Rohit Mishra

Thoughts which don’t fit in 140 characters.

We Need a Windows App Store

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I had been planning to write about a Windows App Store. Meanwhile, Apple announced a Mac App Store for Lion - the next edition of OS X.

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For all the excitement that follows an Apple announcement, the reality is that Macs make only 10 % of the desktop/laptop market worldwide. I want a similar announcement from Microsoft for Windows. Microsoft has recovered a lot from the Windows Vista days when every possible thing was going wrong for the company. Windows 7 has been a great success,) Bing is gaining mind share and Windows Phone 7 has had a decent launch. XBox Kinect has no competition. (Sony dismissed controller-free gaming as an unsatisfactory experience. Sony once dismissed iPods too when the whole world was hooked to Walkmans.) But its Apple which seems set to re-invent desktop, the way it revolutionized mobiles. They have already brought multi-touch to PCs with the Magic Trackpad and I believe sooner or later we will see touch iMacs. The game is in Microsoft’s half to respond to the challenge.

If you take any smartphone today, most of the apps have been made by independent developers - not huge corporations. This huge pool of developers is driving innovation on mobiles. The App Store also played a major role. By featuring popular apps on iTunes, it allowed even it allowed even those iPhone users who are not into the technical details to find the hottest app or game. The App Store became and still is the biggest strength of iOS. On the other hand, even Linux distributions like Ubuntu have had Software Stores and Package Managers which serve the same purpose. I believe that apps like Dropbox would have had a much bigger user base if we had a Windows App Store. The reason why so little innovation happens on the desktop is that there is very little opportunity for independent work to get the threshold attention needed for success. Computer Magazines like PC World run their own stores for Windows applications, but it is only the most enthusiastic user that goes to these sites. It is Microsoft’s responsibility and interest to see that the small developer also succeeds on Windows.

[caption id=“attachment_80” align=“alignright” width=“300” caption=“Ubuntu Software Center”]Ubuntu Software Center[/caption]

The other big advantage of an App Store is security and ease of use. Currently, it is a pain to update all the myriad applications on a Windows system. Poor quality apps are often the chief reason for a Windows system to crash or become sluggish.  It will be great if Microsoft can make all the apps installed on Windows to register with the App Store client even if they have been installed via other means. By doing that, they can prevent apps from interfering with each other - something which neither app developer can ensure. Malware apps once detected can be kept out of the ecosystem entirely. The third major advantage is that it will become incredibly easy for the same software to be installed across multiple PCs - enterprises are going to love this.

I am not in favor of a iOS like rigidity. Microsoft should follow the model of Android and Symbian where the advanced user has all the freedom that he wishes while the average user is prevented from installing unverified apps. The intention should be not to create an alternate revenue stream, but to ensure that users and developers can have a better experience. i don’t feel that developers will mind paying 15-25% of the app price in return of a larger user base. Software is a business of scale, not margins.

It is not that Microsoft has been unmindful of the benefits of an online store. As early as late 2008, Microsoft opened an online store to sell its products and games online. But it never extended the store to allow external developers to use the service. In the meanwhile, a lot of other app stores have come up which just goes to show that installing multiple apps on Windows is a problem yet to be solved. Intel has its own App Store and OEM’s like Acer are planning to launch their own.  Multiple app stores will only confuse the end-user and put additional stress on developers. I would like all my apps to come with me if I swap my Acer laptop for one from Dell. There is a strong feeling that Microsoft will launch its App Store with the next release of Windows, which CEO Steve Ballmer called their ‘riskiest product bet’. That might be too late. Windows 8 is expected to come in 2012. By that time, the Mac Store might become so big that Microsoft will again have to play the catch-up game.

App Stores have been unfairly characterized as being against the interests of developers. Its only Apple’s policies that have let people to make these assumption. We never hear any such complaint about the Android Market or the Ovi Store. Once App stores open for desktops, we might see new life being infused in these big beasts.

See the video where Ballmer says that the next Windows is their riskiest product.