Windows 8 PCs Available on Friday, But Windows Store Is Still Lightweight

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At its Windows 8 launch in New York City, Microsoft went official with the Windows Store, an online marketplace for apps designed to run across Intel-based Windows 8 tablets in addition to ARM-based Windows RT tablets. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and other execs were vague about the numbers of apps in the store right now, but an early look showed many of the latest ones to be lightweight and often Web-dependent fare.

With PCs and tablets in a variety of form factors slated for release on Friday, officials promised the addition of both new apps and more hardware devices in the near future. More specifically, Microsoft’s hardware partners will announce additional devices — including lots of Windows Phone 8 smartphone models — by December, launch attendees were told.

Meanwhile, there are already “thousands” of apps in the Windows store, with more being added every week, Ballmer said. Microsoft’s software developer partners “love” the ability to create apps that can run across all-in-one PCs, ultrabooks, and tablets under Microsoft’s new tile-based user interface (UI), according to the Microsoft chief.

Over the next few months, business apps will become available through Microsoft Dynamics and other software providers, Ballmer contended.

On stage, Microsoft demo’d relatively recent additions to the store such as Wikipedia and Microsoft’s own Skype for Windows 98. A quick examination of the Windows Store at a product showcase afterward turned up 87 new ones, supposedly released just over the past few days.

Like Wikipedia and Skype, though, almost all of the latest additions are consumer-oriented, at this point. While versions of well known applications like Picasa and Hulu are also on the list, many of the apps are lesser known titles — such as Cribbage, MyPlans, Magic Math!, and Forecast HD — from smaller developers.

Bigger names joining the Windows Store at various times have included Netflix, Evernote, Fox, ABC News, Amazon, HowStuffWorks, and the New York Times, for instance.

App Pricing Is Low

Still, pricing for Windows Store apps tends to fall into the free to $15 range, more along the lines of phone apps than traditional PC software.

In an unusual scenario, Microsoft’s large ISV partners were absent from the launch event. During the showcase, demos of both hardware and software were conducted by hardware allies like Samsung and Dell. 

Meanwhile, though, tons of major software makers have announced Windows 8-compatible software packages, with many products taking advantage of the new tile interface.

Corel’s WinZip, for example, has announced plans to release a Windows 8-specific “light” edition of its online file sharing app, to be made available shortly after last week’s release of WinZip 17, an edition compatible across Windows 8, 7, Vista and XP.

What It Takes to Get into the Store

In order to be advertised in the Windows Store, however, an app must be able to run on both Intel-based Windows 8 PCs and tablets and ARM-based Windows RT tablets. In addition, Microsoft takes a 30 percent cut of sales revenues. Meanwhile, only five models of RT tablets are slated for availability this week, including Microsoft’s own Slate, demo’d during a second press event on Thursday.

Jason Strong, a Microsoft business development specialist, voiced optimism that Windows Store apps will grow in both numbers and capabilities. Some apps in the store have already gone into second generation status, Strong told NotebookReview at the Windows 8 launch. Fox’s FX app has added new social networking features in the second version, he illustrated.

The Windows RT ARM tablets are outfitted with a special edition of Office known as Office RT. Office RT is “essentially the same” as the Office 13 product for Intel PCs and tablets, except that it excludes Outlook and a few other features, such as Excel add-ins, Strong noted.

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