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Side note: once my copy of Lion finished downloading, the first thing I did, even before running it, was copy the program to an external disc. (Now if I could just find that damn disc. :-) )
What bothers me about this is that Apple will tout the sales of their download-only Mountain Lion, claiming that the download-only aspect had no effect, completely ignoring the possibility that their sales number probably will have mostly to do with the price: $39, or even $29, for an OS that used to cost $139.
Microsoft is rumored to be building an online aps store for use with Windows 8. Who wouldn't want to have a position like Apple, as profiteering middlemen to everyone else's programs for the platform you have created? It's quite brilliant, in fact. My only hope is that Microsoft treats the 3rd-party companies even-handedly and gives everybody access to the full market of Windows 8 customers, rather than showing favor to some developers over others.
If you work for a small, independent software developer and do not have the distribution infrastruture or funds to distribute your software through retail, boxed CD sales, then online / downloadable sales makes the most sense. This isn't necessarily a cold-hearted ploy by Apple -- it's where the industry has been trending, and judging from how few applications are available in Best Buy, Walmart, etc. , one can see that downloads will be how most software is obtained in the future.
If anyone can move their software distribution model to downloads only, it would be Apple. After years of running the iTunes Store to handle music, movies, and apps for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, they started an OSX app store after only a couple months' wait after it was announced.
I agree, there are some unanswered problems with this limited distribution method:
1) how do you handle upgrading multiple computers simultaneously with limited wifi bandwidth?
2) how do you reinstall Lion on a computer with a new hard drive?
3) how does IT manage updating multiple computer security patches if Apple's app store is handling the updates?
As with most things Apple does, this will work far better for individuals than for schools and businesses.
You're being far too kind. Steve Jobs has a crazy ability to be thinking 5-10 years ahead of everyone else. He understood the value of optical media in 1987 when he made the NeXtcube with an optical drive and without a floppy drive. He pissed off tons of users in 1997 when he nixxed the floppy drive from the iMac. He's now obviously realized the power of broadband, but from his ivory castle in SF he can't understand that most people have a limited amount of bandwidth that must be shared across an organization - whether it's in your company's offices or back at home in your suburban enclave, where at 5pm bandwidth utilization spikes due to people coming home and tapping into netflix or xbox live -- cable is only fast when it's not over-subscribed. I predict that fanbois will love the download-only distribution method, but those of us who have to endure supporting Macs will find it so frustrating that they'll develop alternative ways to install Lion. Oh, wait, they already have found a way to put it on USB key and DVD: