Two days ago Embarcadero gave a public webinar about a very interesting (and very bold) new initiative, called AppWave, which wants to turn applications into commodities on Windows much like Apple and Google have done for their phones. In this blog post, I'm not trying to explain the idea to you... but mostly reasoning aloud while trying to understand it myself.

Core Technologies

At the core of AppWave there are some core technologies Embarcadero is already using in ToolCoud and AllAccess:

  • One of them is application virtualization, which lets stream and run an application without having go install it. Even if it is made of multiple files. In the webinar they shows how you can do a "virtual installation" of an open source utility (they used FileZilla) and create an executable image of the program requiring no installation. Just run directly from their customized browser.
  • Another element is their licence management, about which they didn't tell much, saying it is not ready and coming. The idea is that you get the right to browse your applications and execute one of them (free or licensed) on any PC you are using, not a specific one. But you'll also be able to "download" an image to be used in case you have no Internet connection, like on a plane.

The idea is to make software distribution and software sales much easier for the end users, as easy as getting a phone app. The claim is their tool help you turn a Windows application into an "app", that is a very easy to use.

In term of tools, they'll release (and demonstrated) an AppWave Studio, a free tool you'll use to turn the application into an "app" by either indicating the files to distribute or capturing an installation process. This application will be sandboxed, but you can let it access to the file system, selected registry areas, and any local or server database. In practice, any existing Windows application should work, provided you set it up properly.

The Company Scenario

A key scenario for AppWave is to help companies distribute applications (including open source ones and third party ones and internal applications) through their users base. Rather than waiting for a new OS image with the company-picked set of tools, users can run without installing any company-approved application in minutes. At the same time, the company can manage the number of licenses currently in use and make sure they comply with the vendor rules.

This scenario is an extension of the current ToolCloud model, in which a company installs and manages its own server. The difference is allowing the addition of custom and third-party applications on top of the Embarcadero ones. But third party developers could as well make their applications available easily to large companies using the same approach and piggy-backing on the Embarcadero model.

The Public Scenario

This last scenario, of course, could be used by the general public, far beyond large companies and their licensing problems. In this case you'll use a public apps- management cloud run by Embarcadero. You'll be able to buy software and move licences among computers. But, on the other hand, you'll be able to sell your software easily. 

The Sale Scenario

The deal in terms of sales is much like any other app store, with 70% royalties to the developer, PayPal monthly payments, a yearly store fee (initially waived). Differently from some other stores, you'll be able to set your price, and also include free applications (maybe a limited version of your complete program). They mentioned a simplified approval process, but the idea to let competitors use the system. So the rules will be only to avoid illegal activities, obscenity, and the like. In a beta phase, the store will accept only distribution of free software or free versions, later it will allow paid tools and sales will be enabled. Being asked, they didn't provide a date.

Future plans also account for the option of selling Delphi components and creating pre-configured versions of Delphi for local distribution among team members... but this is not expected to be in the first release. Delphi components, for example, have a much more complex installation model than most Windows applications.

Maybe Nice, Maybe Great

This is certainly a very nice idea, empowering developers who sell tools to companies and individual techies, that is, people who might have heard about Embarcadero. Or it might really take the lead before Microsoft announces a similar model (which is rumored to be in development) and change the way users at large experience the Windows OS. I'm not inclined to think the latter will be easy, given you'll need a huge marketing machine (and a lot of money) to push such a model. But even if focused on a small subset of the market (the 3 million users or past users of Embarcadero tools) it will be very intersting for software developers to keep an eye on this model. I'll try to publish a couple of free tools of mine ASAP, and possibly follow with improved paid versions and other tools.

Further Information and Signup Site

For more information, refer to the Embarcadero Web site. While the AppWave product page still mostly contains older (that is, ToolCloud) information is gives some background on the technology in use. The AppWare Store, however, has a page with some promotional material (and little info) plus a signup page for developers. This includes the detailed contract with the license agreement, fees and percentages, payment rules, and a lot more. You can go ahead and signup to receive updates when they'll be available. Some more information in the FAQ PDF.