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Re: [] Web app stores

From: Rob Myers
Subject: Re: [] Web app stores
Date: Fri, 06 May 2011 11:53:05 +0100
User-agent: Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; Linux i686; en-US; rv: Gecko/20110307 Fedora/3.1.9-0.39.b3pre.fc14 Thunderbird/3.1.9

On 05/05/2011 04:08 PM, Luis Villa wrote:

I think that's incorrect. It is true that current App Stores, as
implemented (other than Mozilla), have DRM. But otherwise they're
pretty neutral with regards to freedom. It's not like apt or yum throw

Except that for the most part they are and promote DRM-laden proprietary software.

licensing information in your face these days, and even those
repositories that download source (gems) still go out of their way to
build it for you so you don't have to think about it. So DRM is an
implementation detail.

I would say that it is a symptom of the only significant difference between an app store and a package manager: the ceding of control by the user.

And on non-freedom issues, app stores are pretty clearly superior to
apt, yum, etc. as currently implemented. They're better for end users:

App stores are better app stores. :-) But if we decide that app stores are the model then we've lost because app stores are about removing user control.

* You actually get the code that the developer intended you to get-
it's updated regularly and reliably and it is better-tested. (Debian
and Fedora rarely add value.)

And rarely remove it. They may also add integration, and gather together far more software than app stores do.

* They collect reviews and user information, so they're actually
better at helping people find software that works.

These systems are also gamed and spammed. A single point of failure for a piece of software's reputation is a social failure, not a technological success.

* They never choke on dependencies. If the app is there, it works.
(It's just awful that in 2011, when disk and bandwidth have been cheap
for a decade, Fedora's package tool still asks me by default if I want
to install dependencies. And it's awful that sometimes those
dependencies still break.)

Knowledge is power, so knowledge about what is happening on one's system is power.

Dependencies breaking isn't good, though. :-(

They're better for developers:

Well not if their software is excluded, suddenly removed, or downgraded in listings for no reason by the app store's controller or if the canonical review score for their software is sabotaged.

Censorship and vulnerability are not advantages for developers.

* They're easier to develop for- because they're consistent
everywhere. No duplication of effort.

App stores are lock-in for vendors' platforms. Android and iOS are both moving targets for developers. Both these facts mean that there's not an "everywhere" for app stores. And lock-in to a single point of failure, however benevolent, doesn't protect people's freedom.

* They provide a bigger install base quickly- because, again, you
write once and install everywhere.

As I say, smartphone APIs are moving targets. So I don't think this is any truer of them than it was of Java.

They're better for distributors:
* They can focus on actually doing what they do well- deep integration
of core system components- and not spend time on peripherals that in a
sane world the peripheral authors would be preparing for distribution

On which system, though? GNU/Linux is a diverse ecosystem, not a single vendor's locked-down platform.

All these problems are fixable in apt/yum/etc., but by the time
they're fixed, the finished product will be essentially
indistinguishable from a centralized Linux "app store"- except without
the DRM.

Package managers can and should be improved. One day I hope to hear "there will never be a unified package format" for the last time. Users should be able to automate more system management *if they choose to do so*. We need better support for people to find and discuss free software. And dependencies shouldn't break.

But app stores are disempowering (and frankly infantilizing) for users *by design*, and we must be very wary of using them as models for how users relate to the installation of software.

- Rob.

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