The Microsoft Store app suffers from two major flaws: it doesn’t have as many apps as users would like, and existing apps suffer from a plague of seldom-updated look-alikes. Microsoft seems determined to fix the first problem by potentially making the second worse.
Microsoft said at its Microsoft Build 2022 conference on Tuesday that the Microsoft Store is “open to everyone,” meaning it has removed a waitlist program for Win32 apps. The store is now open to all app developers. Microsoft also announced an advertising program, Microsoft Store Ads, which will allow developers to create ad campaigns to promote their apps in the Store app. Microsoft will also start testing a “rollback” feature that will automatically load apps Windows users have when setting up a new device.
It is true that the Microsoft Store on Windows represents one of the improvements offered by Windows 11 over Windows 10. It is detailed and well organized, with comprehensive features ranging from ratings to a recommendation on whether the application will run on your PC. The developers have apparently responded. In the first three months of 2022, according to Microsoft, there was a more than 50% increase in new desktop apps and games added to the Store, compared to the same period last year. Unfortunately, Microsoft hasn’t said exactly how many apps those numbers represent. (It’s a little less hazy on Windows 10 and 11’s total user base: 1.4 billion people combined.)
We have a better idea of the number of applications offered by Microsoft’s competitors. AppBrain estimates that there are 2.66 million apps on Google Play, 36% of which are classified as “poor quality”. Apple’s App Store has more: just under 5 million according to Statista’s estimates. We can assume that Microsoft probably has a lot less than either of its two competitors, and a small fraction of Windows apps available. In 2018, Microsoft Vice President Michael Forton called the Windows ecosystem (not the Store) 35 million apps.
That’s all to say that Microsoft is probably feeling a little nervous about its number of apps, as well as the revenue potential of selling through the Store. (Developers can use their own payment mechanisms and keep all revenue; otherwise, Microsoft only charges 12% for games and 5-15% for apps.) Adding additional apps will also potentially reduce the influence from Valve’s Steam and Epic Games. Store. The store has several other issues, such as how it handles game downloads, but adding more apps would be a start.
“Any app that runs on Windows, including C++, WinForms, WPF, MAUI, React, Rust, Flutter, and Java, is welcome in the Microsoft Store,” Microsoft wrote.
Mark Hachman / IDG
However, Microsoft is not saying that any app will be approved. The company will still adhere to its app store principles that the company set out in February. But these principles also focus on how apps are marketed and sold on the App Store, and how Microsoft won’t promote its own apps over those developed by a third party. The principles include “reasonable and transparent standards of quality and safety”, but do not specify what they are. Microsoft Store policies, particularly its quality guidelines, offer more details. But they seem to be more advisory than anything else.
Can Microsoft Control Crapware?
But adding more apps doesn’t necessarily eliminate the other major Microsoft Store problem: crapware. Duplicates. A well-organized Microsoft Store would promote the best Windows apps available and not clutter its shelves with deceptive counterfeits. But that’s exactly what happened, to the point that the developer of popular audio editor Audacity uploaded the “correct” version to the Microsoft Store in an attempt to rid it of paid knockoffs of the free Audacity app.
“Due to the ridiculous number of fake ‘Audacity’s on the Microsoft Store, which charge users for non-functional or very limited apps, I have (finally) taken the name back and released the appropriate free version for the first time “, developer Martin Keary tweeted.
This doesn’t seem consistent with the quality guidelines mentioned above, which include advice not to follow in the footsteps of other apps. “Be original and distinctive,” they say. “For example, a title that’s a variation of another app’s spelling can be confusing, and a unique title can help your app stand out.”
To be fair, a search for “Audacity” on the Microsoft Store today doesn’t turn up any of these Audacity knockoffs, which means, in part, Keary got it right. We cannot say with certainty that the existing waiting list has been delayed even After imitations that would have otherwise cluttered the Microsoft Store. It feels like the end of the waitlist will simply usher in more low-quality apps alongside the “real” releases. We asked Microsoft to comment on the issue, and company representatives declined to comment on the filing.
At least it doesn’t look like the new Microsoft Store ads will be particularly obnoxious, based on an example Microsoft provided to the press. But suggested apps also take up space that might otherwise be dedicated to search results.
Microsoft’s attempts to surface relevant ads also have a few twists that we don’t know exactly how they will play out. On the one hand, Microsoft seems to be interested in letting developers of apps that store data in the cloud inject their own content into what was previously neutral ground within Windows: File Explorer, for example, and file dialogs. It is unclear what content would appear here, and whether or not it would be unsolicited. “This would allow Windows to show your app and its content to users in the right context, providing a seamless app installation and content discovery experience across devices,” Microsoft said in a blog post by the Panos Panay product manager. “Stay tuned for more on that front.”
Some, however, we already know. According to a blog post by Microsoft Store General Manager Giorgio Sardo, Microsoft will start integrating “badges” for Store downloads on other websites, essentially enabling one-click downloads of Store apps. Store apps will also start showing up in Windows search results from your own PC as suggested downloads.
Microsoft will also start allowing Windows users to automatically download or “restore” apps they previously installed from the Microsoft Store. It’s unclear how this will differ from existing options for setting up new PCs like other devices that Microsoft knows are linked to your account.
Microsoft, however, succeeded on one count: decoupling parts of Windows and pushing them to the Store, allowing them to be released with their own feature roadmaps on their own schedule. The latest addition was the Windows Subsystem for Linux, Microsoft said.