Microsoft released its Windows 8 Release Preview May 31, a follow-up to the Consumer Preview of the new operating system that it released in February. Included in the new Release is an early look at Windows Store, Microsofts answer to the App Storein as much as Windows 8, with its Metro aesthetic, is an answer to Apples success and the halo effects that have endeared many a PC user to the iPhone, iPad and even Mac.
Microsoft has a tremendous amount riding on its new platform, which is widely expected to ship this fall. Global purchases of PCs have been put on hold, as buyers wait and see, and the tablet market is expected to shift with the introduction of a new, major player, as a considerable portion of enterprise customers, more comfortable with Microsoft than with Apple, finally embrace the tablet form factor.
The Release Preview store offers an app catalog for users in 26 markets, up from five during the Consumer Preview, as well as 33 new developer submission locales and more on the way.
After all, a thriving Store ecosystem depends on great customer and developer experiences, Ted Dworkin, partner director of Microsoft Program Management, said in a May 31 post on the Windows Store blog, announcing the Store in the Release Preview.
While the Store will undergo any number of changes before its final releasea major point of the Preview is to collect feedback and adjust as necessarythe early feedback suggests Microsoft has a good deal of work ahead of it before Windows Store comes close to the usability of Apples App Store.
Cnets Lance Whitney, after spending time in the store, wrote that it still doesnt feel user-friendly.
He also wasnt keen on the way apps are downloaded. Right-clicking an image can pause or cancel the download, but Whitney found the way the design is implemented to be not very useful. Most Metro apps seem small and can download in a manner of seconds, he wrote. Several of the apps I selected finished downloading before I had a chance to get to the pause or cancel options.
Despite Microsofts many enhancements, he added, the store still feels awkward to me.
Ars Technicas Jon Brodkin noted that a search box isnt immediately visible, as it is in the Mac and iPad App Stores. He also had problems selecting multiple apps, and pointed out a new zooming in and out feature that lets users see more content without having to scroll right.
I have a hard time using the Windows Store, he wrote, and not wishing the home screen had a plainly visible categories option with a drop-down list containing the names of all the categories at once.
However, Ed Bott, writing for ZDnet, was impressed by a number of new Metro-style apps in the Windows Store, including two slick Twitter clients, a much-improved Amazon Kindle Reader and a smart-looking Wikipedia app.
Bott had a number of positive things to say about the Release Preview overall, calling some of the built-in apps in this new version light years ahead of the rudimentary apps in the Consumer Previews. The biggest surprise, he said, was a trio of Metro-style apps that aggregate news, sports and travel in a way that really shows what a well-designed Metro app is capable of doing. These apps, along with the previously released Finance and Weather apps, depend on an extraordinarily tight integration with Microsofts Bing search platform.
IDG analyst Al Hilwa, sharing early thoughts on Windows 8 in a June 1 research note, was also impressed and surprisedby the integration of Flash, which he said should help set apart Windows tablets from the iPad, and also Microsofts decision to make Do Not Track a default that users have to un-tick, instead of the reverse.
No doubt this was a tough discussion internally with the advertising franchise, but I think Microsoft made the right choice, wrote Hilwa. With this move, they have an opportunity to build up the trust in their brand and differentiate it from Android and Google.
For those who found the options in the store to be rather slim, the Windows Store blog notes that Microsoft plans to keep adding apps during the Release Preview timeframe. Whats there is just the beginning.