The app store effect

I recently purchased a Mac and as a result I have needed to purchase a number of software packages over the past few weeks. With each purchase I have found myself agonizing over the price.

Now these packages are all useful and needed but I’ve found myself cringing at the prices. In some cases I’ve even delayed making the purchase despited really needing the software.

I spent a bit of time thinking about this and realized that there are three things contributing to my angst. First, I’ve been using Linux for a long time and have come to expect that software is free and open source as a result. Second, after working in the the IT industry for a number of years I have come to expect that new versions of software are available for free. Finally, I have become accustomed to the relatively in expensive apps on my iPhone and iPad.

The expectation of free software as a consequence of my years of using Linux seems natural enough. Still I have to remind myself that when I purchased the Mac I was buying into a for fee operating system as well as for few software.

The second contributing factor is really a fallacy. While it has felt like I was getting new versions of software for free, the truth is that these updates and new versions were part of an enterprise support agreement. They weren’t really free.

The app store effect is more interesting. Much of the software in the app store is very inexpensive, if not free. Additionally, much of it is frequently updated by the authors for free once you have paid for the initial version. The model of the app store is very interesting in that the majority of the apps are developed by, and maintained by, individuals.

I’ll wager that most of the developers are not developing the apps as a full time job – though some are for sure. As a result, the app store represents a collection of small software development
operations. It really is a cottage industry at this point, rather than an industry dominated by large corporations which have traditionally produced software.

This is precisely why most apps are inexpensive.

What is interesting to me is how the experience of the app store has affected my thinking about traditional software. Ten years ago, I would not have thought twice about a $80 price tag on a piece of software on the shelf at the local store. Now though, I struggle to justify pulling out the credit card to pay for a digital download even after I’ve used the software with a trial license and have decided that it really would be useful.

I cannot help but wonder if the app store will ultimately change our relationship with our software particularly with respect to how much we are willing to spend and how frequently we expect it to be updated.

I did end up pulling the trigger on that $80 piece of software this week. Now I just need to work on Nara ping my mind around paying for the next piece of software I need – with a price tag is $199 it may take me a few more weeks. And during that time I will probably not be as productive as I could be.

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