What if…Microsoft Had a Windows App Store?

By  |  Tuesday, July 28, 2009 at 6:18 pm

Windows 95I continue to think of my iPhone not as a phone but as a personal computer. Which is why I continue to be so nonplussed about Apple’s barring of some applications on the grounds that they compete with its own apps, and others at (reportedly) the behest of AT&T. The moves may well serve Apple’s short-term goals. Long term, though, I think they’ll make the iPhone a weaker, less useful platform. That’s not in the interest of iPhone owners, Apple, AT&T, or (come to think of it) anyone except Apple’s competitors.

All of which got me wondering: What if an Apple-like App Store had been the been the only sanctioned way to acquire software for other major computing platforms? Like, for instance, Microsoft Windows? And what if, in this alternative universe, Microsoft’s policies and actions had mirrored those of Apple today?

It would have changed everything–and not for the better. After the jump, a speculative FAQ about the Windows App Store.

Would Microsoft have distributed Microsoft Office rivals such as SmartSuite or WordPerfect Office via its app store?

Well, maybe, in theory at least–after all, it doesn’t sell Microsoft Office as part of Windows, so it couldn’t use the “it duplicates functionality that’s already in the product” excuse. Call me a cynic, though, but I suspect that competitive office suites would have run into trouble if Microsoft had controlled all Windows software distribution. And hey, didn’t WordPerfect duplicate features in Notepad?

How about Netscape Navigator?

When Netscape first appeared in 1994, the current version of Windows (3.11) didn’t have a browser. Even Windows 95 didn’t have one at first–Internet Explorer was part of the extra-cost Plus Pack. Then again, Windows 95 did ship with the dreadful client for the original version of MSN, a proprietary online service  which definitely did compete with the Web. That might have been reason enough for Microsoft to nix Navigator for duplicating Windows functionality. And once IE was part of Windows, Microsoft could have given Navigator the boot retroactively.

Safari? Firefox? Chrome?

They all appeared long after Windows got a browser as standard equipment. No, no, and no.

Would browsers have continued to evolve and improve if IE was the only one that the majority of the world’s computer users were allowed to run?

Seems unlikely, doesn’t it?

Microsoft was found to have taken actions to discourage PC manufacturers from bundling Navigator–and it got in deep trouble with the feds for that. Wouldn’t making it impossible for Windows users to get Navigator on the grounds that it was competitive have been a far bigger deal?

Could be!

Would Microsoft have distributed Apple’s Windows version of iTunes?

Almost certainly not–it unquestionably duplicates features in Windows Media Player. I’m not sure what this would have meant for the existence of iPods as Windows peripherals…

What about Photoshop?

Hmmm. It does duplicate functionality in Paint, but maybe it does enough other things that it would have had a shot. Although it’s possible that Microsoft might have rejected it on the grounds that it could confuse people.

Would Microsoft block Amazon.com from appearing in IE? I mean, Amazon competes with Best Buy far more directly than Google Voice competes with AT&T, and Microsoft sells a lot of copies of Windows through Best Buy.

Yes, but it also sells a lot through Amazon–one of the virtues of partnering with everybody rather than one company is that you’re less likely to play favorites. Also, even Apple doesn’t block sites from appearing in Safari.

Okay, but shouldn’t the version of IE bundled with copies of Windows on HP computers prevent users from going to Dell’s Web site, and vice versa?

Interesting idea, but it sounds kind of complicated.

Apple seems to have prevented Sling from releasing a SlingPlayer app that could stream over AT&T’s network because it would have hogged bandwidth. Back in the day, PointCast was an infamous hogger of dial-up bandwidth, and Microsoft was a partner of many ISPs. Would it have banned PointCast from its App Store?

I would hope not. But then, I’m naive about these things–I also thought Apple would give SlingPlayer the go-ahead.

Would Microsoft have slapped scary warnings on apps and prevented anyone under 17 from acquiring them purely because they could download content from the Internet which might be offensive?

Yes–if it were following Apple’s approach:

Eucalyptus

Even if Microsoft banned a tiny percentage of applications, wouldn’t Windows have wound up with thousands and thousands of applications that users would have downloaded billions of times? Windows still could have been really successful, right?

Yup–and I’m sure that Microsoft would have issued press releases quoting all kinds of impressive numbers.

Banning applications that Windows users wanted from the App Store might have helped Microsoft sell applications, please its partners, and hobble its rivals. But it also sounds like it would have made Windows less useful and appealing. Over time, people might have been less likely to buy Windows PCs and more likely to buy machines that ran other OSes. Wouldn’t it have been in Microsoft’s interest to err on the side of encouraging competition–even competition with itself?

My point exactly!

