Windows vs. Retail: has Microsoft closed the wrong store?

At the end of June 2020, Microsoft decided to close its 82 stores worldwide. The company had previously closed its stores temporarily in the wake of the corona pandemic.

It is the disgraceful end of the attempt to establish a prestigious Windows counterpart to the Apple Stores: Despite the success of the Surface series, Microsoft has never been able to create hardware that has been able to gather a fan base that is as convinced as Apple. When it comes to marketing, Microsoft, like most other companies, can’t keep up with Apple. This was manifested, for example, in the fact that Microsoft was unable to turn its stores into tech hotspots and meeting places for juvenile-hip audiences.

Microsoft is now trying to sell the end of the Brick & Mortar Windows Stores something clumsily as something positive – even if it is difficult for outsiders to follow this argument. David Porter, corporate vice president of Microsoft Store, said in a blog post that his company had decided to strategically realign the retail business, including the closure of the physical stores. Porter wrote nothing about exactly what the strategy is – apart from closing the stores – and above all why it should be better for customers.

Microsoft should have closed the Windows App Store instead of its chic stores. Do not you know? You are not alone – and it is not surprising, after all, this app store has never offered anything like a solid software collection. Instead, the virtual store is crammed with apps that are often far from modern standards and therefore do not reach users.

There are several reasons for this development. For a long time, the Windows App Store was only open to the so-called UWP apps. Universal Windows Platform was a concept of Windows 8 that intended to publish apps that run equally well on Windows Phone and Windows 8 (among other Windows platforms like the Xbox). At that time, Microsoft still believed that Windows Phone could be positioned as the dominant mobile operating system. The UWP apps should first inherit the Win32 apps and then conquer the world.

As is well known, that didn’t work. Windows Phone crashed into insignificance, and software developers avoided UWP apps like the devil holy water. The virtual shelves in the Windows App Store emptied, and Microsoft itself is no longer implementing its plans for a UWP version of Office. Microsoft released a UWP app called Office – but it is not a full Office, but only a kind of companion app that is not particularly useful.

The development of UWP apps became so uninteresting that Microsoft began to pay developers for the submission of corresponding applications: In early 2013, a promotional program was started in which the developers could earn between $ 100 and $ 200 per app. The Windows group was so keen to fill the shelves of its app store that quality and security controls were neglected and users began to protest. As a result, Microsoft removed around 1,500 suspicious apps from the store, which however led to the fact that the offer looked even sadder.

In the meantime, the Redmond-based company has realized that the UWP concept has failed: the Internet Explorer successor Edge was originally published as a UWP application, but Microsoft has since released a new version of its browser based on Edge Chromium. Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Microsoft Devices, said: “It’s not that UWP is bad, but UWP is not a 35-year-old platform that has tons of apps written for it.”

Even today, the Windows App Store mainly offers UWP apps for download, from time to time you can find Win32 software. However, some of the best, most useful and most popular Win32 apps are still missing: Chrome, Adobe Reader, CCleaner, Zoom or Dropbox are just a few examples of many. If Microsoft is unable to equip its app store in such a way that added value is created for the users, this is the store that the company should actually close. (fm)

This article is based on an article from our US sister publication Computerworld.

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