Tag Archives: apps

Microsoft’s Windows 8 app problem will not be solved by incentivising junk

Microsoft has launched a “Keep the cash” offer to developers. Publish up to 20 apps, 10 for Windows Phone and 10 for Windows 8, and get $100 for each of them.


The offer is little use for most of the world. The terms state that “Offer good only to legal residents of the 50 United States & D.C. aged 18 or older”.

It is little use for Microsoft either. How much development time does $100 buy? Still, there is a way to make sense of it for hobbyists or developers with some spare time. What you do is to create one of those apps that does very little but is specific to something like a particular sports team or pop star, and maybe searches the web for news about them. Then you replicate it 10 times over for 10 different teams or celebrities. Then you adapt it for both phone and Windows 8 store. That’s 20 apps, $2000.

In other words, the only thing this will achieve is to increase the amount of dross in these two stores. Microsoft is pumping the numbers, so that there is an appearance of success on the most naive analysis, counting the apps.

Incidentally, this is something that Windows Store VP Antoine LeBlond assured me Microsoft would not do, at the launch of Surface RT in New York last year.

Does Microsoft have an app problem? Yes, particularly on Windows 8. Windows Phone 8 is less of a problem; Microsoft’s phone is actually building some momentum from what I can tell and app availability is not too bad, despite some gaps such as Instagram and BBC iPlayer.

The app problem is nothing to do with quantity though. 10 good apps for the Windows Store is worth more to the platform than 10,000 poor ones. In fact, filling the store with junk is a negative that will cement the perception that there is little there that is worthwhile.

Rather, the app problem is the consequence of several factors:

1. The development platform is not good enough. Most things can be done, but not easily, and the default look and feel results in blocky apps that tend to scale badly on big screens. The built-in controls are too primitive. The user interface is insufficiently intuitive and users struggle to discover the menus and features hidden in the Charms bar.

2. Microsoft has so far failed to establish Windows 8 as a tablet platform. The reasons are complex and to do with the Windows heritage, the way OEM and retail partners treat Windows, and the fact that there are other tablet platforms (iOS and Android) out there which meet the need for many people.

3. Windows 8 is out there in reasonable numbers, but most users spend most of there time in the desktop, making the Windows Store app platform less successful than the quantity deployed would suggest.

4. Businesses are mainly standardising on Windows 7, not Windows 8, to the detriment of the new app platform.

In this context, the best thing that could happen for Windows 8 is the appearance of new compelling apps that will drive users to the underused tablet personality. Microsoft could and should do some of those (there are a few efforts, like Fresh Paint).

Those apps, though, will not be developed for $100. They will be developed either by enthusiasts who love the platform (which will not happen until the platform is improved), or by businesses who invest real money and effort in building them.

As it is, this misguided initiative does little other than to draw attention to the problems Microsoft has with its new Windows.

ITWriting app hits the Windows 8 store

Hands on where possible is part of my technical journalism philosophy, so I have been trying out Windows 8 development for some time. After playing around with and adapting Microsoft’s blog reader sample I decided to take it further and try submitting it to the Windows 8 Store.

Today it was certified so you can install it now. It is free of course. 


There is not much to it. It features quick access to recent posts on itwriting.com and gadgets.itwriting.com, recent tweets, and dedicated links to Windows 8 survival guides for both keyboard/mouse and touch/tablet users.

Despite its simplicity, creating the app was an interesting exercise. Having the app layout change in a moderately sensible way when switched between portrait and landscape, and filled or snapped, taught me a bit about XAML and the VisualStateManager element. I also struggled a bit with the flyouts that you use to implement app settings, the ones that appear when the user displays the Charms menu and taps or clicks Settings when your app has the focus. I used the official sample though I discovered that it will not compile as-is because the standard brush names have changed since the release preview for which the sample was apparently created. I have have some sort of z-order bug there which I have not yet solved.

Creating apps for Windows 8 is not difficult exactly, but it is fiddly. It seems to me harder than, for example, creating a desktop app using Windows Forms. In mitigation, setup and deployment is done for you which is a significant advantage. I was also pleased to discover that the app works fine on a Surface RT.


The Windows Store certification process was rather straightforward in my case; the app passed first time. I had noticed from other reports that having a privacy policy in place is important, so made sure that this is linked in this settings.

I do have some ideas for making the app a little more interesting. Share support and offline support would be obvious enhancements. Watch out for future updates!

Creating a Web Application for the Google Chrome Web Store

I noticed an old post here getting a lot of hits: My first Google Chrome Web Application. Unfortunately it was based on an early version of Chrome’s app format. Here is an update.

My web application in this example is this blog. I created a manifest in Notepad:


Next, using my artistic skills, I made an icon of the required size: 128×128. I used .png format.

Then I put the manifest and the icon into a folder called itwriting-app. I tested it by using Chrome’s Tools – Extensions – Load unpacked extension. It worked fine.


Next I compressed  the folder to a zip file. I just right-clicked in Windows and chose Send to – Compressed (zipped) folder.

Then I logged into the Developer Dashboard at the Chrome Web Store (I had to pay $5.00) and uploaded the app:


Next, I had to complete some metadata. I chose a couple of categories, uploaded the icon as the image for the app, and uploaded a screenshot of a sample article. Clicked Publish Changes and it was done.


If you click Install, you get an icon in the Chrome Apps list, which appears when you open a new tab.


Of course it is just a link to a web site. Why is this interesting?

A few reasons. One is that it is easy to get started, which promotes usage.

Next, you can charge for your app. Once the user has paid, you use the Licensing API to check whether the user has paid, or is a trial user, or has not paid. This also depends on the user’s Google ID, promoting Google’s identity system as well as its payment system. Users get single sign-on if they are already logged into Google. Developers do not have to worry about storing passwords, which can be an embarrassment.

Web Apps are also interesting if you request additional permissions. There are three at the moment: geolocation, notifications, and unlimited storage. These give additional capabilities to your app. You can also enable autoupdating.

Finally, Google wants us to accept that web applications are apps too, blurring the boundaries between desktop, mobile device, and web.