Microsoft Needs To Get On The Apps Bandwagon

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It is time for Microsoft to provide a fully unified app delivery system for Windows, says Andrew Garcia

Microsoft still has not been able to deliver on the vision of a unified application delivery system for the Windows operating system, although just about every other platform – for the desktop or mobile devices – now has its own version of an app store.

Several years ago, after concluding a review of the then-new second generation version of Microsoft Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), I had a lengthy discussion with my future boss, Jason Brooks, about where we wanted to see the patching platform go. We both agreed that WSUS and Windows Update should support third-party applications.

WSUS is ‘lacking’

Jason found WSUS lacking compared to similar software deployment tools for Linux  (such as apt, yum or smartd) because WSUS focused primarily on the Windows operating system alone.

With the Linux tools, he argued, he could simply add a repository to his relevant configuration, enabling him to download and install software from different sources, all while using the same tool.

Meanwhile, I was concerned about update tools proliferation on the Windows side. At that time, independent software vendors (ISVs) created countless single-vendor update applets, many of which would commonly run in the background on Windows.

I thought WSUS seemed a viable option to grow into use with non-Microsoft applications – after all, the client component was already baked into Windows – and Microsoft officials dropped hints that such functionality was in the works.

Unfortunately, over time, we saw those hints evolve into support for only a few other Microsoft applications and third-party drivers, instead of a full complement of third-party applications.

Apple’s App Store

Years later, Apple achieved staggering success with its mobile App Store, delivering a breathtaking amount of software (just passing the 10 billion download mark) that keeps the audience engaged with the devices and platform.

In the process, Apple has become an innovator that everyone else tries to equal. The company’s release of the App Store for Mac last month indicates that such a marketplace can be successful on the desktop as well.

But when will Microsoft join the party? Microsoft tried and failed once, with the ill-fated Windows Marketplace that was shuttered and repurposed in 2008.

The Zune Marketplace is just starting to deliver for the reborn Windows Phone platform. But with Windows proper, Microsoft has thus far been reluctant to try again, although it is hinting at app store functionality as part of Windows 8.

Image problem

I certainly hope Microsoft finds a way to deliver audience engagement in that future effort. WSUS and Microsoft Update show us that Microsoft knows how to efficiently deliver code to a computer, but that process has an image problem.

On Windows, patching is boring and mundane – a necessary evil that is best performed silently and automatically.

Apple and the App Store teach us just the opposite lesson: Patching can be fun and lifestyle-enhancing because the next great thing – something you never knew you always needed – is just around the corner.

Thank Apple for making patching sexy. Microsoft needs to figure that out for itself.