When Microsoft launched Windows 10, the company emphasized the new operating system was the foundation for a brand-new Windows ecosystem. Going forward, Windows users could look forward to unprecedented compatibility between smartphones, tablets, PCs, and even the Xbox One. The Windows-as-a-service model meant that no one would be left behind on an ancient operating system. The Windows Store is vital to bringing this vision to reality, but developer feedback is anything but positive.
Digital Trends recently interviewed several long-time Windows developers, including Scott Peterson of Liquid Daffodil. Peterson has been writing applications for Windows since the company launched Windows 2.0, and he makes a living developing custom Windows software for oil and gas companies. Digital Trends describes him as a “steadfast evangelist.”
What Peterson and other developers like Gaurav Kalra of Next Matters see, however, doesn’t have them singing praises to the heavens. While the Windows 10 install base is theoretically much larger than the Windows Phone ecosystem — Nokia and Microsoft have shipped an estimated 110 million Windows Phone devices since 2011, while Microsoft reports over 200 million devices using Windows 10 in the past eight months — the vast majority of their revenue is being driven by mobile devices.
According to Kalra, their NextGenReader application has been downloaded more than 300,000 times since it debuted on the Windows Phone store, but just 90,000 of those downloads were to a PC running Windows 8, 8.1, or Windows 10. Both developers are committed to the Windows platform, but neither believes they can honestly recommend it as a practical, money-making enterprise.
Are desktop paradigms killing the Windows Store?
When Microsoft announced that Windows 8 would feature an App Store, and that this represented the future of the company’s software design and distribution plans, user reaction wasn’t very positive. Gabe Newell and Valve built Steam OS as a defensive measure, designed to prevent Microsoft from requiring all PC games to be sold through their own store front, cutting Steam off at the knees. Others expressed concern about how the strict sandboxing requirements would impact application functionality.
It soon became clear that these fears were unfounded. The Windows Store launched alongside Windows 8 and quickly became known as a place where good apps went to die alongside shovelware and scams. A year after launch, it was still common to see third-party programs masquerading as official clients for major Web services and social media hubs. Microsoft has slowly dealt with some of these issues, but desktop and laptop users still don’t use the Windows Store much, if at all.
The criticisms levied at the Windows Store are genuine, but they may not be the root cause. It’s at least possible that what’s holding the Windows Store back is the users themselves.
If you own a smartphone or tablet, the only official way to install new software is through Google Play, iOS, or Amazon. But desktop and laptop users have decades of experience in finding their own software, usually through various online repositories.
Here’s a simple example: If you watch movies or television shows on your PC, chances are you play them back with either VLC or an application like Media Player Classic. If you’re a gamer, you use Steam. If you use instant messenger services, there’s already a suite of applications that can handle them.
In the early days of the iPhone — at least after Apple unveiled the App Store in 2008, a year after launch — Apple showcased the phone by running the tagline “There’s an app for that.” In a way, that’s the PC’s problem: There’s already an app for that, and if you’ve been using the desktop for 10-20 years, you probably know which ones you like and which you don’t.
Microsoft has tried to offer compelling applications built around its new UI, but these applications are often handicapped by intrinsic limitations that their desktop brethren don’t share. Adobe Photoshop’s mobile version can’t use plug-ins, because Microsoft’s API doesn’t allow them for security reasons. Even applications as simple as photo viewers or video players expect all content to reside in a single privileged directory. The problem is, that’s not how most PC users maintain content libraries, especially over a 5-10 year period.
I still think better curation and presentation could solve this problem long-term — Steam’s gradual transformation from an online service everyone loathed to a cherished online gaming hub is proof that people really can change their opinions of a thing long-term. Before it can change people’s perceptions, however, Microsoft needs content worth featuring and then a way to feature it that doesn’t make users feel like they’re being groped at a dive bar by a 300lb used-car salesman.
It’s worth noting that Microsoft isn’t the only company with this problem. Apple’s OS X App Store has lagged far behind its online cousin, with fewer features and limits on OS X – iOS compatibility. Many of the problems MacWorld details within the OS X App Store are also issues with the Windows Store.
The difference between the two, of course, is that Apple’s massive mobile infrastructure dwarfs any minor problems it might be having with the desktop App Store. Microsoft, on the other hand, is trying to bootstrap its mobile business by relying on its desktop strength. Things could start to turn around this year as Windows 10 matures, but it’s going to be a long, slow climb.