Windows 8 needs to succeed on desktops to succeed on mobile

How can Microsoft get developers to commit to making great Metro apps? Make Windows 8 something people want on their desktops.

Microsoft’s Windows Store, the official marketplace for apps for owners of computers or tablets running Windows 8, is arriving in February. Its revenue split with developers will be competitive (70 to 80 percent, increasing with revenue), and maybe even friendly (or just friendlier) to open source software. They’re even letting companies create their own in-house mini-Stores to make distributing apps to employees really simple.

Now they just have to sell Windows 8, and the Windows Store, to the makers of the next Angry Birds, Instapaper, or Carcassonne.

Derrick Harris at GigaOM cites a source describing the nature of the Windows Store as a “double-edged sword” (whether everything in the universe is a double-edged sword or not is another matter for another day). The point Harris’ post makes is that the notable number of .NET developers, who make more traditional Windows-style applications, will have to learn entirely new runtimes and HTML5 or XAML interface styles to make their apps work as a new Metro-style app) available in the Windows Store. Non-tablet computers can still run traditional Windows apps in their “Desktop” mode, but developers can’t offer those apps in the Windows Store.

Labyrinth game, listed in the Windows Store

Of course, lots of developers are using web-style designs and interfaces to make apps already--they’re just doing it for Apple’s more provably profitable App Store, or the potentially lucrative Android Market. And while each platform touts the web-derived design of their app methods, none of them actually make it easy to quickly port an app from one marketplace to another. So it seems the big question will be, what will compel developers to learn yet another app platform, especially if a big target like enterprise might be skipping it and staying in “Desktop” development?

Personally, I think Microsoft should call its shot, provide a time frame for the transition, and then go for it. The strongest aspect of Windows 8, to my eyes, is the utter simplicity and crisp design of the Metro experience, and the potential for very strong ties between traditional computers and tablets, both running Windows 8. And Microsoft isn’t just moving toward a more mobile-aware design and interface aesthetic because it wants to--it’s where customers are headed. The iPad dominates the enterprise tablet market in large part because it’s the tablet that dominates the consumer market, and more companies are adopting a bring-your-own policy to mobile devices.

If Windows 8 has a chance to expand Windows’ market share in both fields, it’s by making Windows 8 a system that people want on their consumer devices, both desktops and mobile. And I don’t think it’s a bad guess that more people will like Metro apps than barely-tweaked Windows “Desktop” apps, after the usual gripe-and-adjust period. One OS, one look, and maybe, for a few years down the road, support for the older apps with the three buttons in the corner and all that jazz. If you’re going to ask developers to commit, give them a big, easily navigable space to commit to.

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