 
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20 Comments For This Post

  1. Arnie Says:

    They might already be working on it: http://arstechnica.com/microsoft/news/2009/01/is-microsoft-working-on-a-software-center-for-windows.ars

  2. Bill Phillips Says:

    After reading this article, Microsoft sucks even more! Closed fisted fascism at its worst!

  3. me fl Says:

    At that time of windows 95 internet speed was very less, and apps used to come in cd-roms. Even now, you have to download some 500mb over internet is actually not feasible.

  4. Disputatore Says:

    Nice article. Doesn’t this all mean that Apple must be slapped around for a bit like Microsoft was too? Maybe the Feds and the European Union should start looking at these anti-market strategies.

  5. Meh_Gerbil Says:

    @Bill Phillips

    You said:
    “After reading this article, Microsoft sucks even more! Closed fisted fascism at its worst!”

    My Response:
    Obviously reading the article isn’t the same as understanding it.

  6. Will Says:

    Apple has the right to do whatever it wants with its app store. The problem is that other than breaking the law (DMCA) there is no other way to get an app. I’m fine with Apple not selling an app in its store if it conflicts with their business model, but they shouldn’t block the installation of the application if someone wants to go out of their way to get it.

  7. Mark Essel Says:

    Wonderfully persuasive argument against the innovation barriers of the AppStore. As a speed junky I still picked up an iPhone but I can’t wait till I can use it with any provider and any OS I choose.

  8. tcsoccerman Says:

    Why Microsoft Surface Needs an App Store:

    http://www.surfacehq.com/content/why-microsoft-surface-needs-app-store

  9. jgoto Says:

    are you kidding if Microsoft did any of that they would get sued so fast… although on a separate note, I would love to have something like Steam for software like office and photoshop

  10. Confused Says:

    Windows App Store = Windows Marketplace renamed?

    This article is lame, and is a bunch of hypotheticals.

  11. AMH Says:

    Back in the day, MS Did have a set of pages for Windows NT (3.x/3.xx, and also for 4.0 but only for a while) that had links to many freeware, shareware, and even commercial (incl competing) applications that specifically ran on NT. It was useful at the time because many win95/win98 apps did not run on Windows NT. Yes, even competing browsers were in the list.

    I think that the list was compiled by MS staff to help show the diversity of applications available for the platform in order to show (and help people find) the breadth of applications available for the platform.

    It wasn’t the same as a “store” because MS was not selling these apps. MS was merely pointing people to the web pages of where these apps could be found.

    Since Windows 2000, this has become almost a non-issue, as Windows 2000 (and later) includes a “compatibility mode” for programs written for an earlier version of windows.

  12. Simon Says:

    The App Store concept is fantastic. Apple’s execution is the problem and they’ll either adapt to the market or slowly cede share to others as a result of their arrogance. I’ve never agreed with all the commentators who reckon that Apple frittered away a great advantage once so they’ll do it again but they need to wise up on this one or they’ll pay a hefty price.

  13. Gerald Says:

    Microsoft is afraid of their own shadow. First off they bought DOS to make a deal with IBM then they stole the GUI idea from Xerox and Apple. Then when they did get a good enough version of Windows monopolized the PC market. Any company that tries to compete with MS get crushed eventually. Netscape was one of the first. Google is kicking MS’s ass in the internet search market and MS has been trying to crush Google for years.

    There is sooooo many people dependent on MS it isn’t funny. I look forward to the day when Linux is the dominant OS and MS is finally put in their place

  14. foobar Says:

    “Apple has the right to do whatever it wants with its app store. The problem is that other than breaking the law (DMCA) there is no other way to get an app. I’m fine with Apple not selling an app in its store if it conflicts with their business model, but they shouldn’t block the installation of the application if someone wants to go out of their way to get it.”

    PERFECT. But… is not the case of IE on Windows?? You can download and install other browsers if you want. So why the EU wants to force Ms to include them in the OS?

  15. squidproductions Says:

    whoa whoa, I know you all have very heated opinions about some of microsoft’s actions, but they take great care of their employees, you can’t deny that. Before you make up your mind about the company, check out this webisode of the video diaries of 8 current Microsoft interns, My Intern Life on Microsoft Student TV….

  16. Sheldon McGee Says:

    I guess there would be no viruses or spyware for Windows either. So it’s not all bad.

  17. Jason Says:

    This article is retarded. Great idea ruined by retarded analogies.

  18. Dave Says:

    I wonder why and how Apple can do it but Microsoft gets sued or cant. Two reasons I will not get iphone are that 1. no keyboard, 2. it’s an Apple product. I wont use itunes either..

  19. Anowe Says:

    If this was the case, I would have jailbroken Windows and installed Cydia on it.

  20. sandviç panel Says:

    Saved as a favorite, I really like your blog

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