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Why Microsoft needs to solve the Windows Store 'crap app' crisis before Windows 9

Jared Newman | Sept. 3, 2014
Two years into the creation of the Windows Store, Microsoft is facing up to the mess.

The Windows Store's big pivot

A couple years ago, the Windows Store's prospects seemed a lot brighter. Although Windows 8 had its detractors even before launch, Microsoft hoped people would warm to the new modern interface and adopt a new breed of full-screen, touch-optimized apps. In turn, the platform would flourish on PCs and mobile devices alike, as developers lined up to support an operating system already used by hundreds of millions of people.

Instead, Microsoft received backlash, as most people continued buying traditional laptops and just wanted their old desktop interface back. Since the launch of Windows 8, Start menu replacements like Classic Shell have notched millions of downloads, and Lenovo — the world's largest PC maker — started pre-loading its laptops with a Start menu from Pokki. Speaking to PCWorld last year, Asus chairman Jonney Shih said that "the hottest app, sarcastically, is the one that puts the Start [button] back."

As the masses fled from Microsoft's new interface, they left the Windows Store behind. A May 2013 study by Soluto found that people barely touch Metro apps. Nearly two-thirds of laptop and desktop PC users launched less than one Windows Store app per day. Even tablet and touchscreen laptop users were launching less than three apps per day on average.

Without many people visiting the Windows Store, developers didn't have much incentive to make apps for the platform — and to adopt the necessary programming tools to do so — which in turn dissuaded people from visiting the store. The vicious cycle was in full effect.

So last April, Microsoft revealed its Plan B: A future version of Windows will include a reborn Start menu for launching classic and modern Windows Store apps alike. Those modern apps will then be able to run in windowed mode on the desktop, where they can be managed from the taskbar. For desktop users, running Windows Store apps will no longer require a change in workflow. And the Windows Store itself already comes pre-pinned to the Windows 8.1 taskbar. If Microsoft can just convince its huge base of laptop and desktop users to visit the Windows Store, those app developers might finally follow.

This plan falls apart, however, if Microsoft's store is filled with junk.

Having it both ways

A recent report by How-To Geek — probably the one that prompted Microsoft's sudden attention — details how bad things had become. The site pointed out dozens of fake, paid apps masquerading as popular programs such as iTunes, Firefox, and VLC Player. Often times, these apps were just paid "tutorials" teaching people how to download the real thing from outside the store. Although misleading apps aren't unique to the Windows Store, other app stores do a better job of hiding them or surfacing search results that are actually useful.

 

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