Windows 8 launch: Time to nail those Windows Store myths

Windows 8 launch: Time to nail those Windows Store myths

Summary: With less than a month to the launch of Windows 8, controversy still surrounds the Windows Store app market but it's based on a number of misconceptions.

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TOPICS: Microsoft, Apps, Windows
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Windows 8's new Windows Store is courting more than a little controversy, with gaming-industry figures from Minecraft's Notch to Valve's Gabe Newell expressing distrust and disquiet about Microsoft's move to add a new software distribution channel to its latest OS.

Listening to them, it sounds as though Microsoft is turning the PC into another iPad or Xbox, with a closed software distribution model that puts an end to the PC as a general-purpose computing device.

It's certainly a scary idea for any of us who've grown up with machines we've been able to program and customise. Are those PCs suddenly going to turn into appliances, where the software you use is dumbed down and curated by a malevolent entity set on extracting the last pennies from our pockets? Or has the rumour mill gone into overdrive again?

The Windows Store
Welcome to the Windows Store. It's like an app store, only more so.

Let's take a look at how software gets run, and gets installed on Windows 8.

First we have the traditional desktop. Most applications that run on Windows 7 or earlier will run here. That means you'll install them in the same ways you always have, by downloading, by buying CDs and DVDs, by using flash drives. Windows applications are still Windows applications, and nothing has changed for them.

So if you've installed Java, you'll be able to download and play Minecraft, or install the Steam client and download any game you've bought there. There's no intervention from Microsoft, no oversight, no curation. It's the Windows world as you know and love — and hate — it.

That was the old Windows world, and it's not going away. Windows 8, however, adds the Windows Store and Windows Store Applications — what Visual Studio calls what used to be Metro applications — which have a whole new way of installation. And that's where the confusion comes in, because the Windows Store adds new certification processes, adding strictness to what has been ad hoc and unmanaged software distribution.

Store-only distribution model

There are two routes to the Windows Store. First, there's the Store-only distribution model for Windows Store applications. That's not the only way they can be installed on PCs and tablets, but we'll leave the complexities of enterprise sideloading for another day.

The Store-only distribution model requires apps to pass local tests that come with Visual Studio before being uploaded and handed over to the Microsoft approval process before they're certified, digitally signed, and listed in the Windows Store.

If they're paid applications, Microsoft takes a cut and processes all the transactions. But it doesn't take a cut of any in-application transactions, unlike some other app stores.

The second approach is for desktop apps that are listed in the catalogue, but not hosted by Microsoft. There applications need to be certified and signed with a digital signature, but are downloaded from the vendor's own site or a third-part app store. Microsoft doesn't process transactions and doesn't take a cut.

It's that last approach that Microsoft was suggesting Minecraft's Notch should take — certifying his code for inclusion in the store listings, while still downloading it from his own site.

Additional level of trust

As Raphael Rivera detailed on Within Windows, this approach wasn't locking Minecraft away in a walled garden. It was just giving it an additional level of trust and a new distribution channel built into the OS. If he did want to be part of the Windows RT distribution model, Notch certainly has the option of taking his existing Xbox code and turning it onto a Windows Store application, moving it from one closed-store model to another, with some code changes. But that's not what Microsoft was suggesting here.

The argument that the Windows Store is a walled garden designed to lock out other software distribution mechanisms is a pervasive one, but it's also easy to refute. All you need do is look at the store.

Take Gabe Newell's issues with the Windows Store, which seem to centre on it locking his own Steam online market out of the Windows ecosystem. One of the more amusing things you'll find while exploring the depths of the Windows Store is Microsoft's own strategy game Age Of Empires Online.

It's a desktop application, so the Store link takes you to a web page. If you follow the download link on that page, you're taken straight to another online store for the download. It's not just any store, either — it's Valve's Steam.

Just follow the steps:

Age Of Empires in the Windows Store
Step 1. Find Age Of Empires in the Windows Store.
Read the catalogue description, and follow the link.
Step 2: Read the catalogue description and follow the link.
The Age Of Empires web site
Step 3. Click the link to download from the Age Of Empires website.
Age Of Empires on Steam
Step 4. And there you are, downloading Age Of Empires from Steam.

Microsoft isn't turning Windows 8 into a walled garden like iOS, though the Windows RT distribution model for ARM tablets is similar to Apple's. What's actually happening is that new channels are being opened up, new ways of distributing and developing software that work alongside the familiar ways we've used for much of the past 25 years or so.

Walled garden? What Microsoft is delivering is more like a mix of country cottage garden, formal garden, and walled garden — with a greenhouse thrown in for good measure. It's a whole Downton Abbey gardens' worth of software distribution, and that's not a bad thing.

