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The Missing App Store: A vision for cloud computing.

Missing App StoreWith the proliferation of App stores as of late, I can’t help but think that the one app store that would be truly revolutionary is still a distant dream. What I am yearning for is an app store for my personal server. If there was an app store for a server platform, it could have tremendous implications for the way we think about web apps and the cloud. It could also have significant implications for privacy, copyright, and business models. Let’s delve into what this vision could look like and explore some of the implications.

Empowering Consumers with Servers.

It can make servers usable at the consumer level.  Currently using a server is complicated and relegated to the tech savvy.  Just thinking about DNS entries alone makes the idea of a server inaccessible for the average person.  A year ago, I tried to set up a Windows Home Server for everyone in my house and it was an utter failure.  It was way too hard for me to set up and too complicated for any one to understand how to take advantage of any of the upsides.

If a server side app store was to exist a significant number of usability and technical problems would have to be solved, but these are all solvable.  The tools and techniques used to manage and to install software on a server have been designed for and by developers.  If someone was so motivated purchasing and using a server can very easily be converted to a consumer facing process (think what Apple did for smart phones but for servers).  These would be hosted servers that can easily be set up and purchased.  This would set the tone for a broader vision just as a PC in every home was visionary, a server for every household could be a necessary and eventual evolution of that original vision and force the tech world to rethink how it approaches serving consumers.  It’s time to break away from being so desktop and browser focused.

Federated Web Apps for Everyone.

So if servers were easy to purchase and manage by the average consumer, what could they do with it?  Let’s use a specific example. Once I have my server, I would go to the server side app store and install Dropbox on it.  I would then install Dropbox on my desktop computer as well.  Dropbox would update on my server just as I update my apps in any current app store.  Essentially every cloud based app could be provided to consumers in this way which means a move to a federated model for all web apps.  Obviously there are many types of web apps this wouldn’t apply to, but a significant number of the most popular web apps could use this model.  The creates the opportunity for all web apps to be federated and the data stored by these apps becomes free from the control of a central entity.  Which leads to the next potential advantage of a server side app store…

Privacy and Copyright Implications.

In the example of Dropbox it is clear that privacy issues are and will continue to abound in the age of cloud based services.  A significant number of the challenges we face over privacy concerns abate in a world with a server side app store.  I have installed the app on my server and now I house all my data on my own server, and now have full control of my data.  The copyright issues that the creation of services like Amazon and Google’s digital music lockers start to lighten.  Amazon and Google provide the music locker app I install on my server, but they are not responsible for the storage of my music–once I have their app installed on my server, I store the music on my own server.  Extending this, I could install Facebook and Twitter on my server empowering me as the consumer to be in control of my data.

Business Model Implications.

The recent uncertainty over the fate of Delicious left users of the web app in limbo for many weeks.  APIs fortunately made the data portable, but in a world with a server app store with a federated model, if Delicious went under, I could still continue to use the latest version of the app for as long as I wanted, just as we do with desktop software that becomes unsupported or abandoned by the developer.  In the tech startup world we always hear about the problems of scalability, but a distributed model would alleviate these concerns for any start up whose service takes off.

Who will provide the hardware/service of the personal server could also have implications.  Instead of the telco’s and cable companies being wary of the internet eroding their profits they could (or could not) be the service providers of the personal server that will be needed.  Just as every person has a physical address, a personal server could be the digital address of every person. If we figured out a way to deliver physical and electronic mail around the world, it doesn’t seem far fetched to think that we could solve this problem for all digital content.

The point of this isn’t to get tied up in the technical challenges but hopefully to give us a vision of what a server side app store could do for consumers and to provide us with a better technology paradigm upon which to innovate and hopefully escape some of the pitfalls that are becoming glaring in the current paradigm.