Apple today released its new Mac App Store, providing Mac users with their own friendly way to easily discover, download, and install apps for their favorite platform. Like the iOS (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad) App Store on which it is based, the Mac App Store works with your existing iTunes Store account, tying purchases to the user rather than, arbitrarily, to a single PC. This means you can download and install your paid-for (and free) apps again and again, and install them on as many Macs as you like. For this and other reasons, Apple's Mac Store is much more of a revolution than it may seem at first glance. And while you may expect me to belittle this new storefront, I find myself instead quite impressed.

I can't say we have nothing like this on Windows. Aside from obvious game-related entries like Steam, Intel recently unleashed its own app store for Windows users called Intel AppUp that looks and works much like the Mac App Store. In fact, it shipped before Apple's entry. But the Intel store is lacking in two key areas. First, it's not integrated with the OS in any way. And second, while the AppUp EULA (end user license agreement) is actually pretty liberal, allowing you to install individual apps on up to five PCs, you still have to manage that yourself, manually. With the Mac App Store, you can install apps on an unlimited number of Macs, again and again, and again.


Intel's entry, the AppUp store for Windows.

The Mac App Store is also tied to your iTunes Store account, and let's face it, that's about as ubiquitous an account type as there is. This is also an important distinction, and it removes a barrier to entry, while simultaneously making that account more valuable to its members and, not coincidentally, to Apple as well, since it results in another wonderful bit of lock-in for its users.

The Mac App Store launches with over 1000 apps, which is actually pretty impressive, especially when you consider that some Mac developers--especially heavy hitters like Adobe and Microsoft--are more than a bit leery of Apple's unlimited install policy. (The latest version of Adobe PhotoShop Elements, for example, will not install on more than 2 PCs.) There are some decent choices in there, including the popular Angry Birds (which I purchased on both the Mac App Store and on Intel's AppUp for comparison purposes), Apple iLife titles like iPhoto, iMovie, and Garage Band (which are now offered separately for the first time), Delicious Library, Text Wrangler, and more. Free and paid apps are available. Some of the paid apps are pretty expensive: Apple's Aperture and Remote Desktop both cost $80, for example.

 

Both the Mac App Store and Intel AppUp work similarly for discovering for paying for apps. But thanks to a new install type that makes even the old package-based Mac installers look silly by comparison, the Mac App Store takes this process to a new level of simplicity. Once you choose to purchase an app, the app logo appears to jump off of the store application and settle into the Dock. An install progress bar--just like the one you're used to seeing when you install iOS apps--lets you know what's happening. And then you can just use the app. It's simple and obvious, or everything that the typical application install wizard is not.

App updating also works similarly to iOS app updating, and the Mac App Store provides a central location to manage all app updates, rather than requiring individual apps to manage this themselves. This is very obviously the right way to handle this, and while Microsoft promised something like this for Windows Update years ago, it's never materialized except for a handful of Microsoft applications.

The Mac App Store is an impressive step, and one that Microsoft should be adding to Windows before Windows 8. Kudos to Apple for leading the way, yet again. The Mac App Store looks great.

The Mac App Store requires Mac OS X 10.6.6, which is available on System Update, the Mac's version of Windows Update. It will also be an integrated part of Mac OS X "Lion," due later this year.