Ina Fried

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Windows 8’s Answer to the Mac App Store Comes Into Focus Tuesday

After years of leaving it to Windows software makers to sell their own wares, Microsoft’s flagship operating system is finalizing its plans to get into the app store business.

The move won’t come until the debut of Windows 8 — expected next year — but Redmond will share more details on Tuesday at an event in San Francisco.

Back when it first showed the revamped interface at our D9 show in June, Microsoft revealed that Windows 8 would have a built-in software marketplace, though at that point the company wouldn’t comment on the “Store” icon that was clearly visible in the home screen it showed. Microsoft did offer a few more details at its Build developer conference in September.

I’m sure we’ll learn a lot more on Tuesday (and, naturally, AllThingsD will be on hand to get the full skinny) but here’s what we already know.

As of earlier this fall, the plan was that the store will be the exclusive way for developers to distribute new-style Windows 8 apps. Microsoft didn’t share the business details at its developer conference, though several documents made reference to some sort of revenue-sharing arrangement. The store will support free and paid apps, as well as trial versions and in-app payments. Businesses will also be able to make available internal apps to their workers using the store mechanism.

Traditional Windows apps will continue to be sold in the same way they have been — directly from developers and through online and brick and mortar stores. The store won’t be a way for users to directly purchase older-style Windows apps (the ones that run on Windows 7 and earlier versions in addition to Windows 8), but developers of those apps can create a landing page for those apps so they can be found in and linked to from the store.
The Windows Store itself is a new-style Windows 8 app that is linked to from the main start page.

Thanks to the iPhone, app stores are all the rage these days. Google has one for Android and Apple has transferred the concept to the Mac, with the marketplace it built into Lion.

Even though it is basically just following the trend, putting an app store in Windows is a big bet for Microsoft. Windows remains the company’s most important product and a key source of its revenue and profit. Inserting itself into the software distribution process opens up a potentially huge new income stream for Redmond, but also risks alienating developers — many of whom are trying to figure out just how much attention to give Windows these days, especially since new-style Windows apps use a different set of programming languages than those Microsoft has traditionally employed.

While Windows is one of the last to the app store game, Microsoft has considerable experience in this realm, already running online app stores for the Xbox and Windows Phone.

Among the key details to watch for on Tuesday will be what Microsoft’s business terms are for software developers, including the cut it hopes to take and other policies.

It will also be interesting to see if Microsoft has more to say about when it might release a beta version of the software. It handed out an early developer preview at the Build conference, though that edition had none of the code for the store. Developers will clearly need to start kicking the tires on the store fairly soon if Microsoft wants to have its virtual shelves stocked at launch.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work