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Innovation

Giving Windows a storefront

Last night, at an event in San Francisco, Microsoft gave developers more details of its upcoming Windows 8 application store. While much of the structure of the store and its operational procedures had been unveiled at BUILD in September, the latest updates flesh out policies, processes, and above all, pricing.

Last night, at an event in San Francisco, Microsoft gave developers more details of its upcoming Windows 8 application store. While much of the structure of the store and its operational procedures had been unveiled at BUILD in September, the latest updates flesh out policies, processes, and above all, pricing.

Intended to be the way for end users to purchase and install Metro-style applications on Windows 8, the new Windows Store is itself a Metro-style application, built using HTML5 and JavaScript. There's not much difference between the prototype shown at BUILD (but not included in the Windows 8 Developer Preview) and what was shown yesterday – it's got the same Metro look-and-feel as the Windows Phone Marketplace and the game, music and video marketplaces in the new Metro update to the Xbox Dashboard. It also shares many of the same features as those existing stores, not surprisingly, as Microsoft has had several years experience in running application stores like this.

One of the more interesting features is the stores integration with IE10. If a site has an associated app, it'll be possible to just put in a single line of code in the page HTML that will light up an app button in the IE address bar. Click this, and you'll go straight to the app's Windows Store page ready to download the app. If you've installed the app already the same button will act as a launcher, making it easier for sites to handle application integration – especially where an app complements a site (Microsoft's example is the Evernote note-taking application). Discoverability is important too, and the store will be searchable from search engines, with deep links to application pages. Enterprise applications haven't been left out, and businesses will be able to push them directly to PCs without using the store, with tools to handle application deployment on employees own devices as well.

Where the Windows Store really differs from other stores is in how it handles payments to developers. While the starting rate is the 70:30 split pioneered by Apple, if your app is successful and makes more than $25000, you'll start getting 80% of the revenue. Starting prices for pay-for applications are also higher, starting at $1.49. Developers will be able to use the same trial mechanisms as Windows Phone, with quick upgrade to the full version with in app payments (which can use Microsoft's own system with a 30% cut, or an application's own payment service, without the cut). Registration for the store is cheaper than other stores too, $49 for individual developers and $99 for companies.

Microsoft has looked at the problems of some of the other stores, and, as originally discussed at BUILD, intends to make its store as transparent as possible. Microsoft is providing details of its application policies in advance, and is also shipping an Application Certification Kit which provides developers with a local copy of the automated testing tools used by the store – aiming to ensure that applications are fully tested and compliant with the store's technical standards before being submitted. A developer dashboard will show bug reports and application telemetry from approved apps, helping developers make continual improvements to their code.

The Windows Store announcement also revealed when the public will get its hands on the beta of Windows 8. While demonstrations are still expected at CES 2012 in Steve Ballmer's keynote and at the Microsoft stand, the beta will be available for public download in late February 2012, at the same time as the Windows Store opens for business. Developers can get applications for the platform into the store at launch (and a Samsung BUILD Developer Tablet) by entering a contest that Microsoft is running – with submissions due by January 8th.

Simon Bisson

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