ThinkBoxly is the personal developer blog of Lucas Chasteen, author, programmer, artist, and always learning. Read more

Thursday, December 13, 2012

What’s up with the Windows 8 App Store?

Ok, so before I get started, let me make it quite clear that I love Windows 8. Contrary to what many suggest, I would consider it a necessary upgrade from Windows 7 due to increased performance, a more efficient UI, cool new functionality thanks to the new Start screen and its apps…oh, wait. While most of those points may be true, Microsoft may be missing things on one critical level, and if they don’t correct it soon, the damage may be difficult to repair, ever.

The Windows 8 app store started out looking good. Really good. Xbox 360 Arcade titles were being ported to PC, providing a standardized gaming experience akin to what people expect from consoles, tablets, and smartphones, despite the open nature of PC hardware. Popular mobile titles like Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, and Fruit Ninja were showing their face in the store on launch day. Things were looking up for the app store as a place for users to find quality software from trusted developers.

But then something went horribly wrong.

The Problem

Software developers predicted issues with the Windows 8 store, however their fears have proven to be entirely unrealistic thus far, and I don’t believe that to change anytime soon. Microsoft having a first party store does not kill third party development or prevent users from installing third party app stores in any way. It also does not make them another vertically-integrated Apple, because other options are freely available and content stores can be bypassed entirely with physical media.

So what’s the big issue with the Windows 8 app store? In a word: quality.

There’s no doubt that Microsoft has built an incredible platform for developers to put their software in the hands of Windows 8 users in a quick and easy manner. Finding software could hardly be easier, and the interface for checking out screenshots, reviews, and technical information is clean, efficient, and attractive. The trouble is, the vast majority of available apps on the store do not reflect these qualities at all. In fact, most of them are downright cringe-worthy. Graphics and GUI’s do not reflect the sleek new feel of Windows 8 at all, instead tending to feel like the sort of thing you’d be excited to run on Windows 98 (see what I did there?). Overall construction is shamefully cheap. Even more embarrassing, some of the apps on the store could arguably be guilty of copyright infringement.

Rather than be the first place I turn to find good software on Windows 8, Microsoft’s marketplace has become more of a place for me to update my existing apps than to find new ones. And believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve spent hours searching through the growing catalog, and while I can usually find something along the lines of what I’m looking for, the execution is just so horrible I don’t even bother to download, or if I do, I delete the app within ten minutes of using it. I get the feeling that Microsoft is letting in a bunch of high school programming projects in order to boost the number of available apps rather than restricting the store to the level of quality it needs in order to do really well.

The Solution

Honestly, the solution to this problem is quite simple: Microsoft really needs to up the ante. They need to stop accepting each and every app submitted to them in order to get a fuller-looking catalog. It would be far better to have a limited selection of quality apps than to have to sort through pages of worthless apps to find one or two worthy downloads. In its current state, I fear the marketplace will already have difficulty securing a number of major third party developers because they simply will not be noticed among all the clutter.

However, the store is still young. Every digital app store out there has its assortment of random fluff and nonsense, and most people anticipate this. If the plug is placed soon, the current level of quality might not affect things long-term. However, if the policy remains and more and more 1-star programs make the cut in coming months and years, I predict serious troubles for Microsoft’s new endeavor.

Please don’t take offense, all you fifteen year-olds that spend your free time writing apps for Windows 8, but we’re talking the storefront face of the latest version of the most widely used desktop OS in the world. Real developers are out there, and they are making apps, but it takes time to produce quality work. Please, Microsoft, don’t let the good stuff get crowded out by the bad before it even arrives. The old adage of “quality over quantity” definitely needs to ring true, here.

We really do want to see the Windows Marketplace succeed. This just isn’t the way.