Discovering Metro – The Apps

I’ve talked about the new Metro interface in Windows 8 a couple of times now. For example, in my Considering the New Metro Interface—Ribbon Redux? post, I considered how Metro compares to the Ribbon. In Accessibility on Windows 8 Metro, I discussed the shortcomings of Metro for the user with special needs. However, I haven’t really discussed the central purpose of Metro as of yet because there wasn’t really enough information to do so. Things have changed. A few recent posts about the Metro applications (apps for short) have me wondering what’s so amazing about this interface.

I keep comparing Windows 8 to Windows 7 for good reason. In writing Professional Windows 7 Development Guide I found a lot to like about Windows 7. I’m trying equally hard to find something to like about Windows 8, but so far, except for some truly exceptional lower level functionality that Microsoft seems intent on not discussing, I’m not finding too many positive things to say. I’m not alone in this regard. I recently read a post by Eric Knorr (a 22 year veteran author) who has decided the time has come to get a Mac, rather than continue his saga with Windows. Another post tries to put a positive spin on things by saying that Windows 8 represents an experiment, one where Microsoft can afford to fail.

My latest point of concern are the winners of the First Apps Contest. The top winner is a weather forecast application. It doesn’t appear to convey any more information than I get from Yahoo every morning when I start up my system. Of course, this makes me wonder just what to expect from the other winners. The next two winners are games of some sort—neither of which looks particularly interesting. I don’t dabble in the stock market, but the SigFig app is the only one in the list that looks remotely interesting. However, this particular app is a port from other platforms, so it’s not original or unique. The next three winners are…you guessed it, games. A final winner is a cookbook application. The description provided as part of the Microsoft post didn’t tell me enough about this particular app to know whether it’s going to be a valuable addition or not. The bottom line is that Microsoft chose eight apps to represent Metro and out of those apps five are games of dubious value. Let’s just say that I’m not impressed and leave it go at that. By the way, this post appeared on 29 February and has only garnered 10 comments to date—it appears that I’m not the only one that Microsoft failed to impress.

Today I read about app licensing and I began to wonder how many developers Microsoft will attract. Some of the terms make sense. For example, a developer can choose how long to provide a trial version of an app before the user must purchase it. However, the first possible problem that occurred to me is that once the trial is over for one user on a machine, it’s over for everyone. Machines often have multiple users. This policy makes it less likely that the various users will buy the app unless they all try it at the same time. The post doesn’t make it clear whether everyone on a machine can access the app once purchased or not, but if the license to use an app is sold on a per-user basis, this policy would tend to limit the number of licenses that a developer can expect to sell.

Developers will need to sell their apps with multiple installations in mind. Once the user has a license to use an app, the app can be installed on up to five machines. Theoretically, this means that five people could be using that same app at the same time—four of them would use the app for free. As a developer, that policy would worry me more than a little.

The app policy also makes it clear that all app updates are free to the user. Just how the developer will get compensated for the time and money invested in an update aren’t clear, but the current users won’t do their part to support the developer. Perhaps there is a good reason why Microsoft’s first contest only attracted game developers, a weather app, a cookbook, and some financial software.

I’m not precisely sure what users will want from their apps. It’s clear that the industry as a whole really wants to like Windows 8, but no one has a compelling reason to like it so far. The sad thing is that Windows 8 really does have some interesting features, such as a new file system, to offer, but Microsoft isn’t promoting these interesting features very much. What is your take on Windows 8 in general and Metro in specific? Let me know at