Facebook likes the application marketplace

Will app stores help or hinder FLOSS distribution?

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Prominent social platform service Facebook continues its march to dominate the Internet with the Wednesday announcement of a new App Center designed to showcase and sell apps within the Facebook ecosystem.

And, unlike the Apple app store, it appears that software licensing will be no barrier to getting in.

Apple, despite the open source origins of its OS X operating system, has long been antithetical to open source software on its iOS and Mac OS X applications stores. And not a passive detractor, either; the Apple managers have gone out of their way to kick open source and free software apps off of their app marketplaces.

It is not known exactly when the App Center will launch, but the licensing of an app will not be a issue for getting listed.

Indeed, within Facebook's App Center Guidelines, there are a number of interesting qualifications an app must have in order to be listed on the App Center--but software licensing is not among them.

Facebook's particular take on allowable apps seems very liberal--until you see the commonalities. Not only will canvas- and HTML5-based Facebook.com apps be in the App Center, but mobile apps for iOS and Android and even outside web pages can be listed as well. The catch? Those third-party mobile apps and web pages will all need to use Facebook login protocols.

It seems to good deal for third-party developers, and Facebook knows it: add Facebook connectivity and get your page or app listed on one of the biggest sites on the planet. And, even though they won't sell these third-party apps and pages, Facebook should ultimately get what they really want: more traffic.

So, FLOSS developers will have another environment conducive to distributing or selling their wares, which is obviously nice. But beyond this short-term gain, it strikes me that the rise of the app store may imply a larger, broader shift within the software world: the de-emphasizing the operating system and the rise of the app marketplace.

The Facebook App Center has just taken a step in this direction: by listing apps in an OS-agonistic way, they've created a marketplace where less importance is placed on the operating system. Granted, they're doing it for self-serving reasons, but it's happening nonetheless. That fact that they are also making no secret about pushing for web apps (that will work quite handily on Facebook.com, thank you very much) also works towards this deemphasis.

If I'm an app developer looking to get my software seen or bought by as many eyes as possible, why wouldn't I build an HTML5-based app that would be compatible with multiple platforms so I can get the app in as many apps stores as I can?

Ultimately, this could go well for FLOSS, since more stores could mean more eyeballs. And to date, most stores have been pretty cool about software with free and open source licenses.

But Apple's actions to date have also demonstrated that this could go the other way, too. If an app store acts as the gatekeeper for an entire platform and the apps store doesn't allow open source software, then installing FLOSS could become a much more difficult proposition, at least on devices that weren't jailbroken.

So it becomes a bit of a waiting game, to see how prominent and powerful application marketplaces really become… and how friendly they mostly remain to free and open source software.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Zettatag and Open for Discussion blogs and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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