Microsoft’s App Store Is Just Like Apple’s App Store. That’s Good News for Your PC.

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Oct. 31 2012 6:14 PM

It's Beginning To Look a Lot Like Apple

Microsoft's centralized app store looks very familiar. That's good news for your PC and for the tech industry.

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That’s exactly what I love about it. If the store becomes the preferred way for developers to create programs for Windows, PCs will become much easier to use and maintain. Antoine Leblond, the Microsoft executive who oversees the Windows Store, points out apps must satisfy certain basic criteria to get accepted. “[They] are easy to install and uninstall—they don’t distribute files all over the place, they don’t muck around with the registry,” he says. “So you’ll be able to try things out—and if you don’t want them, you’ll be able to get rid of them cleanly and easily.” Apps you get from the store are also checked for malware and other sketchy behavior (for instance, apps are required to obtain opt-in consent before they share your personal data with other services). The process also examines how quickly and efficiently apps perform. “We make sure that apps go to sleep properly—if you stop using it, it won’t chew through your battery,” Leblond says. The store’s approval process even examines an app’s design—if an app doesn’t meet some basic usability threshold, its developer will be told it needs to be fixed.

A customer at the Microsoft Store tests out new Windows 8 devices in Seattle, Oct. 26, 2012.
A woman at the Microsoft Store in Seattle on Friday

Courtesy Microsoft.

All of these policies will mark a new dawn for Windows. Remember how, in the old days, your brand-new Windows PC would slow to a dreary trudge after just a couple years because all those programs you downloaded started to take over your system in unpredictable ways? Remember how the only way to fix this was to reinstall Windows? The Windows Store fixes all that.

But what about all those users and developers who are wary of Microsoft’s centrality in this process—who don’t like that Microsoft, like Apple, is now deciding what you get to use and what you don’t? Microsoft has two responses to this. First, the company points out that you’re still free to download old apps the old way—they’ll just run in the old desktop interface, not the modern interface. What’s more, Microsoft argues that its store’s policies are more transparent than Apple’s. The iOS store approval process is a black box—Apple has secret, arbitrary rules for deciding what to approve and what to reject, and many app developers have been burned by its capriciousness. Leblond promises that Microsoft will be more open with developers about what they need to do to avoid rejection. What’s more, Windows Store has more generous financial terms. When an app first hits the store, Microsoft takes a 30 percent cut of sales (the same as Apple), but after the app makes $25,000 in revenue, Microsoft cuts its share to 20 percent.

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Developers I spoke to were enthusiastic about the store. For one thing, they found it easy to create programs for the new interface. “I consider myself an Apple and iOS developer, not a Windows guy, and I found the system really easy to learn,” says Daniel Strickland, the lead product developer for RealPlayer Express, a media player app that RealNetworks created for Windows 8. Similarly, StumbleUpon was able to create its Windows 8 app in about a week. “For us the opportunity is huge,” says Nancy Phan, the company’s Windows 8 product manager. “Windows has a user base of hundreds of millions of users. Looking at the fact that it took us only a week to build the experience, it was a no-brainer to create this app.”

I’ve been running Windows 8 on and off for much of this year, and my feelings about it have run hot and cold. I’ve written that I think it’s a great OS for touchscreen devices but that it’s going to be confounding to people who are used to Windows on a desktop. (I still haven’t switched over to Windows 8 on my main work machine.)

Still, I’m rooting for the store, because in addition to making PCs better, it will also make the tech industry a more equitable place. “Microsoft used to be a company that would crush startups—now they’re wooing them,” says Aaron Levie, the CEO of the cloud storage company Box, which has also created a Windows 8 app. These days it’s Apple that has taken Microsoft’s throne, but it’s in no one’s interest for Apple to remain the world’s dominant app platform. Vibrant competition between Apple, Google, and Microsoft will help improve all our hardware and software. Attracting developers to the new Windows interface is not only vital for Microsoft, then. It’s good for everyone.

Farhad Manjoo is a technology columnist for the New York Times and the author of True Enough.

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