Microsoft previews Windows 8 app store, launching with the beta in late February

The beta of Windows 8 will launch in late February 2012, as will its app store, which initially will include only free apps from developers Microsoft invites.

On December 6, Microsoft offered a press preview of the app store it is building for Windows 8 -- and which will launch in late February 2012, concurrent with the release of the one and only Windows 8 beta.

(The Next Web reported recently that the Windows 8 beta would hit in late February, according to their unnamed sources.)

As Microsoft indicated at Build, its Store will allow licensing, purchase and download of Metro-style apps from directly within the Store. Desktop (non-Metro-style) apps cannot be downloaded from inside the store, but developers can promote those apps there and offer links to them, officials said back in September.

At today's Store preview, Microsoft officials shared updated stats on Windows. They claimed that there are now 1.25 billion Windows PCs in existence (1 billion was the last Microsoft-provided figure I recall). They said that 3 million copies of Windows 8 developer preview have been downloaded since September, when Microsoft made that version available to interested testers. And they said there have been 500 million copies of Windows 7 sold to date. (That figure was 400 million, as of July 2011.)

According to AllThingsD, which liveblogged the store preview, Microsoft is allowing developers to price apps from between $1.49 to $999.99 (as well as offer them for free, one would assume). There will be gradations in the percentage Microsoft gets as its cut, blogged Ina Fried, the AllThingsD reporter covering the event. Microsoft will start with a 30 percent cut, which will drop to 20 percent as soon as an app makes $25,000 from sales and in-app purchases.

Fried noted that Google takes a five percent cut on apps sold through the Chrome Web Store, while Apple gets 30 percent for its Mac and iOS app stores.

When Microsoft launches the app store in late February, it will include free apps only, and included apps will only include those from developers that received invitations from Microsoft, Fried blogged.

Update: A few more tidbits:

* Microsoft is launching a "First Apps Contest" for developers who'd like their apps to be considered for the Store’s opening. More details on the contest can be found at buildwindowscontest.com.

* The Windows 8 App Certification Kit, Windows Developer Dashboard and the Windows Store App Certification requirements, are all going to be available via this MSDN page.

*A new Windows Store blog launched today, as well.

Now that Microsoft has (surprisingly) shared its beta date target, I already am seeing tweets from folks wondering whether February means Windows 8 can still hit the rumored release-to-manufacturing (RTM) target of Q2/Q3 2012. I, for one, believe it still can, given Microsoft's increasingly condensed beta cycle and corporate decisions to release code only when it's pretty much complete.

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