Topics: Microsoft, Apps, Windows

Simon Bisson

About Simon Bisson

Simon Bisson is a freelance technology journalist. He specialises in architecture and enterprise IT. He ran one of the UK's first national ISPs and moved to writing around the time of the collapse of the first dotcom boom. He still writes code.

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87 comments
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  • Thanks for the article

    Nice job on the article, as well as getting the facts out there in a way that can easily and readily be digested. Your non-sensationalist writing style is a refreshing change to the usual on ZDNet. I hope to read more from you in the future.
    BrianTX
    • Yes

      I agree. This is a good ZDNet article. I look forward to more like it to balance things out. Healthy, well-balanced observations are always a plus.
      angusdegraosta
    • The way it should be.

      Its hard to believe that articles can still be written around here without someone trying to bash the living hell out of one product or another.

      Contrast, compare, examine and explain. If you dont like something, say why, but dont declare its crap when its only crap in your mind and for your purposes.

      If you like something say why you like it but do not pretend its the savior that will run other products off the shelves just because it fits your needs.

      Balance is greatly appreciated and well deserved praise should be given for some even headed reporting.
      Cayble
    • Unfotunately, the critiques are correct

      "Walled garden? What Microsoft is delivering is more like a mix of country cottage garden, formal garden, and walled garden — with a greenhouse thrown in for good measure. It's a whole Downton Abbey gardens' worth of software distribution, and that's not a bad thing."

      Not quite right. For apps written for the UI previously known as "Metro", it most certainly IS a walled garden. Desktop apps are still the same as usual... no walled garden, but if you want to write a Metro app, you HAVE to distribute it through Microsoft's walled garden, with the exception of Windows 8 Pro and the Enterprise side-loading option, which home users simply won't have access to, except for a small minority of IT experts.

      "Listening to them, it sounds as though Microsoft is turning the PC into another iPad or Xbox, with a closed software distribution model that puts an end to the PC as a general-purpose computing device."

      Because it is. Metro is already there and as Microsoft has told us over on MSDN, they intend to kill the desktop. But, even if they don't kill the desktop or don't do it for a long time, Metro is already a completely walled garden, and contrary to a post from someone else, Metro is NOT just for tablets, it's for non-tablets... it's for all Windows 8 machines too and it is what Microsoft is encourage us over on MSDN to develop for on desktop and laptop machines as opposed to the desktop UI.

      This is a real concern and a real issue. Microsoft has announced to us in MSDN that they intend to deprecate the desktop eventually, which will turn Windows into a 100% walled garden. So yes, this is a very big concern and I, as both a developer AND a consumer, am extremely concerned.
      Software Architect 1982
  • Been using Windows 8 for a month now

    All existing software, i.e. stuff from Windows 7 works exactly the same on Windows 8 as there's no change to the desktop.

    Hopefully this article will open up a few people's eyes to how Windows 8 actually works.

    Sure there are improvements that need to be made and they will be, example they need to add more visual cues to performing certain actions.
    General C#
    • One big change to the desktop

      The Start button is gone, so if you want to launch an app, you have to go to the metro interface and search for it. It's absolutely moronic. Yes, I could pin everything to the task bar or create a desktop icon, but there was absolutely no need to take the Start button away. Whoever decided that should be worked over by a bunch of guys with bats.
      jackbond
      • One big change to the desktop

        So, prior to win8 you click on the start button and search through a short list of recently used apps, apps which you have pinned to the start button or search through an alphabetic list which scrolls vertically.

        Now in windows 8 you have a list of apps which you can organize and group on the desktop in any fashion you wish. You can also name the groups anything you wish. You can pin as many apps as you like to the desktop or not pin any. If an app is not pinned to the desktop all you need to do is start typing the name of the app and you get a list of apps matching what you typed or you can bring up a full list of all apps on your computer just like you can with the start button. The only difference is searching through a vertical list (start button) or a list which is in coulmns and rows.

        While it is a change it is not a change that is hard to learn ( 5 to 15 minutes tops)
        !BloodThirst!
        • And its the truth.

          I have to imagine we have all heard the screaming haters. But every time I read a response to the hatred it makes it abundantly clear that the haters do not have a leg to stand on. They are Windows haters and they have had to live through a dry spell because Windows 7 was so well received they would appear to be true idiots trying to explain Windows 7 as a disaster, but Windows 8 is different, and like all haters, its easy to say something is worth hating because its different. Even if in the final analysis the explanation for why it should be hated is lacking in any true substance.

