Given that Giles found it interesting enough to want to write a post about, it's probably worth delving a little deeper into why I believe that Apple will end up producing an online store for the Mac similar to the App Store for iPhone.
It comes down, as you might expect, to the same two reasons it works for the iPhone: convenience, and security.
A single online repository for all software is undoubtedly convenient for users. You only have to look at the number of applications on the average iPhone to see that having one place to find software makes it easier to buy. You don't have to worry about putting your credit card in, it's one click to purchase, and – importantly – you're notified of any updates automatically.
Would you want that level of convenience for the Mac? I would. In fact, one of the strengths of using Ubuntu is the repository system, which means that the majority of applications can be found under one menu item – Add/Remote Applications – and updates are pushed out whenever they're ready. It makes finding and installing software easy, and that's something most users will always go for.
The second reason why Apple will have a Mac App Store is security. “But wait,” I hear you say, “the Mac is secure. There's no malware for it. So why would you need a store to fix a problem which doesn't exist?”
The problem is that, sooner or later, the problem will exist. As “Perry the cynic” put it in a comment over at Under the Microscope:
“In a sense, the Mac is living on borrowed time – viruses and worms and other nasty bit-critters will surely come our way”
Now I can almost hear you shouting “FUD!” at the screen. This guy is obviously some fired-up Microsoft FUDster, right?
Wrong. “ Perry the cynic” is, in fact, a senior Apple engineer, who designed and implemented the code signing system in Leopard. Although – like many Apple employees – he tends to hide behind a nom de plume when posting to mailing lists and the like, I believe he is probably Perry Kiehtreibert, one of two Apple employees credited as inventors of Apple's patented method for incremental code signing.
If an Apple engineer like Perry is saying that “the Mac is living on borrowed time” when it comes to security, I tend to believe him.
In fact, the discussion over code signing was one of the things which prompted me to believe that Apple will have a Mac App Store sooner or later. Code signing isn't really much use for security unless you can use it to totally lock down a device – i.e. only applications signed by Apple (or a trusted third party) are allowed to run. And that requires, as part of its infrastructure, a central, trusted point of distribution – a store.
I'm not really going to get into whether such a store would be obligatory (it depends – but it wouldn't matter, because most people wouldn't buy from anywhere else) or whether it's a good thing overall. It's not something I would ever use, but you may find that the convenience factor and knowing that you can buy something that's 100% guaranteed malware-free is valuable to you. Personally, I value having an open platform not dominated by a single huge corporation more than buying able to buy the latest version of Worms with one click. But your mileage may vary.