by on April 5, 2010, in

Where is the App Store for Windows? Why Microsoft Should Fear Developer Drain.

Selling little apps for little money is next to impossible – on Windows. It works great on another platform, though: the iPhone. Such an imbalance has consequences: Apple making it easy for developers to actually sell their programs creates a pressure that might well cause a “developer drain” on the Windows platform.

It’s the Apps, Stupid!

The true value in a platform lies in the richness of its application ecosystem. Windows traditionally has been very strong here. If one application exists for a specific task, it is a Windows application. If two exist, chances are high that both are Windows applications. I think it is realistic to assume that Mac/Linux applications only emerge after at least two Windows counterparts exist (as always, the exception proves the rule).

There is much power in application availability. Why do people use Windows and not some other OS? Because it runs the software they want. Remember the home computer wars in the 80s? Different vendors competing with incompatible platforms. Who won? Those who ran the most programs.

People want software, not operating systems. They will use whatever OS makes it easiest for them to run the applications they need.

In other words, the value in a platform lies in the number and quality of the applications that are available for it.

Developers are like Mothers

Without mothers, a species dies. Without developers, an operating system is doomed. Again, Windows has been very strong here for a very long time. But that might change.

Developers need to earn a living, just like everybody else. In order to make money, they sell their applications. Nothing new here. But how does a developer decide which platform to target? Although not everyone will admit it, he or she will develop for the platform that promises the highest return on investment, or income. Traditionally this has been Windows because of the sheer number of potential buyers. But there is something fundamentally wrong in the Windows world: it is extremely difficult to turn potential buyers into actual buyers.

Ask yourself: How many little helper apps have you recently bought? Or even: how many programs of any kind have you recently bought? For almost everybody these numbers will be zero – on Windows. On the other hand, iPhone users regularly buy software. This mismatch may initiate a process that could ultimately sound the death knell for Windows: developers migrating from Windows to Apple because Apple makes it easier to earn money. Windows users do not buy software – Apple users do. The result is a developer drain for the Windows platform.

Stopping the Drain

People buy software in the app store because a) it is the only way to get software onto their devices, b) it is easy and c) because apps are inexpensive. Nobody has a problem paying 79 cents for an application. But 30 dollars? No way!

Windows applications are too expensive because they are too difficult to sell. The conversion rate from “potential buyer” to “buyer” is simply too low. That was no problem as long as nobody had a better way of selling software. But then Apple created the app store infrastructure for its iPhone and iPad devices and proved to the world that people do buy software if the process is painless and prices are right (meaning: low). Now Microsoft has a problem: Windows lacks the infrastructure Apple has.

I can only think of one way to remedy that: an app store for Windows. As unimaginative as that sounds, Microsoft, its customers and its developers would benefit in multiple ways. Because people might start actually buying software, the volume of the Windows software market would increase, luring more deveopers to the table. Since the total number of developers on this planet is finite, Microsoft’s competitors would lose developers. End users, on the other hand, would finally have a one stop shop where they could find, buy and install the programs they need without having to graze the internet.

In addition to all of the above, a Windows app store would allow automatic updating of any application. Windows has a bad reputation when it comes to security. But the vast majority of security holes are not in Windows, but in third-party applications that run on Windows. If users only were to update, patch and fix their software whenever a new version is released, the world would be a safer place… With an app store integrated into Microsoft Update that dream might become reality – and dispose of the myriad of updater services littering most Windows installations.

Theses

Here are some theses this article’s logic is built upon.

  • Buying software must be easy.
  • Software must be inexpensive or it will not be bought.
  • The concept of “shareware” is antequated. If the price low enough, people will just buy the software.
  • Windows users do not buy software because Windows programs are too expensive and buying is too complicated.
  • iPhone users buy software because the process is quick and easy and apps are inexpensive.
  • Developers switch to Apple because of the app store.
  • A Windows app store would make software sales explode.
  • With an app store, developers would earn more even though they would sell their programs at a fraction of the current price because of the higher number of sales.
  • Windows would be a much safer platform if Microsoft would centralize application patching.

References

Jeff Atwood: The iPhone Software Revolution
Jeff Atwood: Software Pricing: Are We Doing It Wrong?

Previous Article How to Enable Drag and Drop for an Elevated MFC Application on Vista/Windows 7
Next Article New Articles, Tools, Tips and Tricks: Office 2010, RDS/XenApp, Windows, Web