          Its beyond me why the haters just cannot leave it alone. That goes for all the haters. Just because an OS of particular brand may be severely unappealing to you, for what may be excellent reasons for you, the pure failure to see that it dosnt matter how good your reasons are for you, others have their own reasons and they are better reasons for them. There is no point in trying to explain your way to victory when its just a colossal waste of time. And if you could have the simplest understanding of human nature and what comes out of that you would understand what a colossal waste of time.

          For those who just don’t get it, here is how to think about it. If you love Linux, and you honestly feel that it has far more to offer overall than either OSX or Windows, how much luck am I going to have trying to convince you that you are out of your mind and that Linux is a waste of time? No luck. And you know why. It goes exactly the same for any other person who is happy with their OS of choice. Learn to accept the fact that no current major OS is a bad OS. It’s a fact. Some suit some people better than others. Like it or not it’s a real live fact and being a hater isn’t going to change reality.
          Cayble
          • And its the truth

            Everyone is intitled to their own opinion. Looking at the multiple posts under your name are you really unbiased. You may not like what people say but it is their right to express it.. The use of language in your post show emotional distress that anyone could make nasty comments on MS products. You should realise that most companies appreciate feedback, thats how a company improves its products. So My view is, get a life grow up and stop complaining about people complaining.
            barney@...
      • Were you really that enamoured with the Start button?

        Or was it simply force of habit? I've been using W8 for a little over a week now, and I'm kind of getting used to using the Windows key the same way I used to use the Start button. I'm not saying it's better yet, but the more I use this interface the more it makes sense to me.

        Personally I think almost all of the griping about W8 is simply people don't like change.
        dinomutt
      • Mini desktop (Start Screen) for the desktop

        I agree, now you have a start screen button. The start screen I have found you can tailor to mimic the start menu. But it is still not efficient. Adding this start screen creates a pre desktop to the desktop which is confusing. The start button was a tool to enhance the existing desktop, now the start screen mushes it all up. It is badly designed for a desktop environment. Even worse, Windows 8 boots to the start screen with no option to bypass it.
        Stringy_D
  • Great article!

    I was expecting Mary J. to come up with this kind of article before but I'm glad you did, at last someone has taken the time to actually explain how the software distribution works on Windows 8 and dismiss urban myths.
    runner50783
  • Good article!!

    An article that is not judgemental rather explains the approach in detail. Most of the time we can only see articles that either claims Windows 8 (or any other gadget) to be dismissal or a success. Merely nothing more than a pridiction.

    As someone already said "non-sensationalist writing style is a refreshing".
    jackonemillion
  • Brilliant article!

    Hopefully a lot of people will read this article and realise that people like "Notch" really are talking nonsense.
    wp7mango
    • I agree.

      People like "Notch" wrote a game that people like. That game is still available on Windows 8.

      Trouble with "notch" is that his game has fueled his ego.

      I don't see what his problem is. It's a terrible game anyway, not matter what distribution model.
      Bozzer
    • You're missing the point.

      You're missing the entire point! They aren't talking nonsense. This article is - and it doesn't even know what people are complaining about! YOU CANNOT INSTALL WINDOWS 8 APPS WITHOUT GOING THROUGH THE STORE! THAT'S CALLED A CLOSED SYSTEM! That's what Notch is talking about.
      dillydadally
  • Metro apps are in a walled garden

    I could not develop and distribute/sell my Metro app from my site without going through MS and letting them take a cut.

    I've got no problem that a store exists and some business sideloading, but I want to distribute by myself without having MS getting in the way... And having MS in the way is the only way to the Metro apps.

    No complain about the rest of Windows 8 which still have the old paradigm, just Metro app I complain about.
    lepoete73
    • But it is okay paying apple for the

      But it is okay paying apple for the same thing, as long as it is not MS. If you are deloping your app for the metro, that means your are developing for mobile apps like the phone and tablets, for those devices, google and apple take cuts, why not MS? If your argument is that your app is for the desktop which you deemed should be opened, then write your software as you would for win7 using the desktop installation mode through your download site or reseller site, that mode is still very alive in win8.

      So what walled garden are you still referring to?
      Alfred Soyemi
      • and if he did that

        no one with a windows RT tablet would be able to download his app. so, assuming windows RT does well (which I'm doubtful of, but that's a separate issue), it's totally pointless for him to make a metro app that can't run on windows RT.
        theoilman
        • PLS Read reziol comment below

          Also, I hope you are aware that "windows RT tablet" you alluded is part of the mobile devices I was talking about.
          But I do believe that reziol below even expanciated better than I did in his article titled "Read the article again"
          I can only hope that folks get pissed up with MS or any other company for that matter for a justifiable reason which in this case and on this particular subject I find lacking.
          Alfred Soyemi