payment methods, running their own servers, or spending huge amounts of money marketing themselves to ensure that consumers can find their software. Apple serves the files and handles payments. The interface categorizes apps based on need in one central location. The potential for applications will explode again when service providers begin offering cross-platform mobile apps.

The Mac App Store changes everything we know about software and how it is used, distributed, made, and shared. What Apple has done is raise the bar on the entire model of software distribution. At the heart though, it all boils down to one thing: the new Mac App Store represents a new era of integration. Your apps and all the data on them will be in sync, whether on your phone, tablet, or desktop computer. It’s time to embrace that. And probably get a Mac. They’re better machines, anyway.

[Originally published in Venture, January 2011. Written by Roba Al-Assi.]

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Mashrou Leila: Revolution Generation

The great Mashrou Leila just released a Clint Eastwood cover called “Ghadan Yawmon Afdal”, a dedication to today’s Arab youth.

Lyrics:

مبسوط، ما بني شي
مخبى الشمس بكرشي
مالي عازه، بس مش مطول

غداً يومٌ أفضل يومٌ أفضل، يومٌ أفضل…

بقى جاي يحكيني إبن الكلب
عن كل قضايا العالم
يا رح تتصفف بجانبه،
يا أما انك ظالم

بقى تتعلم تتفادى أحاديث
بعمرها بتوديش

لا رح تنقذ أهلك
ولا رح بتغير عالم،
شنا الناس دايماً بتنتقم
وعمرها ما بتحبش

قوم بلاش ما تنفصم
أشرفلك بس تطنش،
حتسيبك بوعظات جاي
من عمارات من عاج،
حكيتهم خيي بتستاهل
وإلا بس طعاج