Windows 8 App Store, Xbox Revamp, HP Agreement Marked Microsoft Week

Microsoft's week involved the unveiling of the Windows 8 app store, a revamp of the Xbox's Live Dashboard and a cloud agreement with Hewlett-Packard.

Microsoft's week included a new partnership agreement with Hewlett-Packard and the unveiling of the long-anticipated app store for the upcoming Windows 8.

Microsoft and HP plan on jointly offering private and public cloud solutions for businesses, under the terms of a newly announced four-year initiative.

The solutions in question involve separate verticals: "Private Cloud," combining HP Enterprise Cloud Services with Microsoft cloud products-including Microsoft Exchange Server 2010, SharePoint Server 2010 and Lync Server 2010-all delivered via HP data centers; "Public Cloud," primarily Microsoft's Office 365 cloud-productivity software; and a "Hybrid Solution" wherein HP resells Office 365 with HP Enterprise Cloud Services.

"This alliance not only broadens Microsoft's geographic reach," Mark Hill, vice president of Microsoft's Enterprise Server Group, wrote in a Dec. 8 statement, "it gives customers maximum flexibility to choose a cloud computing solution that meets their organization's specialized messaging and collaboration needs."

Microsoft has been making its own determined cloud push, with services including Office 365 and Windows Azure, as part of an overall attempt to expand its revenue base beyond traditional, desktop-bound software such as Windows and Office.

This week, Microsoft also unveiled Windows Store, its long-anticipated apps storefront for Windows 8, its operating system revamp due for release sometime in 2012.

In the battle against Apple's App Store, Microsoft is likely banking on Windows 8 attracting a broad audience of both consumers and business users, which in turn would generate a significant market for everything from games to enterprise applications. Businesses are a key audience for Microsoft products, and thus a target of the company's earliest communications regarding its new storefront.

"Enterprise developers have been asking about their path to market with Metro style apps," Ted Dworkin, partner program manager for the Windows Store, wrote in a Dec. 6 posting on the new Windows Store blog. "And, in turn, IT administrators have been asking about deployment and management scenarios, such as compliance and security."

Microsoft's way of fulfilling those enterprise needs, apparently, centers on giving businesses direct control over app deployment. "Enterprises can choose to limit access to the Windows Store catalog by their employees, or allow access but restrict certain apps," he wrote. "In addition, enterprises can choose to deploy Metro style apps directly to PCs, without going through the Store infrastructure."

Microsoft is also giving developers controls over in-app advertising, and highlighting how the app certification will be "predictable." The latter is another swipe at Apple, whose app-approval process has attracted criticism from some developers as too opaque.

At the same time, Microsoft announced that the Windows 8 beta will arrive in February. Unlike previous versions of the operating system with their desktop-style interface, the upcoming operating system's start screen centers on a set of colorful, touchable tiles linked to applications-the better to port it onto tablets and other touch-centric form-factors.

Microsoft also took additional steps to gain further control of the living room, issuing a radical revamp to Xbox's Live Dashboard that repositions the gaming console as more of a home-entertainment center. Post-revamp, those with the Kinect hands-free controller linked to their Xbox will have the ability to navigate through an array of programming via voice and gesture command. The new interface embraces the same tile-centric "Metro" theme already present in Windows Phone, and soon in Windows 8.

With millions of Xbox Live subscribers, the new Xbox dashboard will inevitably challenge both Google TV and Apple TV for user eyeballs. That will surely raise the competitive stakes in 2012, as if the three companies' battles in mobile operating systems (Android, iOS, and Windows Phone) and other areas weren't enough.

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