Why there should be a Windows App Store

Much has been written about app stores–online servers, each run by their respective companies, that sell software (apps) to the users of those systems. Most of the major platforms have app stores: Apple, BlackBerry and Android were first, followed most recently by Windows.

Generally speaking, app stores can be a good–sometimes only–source of apps for that system. For example, Apple’s iOS App Store is the sole supplier of apps for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch (unless the device is jailbroken–unauthorized changes have been made to the hardware system contrary to Apple’s policies). BlackBerry and Android offer apps through their stores, but these are (for the most part anyway) open platforms, and there are other places where one could could get third-party ones.

At present Apple has a Mac App Store, but users of that system are not forced to run only apps from that store…at least, not yet. Some are frightened at the very real possibility that at some point Apple will lock down its Mac App Store the same way it has its iOS one. This is especially disconcerting, as OS X and iOS appear to be slowly merging into one OS.

Some controversy arose when Microsoft announced it would be opening its own app store, largely because of the huge and overwhelming success of Apple’s. It, too, would be the sole supplier of apps for Windows 8, unless users wanted to use unsavory and unauthorized techniques to open up their system.

Everyone (except most Apple users) say they want an open system. Be careful of what you wish for.

In a recent story, PCWorld.com discussed why the Microsoft App Store is a good idea:

Even as Microsoft tries to popularize its Windows Store for PC apps, shown above, the market for Windows crapware remains alive and well.

A couple of stories have bubbled up recently about how lucrative the crapware business can be. It started with a post from TechCrunch about InstallMonetizer, a wrapper for Windows desktop software that presents “offers” to users after installation. For instance, users might see an offer to install a third-party browser toolbar or some anti-virus software. If the user agrees, the original software developer gets paid.

The idea of crapware installers isn’t new. What’s interesting about this particular example—aside from its seemingly contradictory privacy policies—is that it’s backed by $500,000 in venture capital and supported by startup accelerator Y Combinator. Vince Mundy, CEO of InstallMonetizer, told TechCrunch that the software is profitable, and that it doubles its number of bundled software installations every two or three months. It’s good to be a crapware pusher.

The story on InstallMonetizer stoked an even more interesting story by Long Zheng, who develops the Twitter client MetroTwit for Windows. On his blog, Zheng talked about a few of the offers he’s received over the years to wrap crapware installers around MetroTwit.

One of these offers estimated that Zheng would earn $90,000 to $120,000 per year for participating. (Zheng refused, citing a strict policy not to install any third-party apps with MetroTwit.)

MetroTwit

InstallMonetizer frames itself as a way to help small developers make money on their hard work. And in fairness, the company says screens its advertisers for potential adware and spyware history.

Still, no matter how safe the service is, there’s no getting around the inherent sleaziness of a program that tries to pile toolbars and other unwanted junk on top of the thing you actually downloaded.

This is exactly why Windows needs its own app store, despite the protests of veteran users who loathe closed ecosystems. Though I hope Microsoft always allows Windows users to install desktop software, the best way fend off crapware is to also provide a controlled environment, such as the Windows Store, for users who want it. That way, users won’t end up with unwanted software, and developers can tap into the store’s existing systems for billing and in-app purchases, ideally leading to more sales.

The Windows Store is still young, and unlikely to cripple the crapware market any time soon. But hopefully it’ll grow over time, pulling users away from unscrupulous desktop software and making the crapware business a little less lucrative.

Like the other changes and new items Microsoft has announced in the past several months, this one might take a while to catch on as well.

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