When will Microsoft provide a unified app delivery system for Windows?
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.
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, 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.
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.
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
Thank Apple for making patching
sexy. Microsoft needs to figure that out for itself.
Author's note: After 10 years as a
part of eWEEK Labs, this will be my last column. I'd like to express my
gratitude to all the editors and artists who helped me produce a body of work of
which I'm proud. I'd also like to thank the current and past members of eWEEK
Labs, who fostered a tremendous sense of pride and camaraderie that I will