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If you're rooting for Windows 8 and its subsequent releases, though, it makes sense to root for the Windows Store, too. There's no end of variables that will determine whether Windows 8 or 8.1 makes its way onto as many devices as Windows 7 or XP did. But a successful Windows Store could help sway doubters that Microsoft's Modern UI is a positive change, for starters. Likewise, it could make a better case for shelling out 900 bucks (or more) for Microsoft's Surface Pro when you can buy an iPad -- keyboard notwithstanding -- for 500 bucks.
[ On a strict software budget? See our slideshow, 8 Windows 8 Apps Under $25. ]
After recently spending a good bit of time shopping the store on a Windows 8 ultrabook, I see a few ways to both improve the Store and do so sooner rather than later -- always a plus in an industry where patience is a precious commodity. Here are four suggestions, with a bias toward business users and how they could help Microsoft differentiate its entry into the app marketplace.
1. Jumpstart The App Economy.
Microsoft has already offered bounties for Windows 8 app developers; why not post bounties for app buyers, too? Buy a Surface Pro, get a $50 credit in the Windows Store. Heck, buy any Windows 8 device above a certain price and get a Windows Store credit. This seems particularly important for the business market, where the hardware is expensive compared to Windows 7 or non-Windows PC options and the value is iffy. It could work on the consumer side of things, too. Get Best Buy to absorb some of the cost and run a Windows 8 retail campaign that taps into our international app fetish. Everyone loves free stuff.
Why would Microsoft give away the store, so to speak? It can afford it, for one. It has already run plenty of deals aimed at getting people to upgrade to Windows 8 and Office 2013. Aside from offering a carrot for customers to take a chance on the revamped OS, it could motivate developers if users are shopping the store with an infusion of house money. Although there are plenty of logical theories on why businesses shouldn't discount products, Microsoft might not have much choice. It was late to the app craze. It needs to draw users into the touchscreen Windows world and get them hooked on the platform, not unlike how Apple and Google have already done.
2. Set Up A "Business Class" Store.
The Windows Store has a ton of catching up to do on the consumer and entertainment front. So be it. Where it could develop a competitive advantage over time is to give some special attention to business users and apps that actually matter to them. Currently, you need to swipe or scroll through 17 categories to get to "Productivity" and 20 to get to "Business" in the Windows Store.
Why not offer business users their own storefront that focuses on apps people actually use to get stuff done and make money? This would limit the noise and save time when browsing and buying. It could also better foster a community element. Businesses and professionals could find out what their peers are using, how they use it, what's working well (and what's not), and so forth -- not unlike the customer ecosystem on the Salesforce platform. I've got no gripe with games, nor having them on business devices. But you shouldn't have to wade through a flock of Angry Ducks to find an app that helps you schedule your time or keep tabs on your website analytics.
The "business class" concept ultimately could empower developers to charge higher prices for their apps, too, by concentrating the business audience in a single place. Professionals willing to pay $899 for a Surface Pro or well north of a thousand bucks for a touchscreen ultrabook might not mind paying a little extra for business apps from a marketplace that caters to their needs, rather than treating them like everyone else.
3. Improve Search.
As the Windows Store infrastructure and inventory grows, search will be increasingly critical, as it is elsewhere online and off. It's decent today -- suggestions as you type, for example -- but it's imperfect. A recent example: I went looking for SkeletonKey's password manager app, but typed in "Skeleton Key" with a space. Three apps return in the results; SkeletonKey isn't one of them. The search tool should be smarter than that, especially for spelling-challenged smartphone and tablet typists. Typos trip up the search function, too; "SkeltonKey" returned zero results, for example.
4. Create A "PC Apps" Category.
The case for touchscreens on tablets and phones is open-and-shut; it's less so on traditional PCs. Convince the skeptics why they need apps -- a term synonymous with mobile devices -- on their laptops and desktops. Create a "PC" category in the store that highlights apps optimized or built specifically for laptop and desktop users on the Windows 8.x platform. This doesn't necessarily mean developers need to write multiple versions of every app they build. But set aside space in the store for apps that take advantage of larger screen sizes or computing power, that are more application than app. Those applications might not quite exist yet, but if we're going to buy into a mobile-centric user interface on a touchscreen PC, it would help if there were apps tailored -- or at least well-suited -- to the hardware.