What Windows 8 really needs: Apps

  • Article by: JANET I. TU , Seattle Times
  • Updated: October 24, 2012 - 10:03 PM

Unfortunately for Microsoft, developers are in a wait-and-see mode.

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An employee at a Microsoft store, right, explained the new Windows 8 operating system on a tablet in Bellevue, Wash. Windows 8’s new design, which features many bold changes, goes on sale Friday.

Photo: Stuart Isett, New York Times

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Microsoft Corp. is known for its vast network of developers -- independent, third-party creators of applications and programs that run on its Windows platform.

But can Microsoft persuade that extensive developer base to create apps for Windows 8, an operating system that's radically different from any other Windows version and comes with uncertainty over whether customers will flock to it?

As Microsoft prepares to launch Windows 8 at a media event Thursday in New York, getting developers to create apps for the operating system is one of the biggest questions hovering over the company. It's particularly crucial to the success of Windows RT, the Windows 8 version designed to run on tablets competing directly with Apple's iPad.

Unlike Windows 8 machines, devices running Windows RT will not be able to run legacy or desktop Windows apps (other than the Office suite that comes with the devices). Rather, customers will have to rely on apps available only through the online Windows Store.

"Without stellar apps, Windows RT is a machine that runs Office and a Web browser," said Wes Miller, an analyst with independent research firm Directions on Microsoft in Kirkland, Wash. But "if developers build the apps, that's what drives the platform."

The challenge for Microsoft is that many developers seem to be in wait-and-see mode.

Microsoft, meanwhile, has been pushing its new platform hard, significantly increasing the number of "dev camps," localized gatherings for developers to learn about creating Windows apps.

Company executives have also touted the potential economic opportunity tied to Windows 8, saying, as CEO Steve Ballmer did, that 400 million PCs will be running Windows 8 in the next year.

"Microsoft has a huge install base. As a developer, you can't ignore that," said Frank Gillett, an analyst with Forrester Research. "The question is how fast the install base will convert [to Windows 8] and how fast [developers can] monetize that."

The Windows Store is Microsoft's answer to the app marketplaces that have cropped up in recent years, most notably the Apple iTunes App Store and Google Play.

"The big question mark heading into the launch is: Are the apps going to be there?" said Tom Mainelli, an analyst with research firm IDC. "There's not a lot in there right now."

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