When I first heard rumors that Microsoft was going to provide a Windows app store, I got really excited — until I learned the full details. Boy, was I disappointed!
Here’s the deal:
When Microsoft releases the version of Windows that follows Windows 7 (currently code named “Windows 8”), it will include a Windows app store. I’ve already received and installed the Windows 8 Developer Preview with the app store included. Having a centralized app store has some significant advantages, but, as I’ll describe a little further down, the disadvantages overwhelm the advantages. But first, here are the advantages of having an OS provided app store:
Here are the advantages from a user’s perspective:
Discoverability: With the app store built in as part of the operating system, you can find and install apps on your desktop just as easily as you do your mobile phone.
Security: Microsoft will vet any software in the app store, so you can be reasonably assured that if it’s from the Microsoft app store, it’s probably safe and free of malware.
Reliability: Since Microsoft will be vetting all software submitted to the app store before allowing it to be available for public consumption, it will be doing a reliability test on the software to see if it crashes test machines so that it doesn’t crash your computer and that it behaves reasonably well.
Here are the advantages from a developer’s perspective:
Access: Without an app store (the way it’s been since the beginning of time), small time developers have had a hard time getting discovered and having their software available on store shelves or in major catalogs and online stores. The amount of money and time it takes to develop an application is significant and if you can’t get your app out in the public’s eye, your investment will likely be a big loss. Having an app store gives you a much better chance for your app to be discovered. Your income potential increases.
Income: You’ll keep 70% of your software sales.
Management: You don’t have to manage any of it. You’ll set up an account with Microsoft to publish your apps and once they’re published, money will just start showing up in your account as people purchase it. If you don’t want to spend money on advertising your software, you don’t have to. Just being in the app store is its own advertisement. Of course, you can advertise your wares to drive eyes to your product. All of your income, though, is completely automatic.
Before I get to the disadvantages, I’ll first have to explain something important about Windows 8. Windows 8 will have a completely new user interface. This UI is called “Metro” and looks like the Windows Phone 7 user interface, or if you’re familiar with the Windows Media Center UI, Metro is based on that. Windows 8 will not eliminate the familiar desktop paradigm that we’ve been using since at least 1995 with Windows 95 though. That is still alive and well. Both user interfaces will be supported. They are radically different and you will switch between them to run software that’s written for one or the other.
When someone writes a Windows 8 app, they will choose whether it’s a Metro app or the more familiar desktop type of app. Both types of apps will be in the Windows 8 app store. But, there’s a difference. Read on.
As you’ve known since the beginning of commercial software, you find a piece of software you need or want, then you find a store that has the best price. This may be a place where you can pay and download it from a Web site, a place where you order it online and it’s shipped to you, or even on a shelf in a software store. Each store has different payment options, return policies, prices, shipping options, etc. They each compete for your business by trying to provide the best service, price, or options. All of this goes away with Windows 8 Metro apps! If you want to buy an application that works in the new touch-centric user interface called Metro, your only option is to go through the Windows 8 app store. You cannot shop for competitors, because there won’t be any. You cannot download it from the publisher’s Web site. You cannot shop around for the best price. Windows 8 Metro apps cannot be installed by any way except via the official, built in Windows 8 app store.
Note that this is not true for standard desktop apps. No limitations are imposed on those (yet). But Metro apps have to be purchased through Microsoft via the Microsoft app store.
I have a difficult time believing that this will go unnoticed by the Department of Justice, which just recently ended a 10-year watchdog process over Microsoft due to its finding that Microsoft was officially considered a monopoly on the desktop. Remember all the hype about Microsoft simply bundling Internet Explorer in the OS? Now, not only will it be bundling a piece of software in the OS (the app store), but it will be preventing competing app stores from existing. It’ll be taking complete and total control over what you can and can’t install. If Microsoft doesn’t like a whole category of apps (say, for example P2P), then it can just prevent all of it!
For developers, you have no choice but to sell your Metro apps through the official Microsoft app store. If you need to get an update out immediately to an already published app, you’re going to have to wait until Microsoft gets around to finishing up its red tape on your app. You will not be able to keep all the fruits of your labor. Microsoft will take 30% off the top. You won’t have the option of selling your software on your own Web site. You’ll be forced to pay the 30% Microsoft tax. There will be no way around it for Metro apps.
Both developers and users alike will be at the complete mercy of Microsoft.
Microsoft claims that the purpose for this is to ensure a safe computing experience. I disagree and I call it out on that. It can still provide that without taking complete control of the third party software economy. All it needs to do is provide a section in the app store called “Microsoft Certified.” If users are concerned about never, even accidentally, downloading uncertified software, provide a simple security flag in the OS, like a policy, that prevents software from being installed that’s not certified. Give the users full control with the ability to toggle this flag to gain the freedom they’ve always had. An even less aggressive approach is to simply display each app in the app store as Microsoft certified or not and let the users choose. It could even provide a security warning if someone’s going to download an uncertified app.
Microsoft, our PCs belong to us, not to you. There’s no reason we should have to jailbreak our own computers.