Could the Mac App Store solve Enterprise licensing headaches?

I’m very happy to see that Peter Borg updated Lingon for Snow Leopard, which he’s now distributing via the Mac App Store. I see on his blog, however, that his will be the only method of distribution for his product.
The early behavior of developers to embrace the Mac App Store as their exclusive distribution channel could be an Enterprise administrator’s headache but I see it as the potential to be a much needed solution for the corporate environment like iTunes was for the music industry.


First, Apple’s licensing terms are:

“If you are a commercial enterprise or educational institution, you may download a Mac App Store Product for use either (a) by a single individual on each of the Mac Product(s) that you own or control, or (b) by multiple individuals on a single shared Mac Product that you own or control.

I hate terms like this because, although generous, they’re practically impossible to enforce. In some brief testing, I found that nothing prevents one user from downloading software under his own Mac OS X account and another user from using that software under a different Mac OS X account. Logging out of the Mac App store under the first account and the lack of Mac App Store credentials under the second account don’t enforce “per user” licensing.

Mac App Store account management

Ignoring licensing, how can a company handle software purchases for products sold exclusively through the Mac App Store? Should it use a master Mac App Store account for all purchases or should it allow purchases under individual accounts?
A master account is administratively easier to manage but it requires one or a handful of administrators to enter the account credentials and download the software. This isn’t an account that all users should be able to access. The downside to a master account is that all purchases are available on all machines. Nothing ties any one purchase to a particular user to enforce the “(a) by a single individual on each of the Mac Product(s) that you own or control” part of the licensing terms.
What happens when the licensing changes midstream and is no longer needed for just one user on one machine but is now needed for two users on two machines? Can a master account handle a second purchase? Not at all.
Should each user have his own account? That would somewhat help mitigate the licensing terms but what happens when an entire department (say 20 people) need the same piece of software? Does one company create 20 different accounts with the same credit card information? Volume licensing handles this situation well, however, the Mac App Store doesn’t offer volume licensing options.

Software deployment and management

Volume licensing also offers administrators convenience and manageability with licensing. It generally provides one serial number for all installations and a method to deploy software to multiple machines quickly. The Mac App Store works against that model completely.
Assuming an administrator much purchase software sold exclusively through the Mac App Store for a department of 20 computers, that means an administrator must “touch” each machine 20 times. Even using remote control software, the administrator must log in to each machine, launch the Mac App Store, make the purchase and download the software. Volume licensing allows administrators to push to multiple machines at once and let users start using the software immediately. One hour for deploying a volume license piece of software could easily turn into multiple hours for the Mac App Store.
Do we really want to turn support personnel into purchasing agents?

Mac App Store for the Enterprise?

Fundamentally, the Mac App Store is for the home consumer. Can it be modified to work for the Enterprise? It could with some work. An administrator console for the Mac App Store would make sense here.
Licensing: Apple would first need to change the legal terms for using the software. Software should be purchased strictly for a computer and not licensed to any single user. The terms should be enforceable. Companies need the right to move software between computers and not worry about losing it or transferring it when a user changes positions or leaves.
Deployment: The method of downloading software from the cloud to each machine is impractical. It uses network bandwidth and is much slower than deploying from an internal network source. Companies like mine go so far as to block access to online software sites like iTunes, which means the Mac App Store is blocked too. Administrators need to be able to deploy from within their network.
Local Management: One administrator could purchase and download the software and maybe even use the console to deploy and manage seats. That’s something the Enterprise needs not only for the sake of efficiency but also for managing licensing. Key servers and licensing servers are a pain to manage because they support one or a few applications. Being able to manage licensing the same way for dozens of apps at the operating system level would be a godsend.
Remote licensing: I have a handful of users that work at home but use company-owned laptops. These folks are administrators on their own machines because I can’t manage these machines remotely. One final need is for me to purchase their software and get it to them. They’re already on the Internet, so they can handle downloading their own software. I’d like to be able to send them a one-time, one-use key that they can plug into the Mac App Store and get the software they need. And I’d like that information to get reflected back to my administrator console for the Mac App Store.

Eliminate headaches and increase profits

Administrators slam Apple for its lack of support for the Enterprise (read through this message thread on the MacEnterprise list) but centralizing Mac application purchasing opens the door for application license management on a wide scale. Very wide!
Take away the need for something simple like a serial number and Apple takes away the need for administrators to have to locate and deploy license files hidden in a variety of clever and not-so-clever ways. Take away the need for recording licensing information in a locally managed database and Apple takes away the headache of auditing software licenses. Take away individual End User License Agreements and Apple takes away the legal downtime spent reviewing multiple software licenses.
For developers, like Peter Borg, the Mac App Store has the potential to greatly increase revenue. Just look at comments like those from Evernote. iTunes revolutionized the music industry by giving consumers an easy way to pay for music and increased sales dramatically. With that track record Apple has the same potential with the Mac App Store and the Enterprise market.

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