When the App Store first launched on iOS, the need for an alternative marketplace quickly arose. Jailbreakers and power-users wanted a way to download and install apps that gave them more control over their devices than what Apple would allow.
That was how Cydia was born. Created by Jay ‘saurik‘ Freeman, the Cydia app store allows users with jailbroken devices to not only install apps that bypass a number of iOS’s built-in restrictions, but to more easily discover them.
On the Mac, there’s obviously no jailbreaking, but given the sandboxing restrictions placed upon App Store developers, there’s still a need for a Cydia-like alternative: an easy-to-use, curated catalog for apps that give power-users too much control over their systems for Apple’s comfort.
Enter the HackStore, which hopes one day to be as synonymous with user-empowered Macs as Cydia is with jailbroken iOS devices.
The main developer behind the HackStore is Andrey Fedotov, an earnest hacker-turned-programmer who recently moved from Russia to Vermont to pursue work in the United States. He seems like a humble guy, but behind his humility lies a passion for open source software and allowing people to free their devices.
Inspired by Cydia and the Mac App Store, Andrey decided to start working on a Cydia-like marketplace called the HackStore back in December of last year. After a few months hard work, the HackStore is expected to debut in the next month.
But why bother? OS X isn’t nearly as locked down as iOS, so why should a developer even user something like the HackStore when they can just offer their apps on the web?
The main reason is discovery. Curated marketplaces like the App Store and Cydia allow users to easily find and install the apps they want using categories, recommendations, ratings, user reviews and more. For developers, an all-in-one market like the App Store and Cydia often leads to more downloads than offering their software directly to the public, provided that market has enough momentum. The HackStore hopes to be just such a marketplace for apps that Apple won’t accept into the Mac App Store.
And there’s tons of them, thanks to the limits that Cupertino has put on Mac App Store apps when it comes to how they interact with the OS. The outcome of these regulations, referred to as “sandboxing,” prohibits all kinds of actions that don’t match Apple’s “entitlements” for OS X. The reason Apple is doing this is to protect users from having their systems corrupted by rogue apps, but the trade-off means that power users are often left on the fringe, and apps like iStat Menus, CleanMyMac and Lion Tweaks have effectively been left stranded.
The HackStore will give these misfit apps a home.
“I want it to be like Cydia, a free-for-all,” Andrey told Cult of Mac. “The HackStore is all about freedom, apps and simplicity.”
Here’s how it will work.
The HackStore (Andrey is open to name suggestions) will be a place for hosting content like third-party tweaks and programs, or to link directly to other developers’ websites. With the HackStore, power users will be able to easily browse and discover all the great apps that wouldn’t make it into the Mac App Store.
A user login won’t be required initially for downloading apps from the HackStore, but there will be a sidebar on the home page for developers to create an account and upload their packages. Everything will be free, but Andrey hopes to work with devs and offer paid apps and tweaks in the future.
The HackStore app itself is structured almost exactly like the Mac App Store. Everything users expect is already there: top charts, categories, featured content, search, promotional banners, and so on.
When you click an app, you’ll be able to read a description, look at screenshots, see user ratings and leave a review.
Andrey has friends in the development community that have agreed to offer their apps for the HackStore’s launch, but he is so far playing coy with details.
The backbone and main layout of the HackStore is already done, but work still needs to be completed in the areas of security, design, and content. Right now, it’s in rough shape, but Andrey hopes that volunteers will come forward to help with the project.
With the right kind of branding, design, promotion and content, the HackStore could be a hit, but the ultimate question is whether or not developers will rally behind it. As Apple increasingly tries to impose the same app limitations on OS X as they have on iOS, though, it’s more important than ever for developers and users alike to have an alternative.