Sunday, September 18, 2011

Why Do "Not Windows Store"?

On September 16, 2011, three days after Microsoft announced a new tablet-focused operating system code named, Windows 8, Joe Ferner and I released an app store for the new pre-beta operating system called the Not Windows Store. This has caused some controversy on twitter. So why do it?

Windows Store Doesn't Exist

First and foremost, we released this service so that developers would have a place to share apps today. This is because as of right now, Microsoft has neither:

  • Released the Windows Store
  • Announced a date for it, nor
  • Given any indiciation it will exist in the foreseeable future

This is not an appropriately great start to the fledgling operating system. Without an app store now, Windows 8 apps will exist as nothing but a loose affiliation of codeplex projects, blogs, and websites: in other words, what Windows is today. The Windows of tomorrow can and should do better than the Windows of today.

And when it's released the real Windows Store will do better. The process and the infrastructure look significantly better than any other app store in existence. In particular, it looks better than both Apple's and Android's app stores. But ultimately it's just vaporware at this point. We can do better than that.

The Problem with Windows Store Vaporware

Windows 8, both the tablet and the image, is distributed with a number of apps. These apps on the whole are fine for a proof of concept. Some of them are actually quite good (weather is amazing). But some of them, the important ones for long term use like the RSS reader, the twitter and facebook apps, and some of the games are downright mediocre. And there are huge functionality gaps like mail, contacts, calendar, tasks, let alone little things like timers and calculators.

This means Windows 8 won't demo nearly as well as it could when we show these things off to co-workers, friends, and acquaintances. And perhaps more importantly they won't keep us using the tablet or image after the novelty wears off. If these apps are all we have for the foreseeable future, that will be a detriment to Microsoft's new effort, and that would be a shame.

I for one want Windows 8 to win! I want it to win big by starting with its best foot forward; by beginning to win the hearts and minds of people making up their minds right now with more good apps; and by keeping the lucky 4,000 of us with tablets engaged and showing off our new hardware for more than the next couple of weeks.

That's why we need a place to share apps, to get feedback on apps, to improve our apps, and to show off how cool Windows 8 Metro is capable of being. However, we can't do that without something like the 'Not Windows Store'. The entire Windows community, the early adopters and developers in particular, deserve better than starting out on the wrong app-foot.

There have been rumblings on twitter that this is a bad idea. Here are some of the argument's and why I disagree:

Fallacy #1: Delaying Windows Store Increases Quality

One thought I've heard is that Microsoft is intentionally delaying the Windows Store launch so that developers will have more time to focus on quality and features instead of rushing apps in order to be first to market. That's ridiculous for a couple of reasons. First, because the decision to release a lower quality app with fewer features today in exchange for the potential loss of some customers is a business decision that we should have the option to make.

That, for example, is what the 'Not Windows Store' did. We decided to release quickly to capitalize on the excitement surrounding Windows 8 right now. We felt that was more important than delivering later with more features. If there is enough interest, we will continue to release more functionality and increase quality. If Microsoft truly delayed the Windows store intentionally (and I really don't think they did, since they could have done a limited release) that was a poor decision because it denies people the opportunity to ride the initial wave of Windows 8 excitement.

The other reason we need an app store today is that real feedback from real customers is essential for flushing out bugs and increasing quality. In the real world, settings may conflict with other apps, security permissions may change, unexpected hardware conflicts occur, internet connections fail, or functional or non-functional requirements may change. Lab testing only gets you so far. Having feedback sooner from real users in real environments will improve the quality of apps once Windows 8 goes live and once they make it into the real Windows Store.

Fallacy #2: No One Wants Un-verified Apps

The Not Windows Store does not verify apps before publishing them. There are no virus scans, no quality checks, and no disqualification criteria. But according to some on twitter people don't want a black-market-esque unmanaged place for trading apps. People may publish malware.

There are several problems with this argument. First: this is the same as Windows today. How often do people download CodePlex projects without reading a line of the source code? How often do they download applications from sketchy websites based solely on the recommendation of a friend? It happens all the time! All an app store does is centralize and simplify the process of finding, downloading, and installing apps. The real windows store will improve the process with scanning and approval. The Not Windows Store is simply a middle-ground between what we have today and what Windows users should expect in about a year.

The second reason app-verification is not essential is that Microsoft made it extremely easy to reset your machine to its factory defaults in Windows 8. This is an awesome new feature and probably will be worth doing from time to time, even if you aren't worried about malware. More importantly, out of the box Windows 8 includes a virus scanner. Don't like it? Then download something better.

The third reason app-verification is not all that important at the moment is that it is too early for there to be bad apps. A malicious user just couldn’t affect enough users today to make porting or writing a virus to a Metro app worthwhile.

The fourth and most important reason app verification is not that important is that a good app store has meta-data to increase user's confidence in an app. I'll wager this is far more important to most people than whatever process Microsoft puts apps through. We don't do much more than list author names today, but if this project takes off we will integrate ratings, comments, and social media, and that will lend more confidence than any checks Microsoft might do.

To put it another way, which would you rather have: an unverified app rated 5/5 by 200 users, published by someone you follow on twitter, with glowing comments, some of whom are posted by your friends on Facebook? Or one that has no ratings or comments but that has been through the Microsoft store process? Mmm, yea, I thought so.

Fallacy #3: One App Store to Rule Them All

Some readers might think that having multiple app stores on Windows is bad: after all, what a hassle to go to multiple places for all your apps. It might end up being as bad as the decentralization of Windows apps today, right?

I don't believe so. First of all there won't be many app stores. It would be a waste of time to compete with Microsoft for long on this front. A Microsoft sponsored store that's integrated into the OS will always be the first place people go. Anyone wanting to make money with a high quality app will need to publish there first.

I strongly believe that competition is good for an ecosystem. A great app store might completely integrate with all my social media. It might recommend apps based on what my friends like. It might suggest stuff based on my interests and hobbies as discovered by related services like Facebook. It might not charge developer's any money to publish (as is the case with the Not Windows Store of course). Or it might get the hell out of my way and guarantee complete anonymity. I can't even begin to imagine what app stores will look like in the future, but I do know that the ecosystem will be worse off if there is one, and only one, app store for Windows.

Summary

We released the Not Windows Store because we love what we see in Windows 8, because we want Microsoft to succeed, and because we want a strong third competitor to Android and Apple. If you do too then please support us either by giving the Not Windows Store a try, by uploading an app, by contributing a patch to our source code, or by following us on twitter. Let’s work together to make Windows 8 great!

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