Developer diary: plans and progress reports.

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Archive of April 2011

On Apps and App Stores Sunday 3rd April 2011

Judging from the discussion upon Boxer’s future post-1.0, passions run pretty high about the Mac App Store. This was originally a comment there, but I’m expanding it into a post of its own, as I want everyone’s thoughts upon it.

A necessary evil?

App Store skeptics: rest assured that I’m none too taken with the MAS either, and it doesn’t make my life as a developer any easier. The only reason I would stop distributing Boxer separately is if/when it gets simply too hard for me to maintain two separate distributions, and I plan to stick that out as long as possible.

However: the App Store’s not going anywhere, and it will eventually become the only port-of-call for most Mac users looking to find quality software. If Boxer is to be rescued from obscurity, then it needs to be available there sooner or later, however else it continues to be available.

Moreover, most of the restrictions Apple have placed on the behaviour of apps in the App Store make sense and are beneficial to the health of the OS. Private API usage is simply A Bad Idea; centralised application updates are A Good Idea (awkward though this currently is through the MAS); and fostering an overt concern over the physical arrangement of files on one's hard disk is an anachronism that belongs back in the 90s.

Whither DOS game storage?

To recap, Apple’s app store guidelines mandate that applications keep their supporting folders in ~/Library/Application Support/, and never create folders within the system’s folder space (Home, Documents, Applications etc.) without asking first. Currently Boxer’s default DOS Games folder location is ~/DOS Games/, which would have to change.

I fully recognise the usefulness of choosing the location of this folder—e.g. to be on an external disk or a Dropbox folder—and Boxer will continue to support this. But, it would be saner and safer for Boxer to default to a suitable Apple-friendly location automatically, and let you migrate it afterwards, rather than demanding up-front where and how you want to organise your collection. It’s worth noting that the only real reason Boxer does so now is to draw attention to the sample games it has given you.

One instance came to light post-1.0 of a user choosing their Documents folder itself as the game storage location, and Boxer overriding its icon and appearance as a result. Choosing a system folder is now prevented in Boxer 1.0.1, but this demonstrates how risky and error-prone it can be, to give users the choice of where to put required folders whose contents are controlled by an application.

Boxer's long-term plan is to offer an in-app game browser to work alongside the Finder model. The browser would unify the welcome, import and games-folder UIs; allow you quicker access to recent games; and allow you to display your DOS games by metadata: genre, publisher, year etc.

This is quite clearly Apple’s preferred approach for apps that deal with document-like objects, and would render their physical location irrelevant: which would be a necessity if their actual location is buried deep within a library folder and beyond the reach of Finder. As a further complication, OS X 10.7 Lion hides the Library folders altogether from Finder, and can optionally sandbox an app’s files so they don’t even live there anymore. This, I have grave reservations about.


The rise of the App Store distribution model, and the push towards an iOS-style sandboxed approach to the filesystem, are going to see a lot of pushback from Mac developers and Mac users alike in the coming year. As someone who grew up with the old paradigms, I’m reluctant to change and can’t tell to what extent the new paradigms will actually improve and simplify the Mac desktop experience.

My concern is to make sure Boxer continues to work the way the Mac works; but without alienating users who prefer the way the Mac used to work. Above all, I don’t want to discard the old when embracing the new—except where the old really did suck.

So, what do you think?

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