Ina Fried

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Interview: Microsoft’s Steven Sinofsky on Why a Windows Store Makes Sense

Although Windows 8’s built-in app store represents a big shift for how developers sell their wares, Microsoft’s top operating-system executive characterized it as a natural evolution.

Users had been accustomed to scouring retail store shelves, but Windows President Steven Sinofsky said expectations have shifted, and consumers are looking to download the programs they need.

“What has dramatically changed over the years is digital distribution of software,” Sinofsky told AllThingsD in an interview Tuesday, shortly after Microsoft announced its plans for the marketplace at an event in San Francisco.

The Windows Store is a key component of Microsoft’s biggest overhaul in years for its flagship operating system. In addition to changing the way apps are sold, Microsoft is also changing the way they are programmed, and expanding the types of chips on which programs will run.

Microsoft is looking to deliver the operating system in fairly short order — on Tuesday, the company said a beta would be available in late February. Windows 8 is widely expected to arrive late next year, though Sinofsky declined to say anything about when the final version would ship.

Well, I asked, is it fair to say that things are going well?

“I always feel great,” Sinofsky said. “I get to come to work every day and see the build from the night before, and every day we do more stuff.”

I also got clarifications on a few nerdy details.

First of all, Microsoft has not changed its plans to make the store mandatory for developers looking to sell new-style Windows 8 apps to individuals. Businesses and developers will have their own means for delivering programs to users, though Sinofsky said Microsoft is not yet ready to detail just how that will work.

“When we get to beta, we will detail the mechanism,” he said.

Sinofsky also clarified that the Windows Store won’t be ported backward to run on older Windows versions. Though understandable, given that the marketplace is designed for all-new apps, the move means that Microsoft will have to build from the ground up when it comes to recruiting developers and building a user base.

That leaves Microsoft vulnerable to a chicken-or-egg problem at launch, though it can count on the fact that hundreds of millions of machines are sold each year, with the vast majority running the latest version of Windows.

Sinofsky would not address a question that has been making the rounds on Windows sites in recent days — whether Windows 8 machines running ARM processors will be able to run classic desktop-style applications.

Microsoft has demonstrated a classic desktop running on an ARM chip, though the company stressed that was merely a technology demonstration; Sinofsky declined to comment on Microsoft’s plans in that area.

And while Microsoft detailed the cut it expects to take from the Windows store (30 percent on apps or 20 percent once they generate $25,000 in sales), the company isn’t offering any guesses on just how big that business could be.

At last January’s CES, Microsoft confirmed its plans to have Windows 8 run on the ARM-based chips that power smartphones and tablets, along with the Intel and AMD chips that have traditionally been used. At our D9 conference in June, Sinofsky showed off the new look of Windows 8; the company added further technical details and issued an early preview release at its Build developer conference in September.

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When AllThingsD began, we told readers we were aiming to present a fusion of new-media timeliness and energy with old-media standards for quality and ethics. And we hope you agree that we’ve done that.

— Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, in their farewell D post