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Should You Buy From the Mac App Store, Or Directly From the Developer?

Mac app store

The Mac App Store debuted in January 2011, and has been quite a hit. Over a million apps were downloaded in its first year of operation. Those certainly aren’t iOS numbers, but very solid for a non-mobile system. Some apps are available only in the Mac App Store. Others, though, are available in the App Store and directly from the developer. So what should you do when buying an app – get it from the App Store, or buy it directly from the developer? Here are some considerations to keep in mind.


Mac App Store vs. Directly From Developer


1. Faster updates

Fast updates can be important, especially when a developer fixes a bug or releases a new feature. Developers typically can get updates out faster on their own sites, since they don’t have to go through Apple’s approval process to release them.

Advantage: Straight from the developer.


2. Functionality

The Mac App Store, much like the iOS store, has strict rules regarding what developers can do with their apps. Things are going to get even more strict, too. The App Store’s new sandboxing requirements go into effect in March. The oversimplified explanation is that apps will be limited in their access to the system. While this should keep your system more secure, it could bode ill for certain apps with deep hooks into the system, like Keyboard Maestro or Transmit.

Advantage: From the developer, if functionality is important; from the App Store if you favor security. My vote is for functionality (I trust the steps I take to stay secure).


3. Ease of use

This one is a no-brainer. If you want an easy installation and patch process, go with the Mac App Store. On a per app basis, the upgrade of most apps purchased from a developer is simple (usually a menu option, often using the Sparkle framework), and there are even stand alone apps that monitor your apps for upgrades. But for a centralized, one-click system, you can’t beat the App Store. Click to purchase an app. Click the “update all” button, and your apps are upgraded. Dead simple.

Advantage: Mac App Store


4. Friendly licensing terms

If you’re buying an app from the Mac App Store, you can install it on all of the computers that you personally own and use. It’s a bit different for a business, where an app is licensed to a user, or for a single computer that several people use. Apps purchased directly from a developer have a variety of licensing terms (sometimes, but not always, allowing you to install it on any computers that you own and use). Developers also often sell a “family license,” giving you a discount for multiple licenses in the same family.

Advantage: Mac App Store, unless you need multiple copies and a developer sells a family license at a discount.


5. Upgrade pricing

At times, developers upgrade their apps. This is to be distinguished from an update. An update is a patch to an app, while an upgrade is usually more of an overhaul. Developers often package upgrades as new releases, requiring a new purchase. If the prior version was purchased directly from the developer, the developer will often offer a discount on the new release. There is no way to do this in the App Store, but some developers offer a reduced price to all customers for a limited time when a new version of an app is released. If a developer doesn’t do this, though, you’ve got to buy the app again at full price.

Advantage: From the developer.


6. Try before you buy

Developers aren’t permitted to release demo versions or free trials of their apps in the Mac App Store. If you want to try out an app, the only possibility is to get it directly from the developer. Apple is missing out here. I’ve found that if I download a trial from a developer, I’m more likely to purchase a license key directly from the developer and plug it into the trial installation, instead of deleting the trial and re-downloading the app from the App Store.

Advantage: From the developer.


7. Price

This one varies, depending on the price a developer sets for each location. If the app is made by Apple though, though, it is probably significantly cheaper in the Mac App Store.

Advantage: case by case basis, but often the Mac App Store.


8. Security and Stability

Apple’s app approval process is a blessing and a curse. It has led to some well-publicized delays and embarrassments, but it also ensures a certain base level quality to apps. This contrasts with the wilds of the Internet, where you never know what you’re going to get. Any tech geek worth his or her salt will research what other users have said about an app, regardless of where he or she buys it. It’s just easier to find those opinions in the App Store.

Advantage: Mac App Store


And the winner is . . .

There is no clear cut winner, at least for me. All things being equal, I tend to buy apps from the Mac App Store, just for the sake of convenience. But if an app has functionality that might violate Apple’s sandbox rules when they go into effect, I buy directly from the developer. Also, if there are whispers of an upgrade coming to an app, then I buy it from the developer. Finally, if I’ve demoed an app, I’ll often just buy the license from the developer. Call me lazy.

How about you? Where do you buy your apps?