Of all the things that Windows 8 brought to the table, it's the much-maligned Start Screen that seems to get most of the attention. That's unfortunate, because there were many other aspects of the OS that made it a major release. Take for example the fact that it was the first version of Windows to include an app store. That feature might seem minor to OS X and Linux users who've had access to their own app stores for a while, but for Windows, the addition was significant.
However, as significant as the addition may be, the app store in Windows 8 is easily one of the worst around - if not the worst among the mainstream options. It falls completely flat on its face when compared to Apple's App Store or Google's Play Store, and it takes little more than simply loading it up to understand where I'm coming from with that assessment. It's not entirely intuitive, the selection is subpar, and worse, scams and trickery are abundant.
As a desktop user, I don't feel the need to go into Windows 8's app store for any other reason than to do some quick tests, either for a post like this one, or for general curiosity. Since the store's introduction, I've always had a hunch that Microsoft's gate-keeping was minimal, a fact that was heightened when I learned a couple of months ago that the 100% free LibreOffice was found in there - unofficially, and for a cost. I didn't think too much about it at the time, but I can now see that the incident wasn't a one-off.
How-To Geek notes that when VLC is searched for, a large number of results come up, with just one of them being the official release. Some cost money, while others don't. The site notes that software from non-official sources - and outright scams - are "easy to find", so I decided to have a look for myself. After opening the app store for the first time in months, I couldn't believe what I saw on the start page: A "free" Firefox download, which when installed, is a single-screen ugly app that links you to a shareware website.
The problem here is obvious: Links to websites should not be made available as "apps" in any digital store. They especially shouldn't be links to third-parties that can bundle junkware with their installers. I knew I might regret it, but I went through with the entire install process with this "Firefox" release, and after running it, the actual Firefox installer downloaded. What the "developer" of this app gained from me was a couple of ad views. It could have been much worse.
As the shot above highlights, this piece of software isn't unique. Searching for "Firefox" reveals a $1.49 "Install-Mozilla" app and a $1.99 "MozillaFirefoxBrowser PC" app. While the "Fast Browser" I downloaded makes its revenue from ad views, the developers of these apps just want straight cash for someone else's hard work.
After spending a solid two minutes of searching, I found a handful of 100% cost-free apps available on the store that either behaved like the one above, cost money upfront, or bundled bloatware with their installers. Affected apps included 7-zip, Google Chrome, Opera, Adobe Flash, Spotify, uTorrent, Blender, KMPlayer, and Winamp. Oh - and iTunes, which had at least 12 such listings.
Perhaps not so interestingly, I couldn't find a single Microsoft app that suffered this fate.
Above, I mentioned that I spotted an unofficial paid version of LibreOffice on the store a couple of months ago, but as of the time of writing, it no longer exists. That makes me wonder if LibreOffice's developers emailed Microsoft to demand that it be removed. That might be what other developers of free apps might have to do, although the better route would be for Microsoft to build a simple list of the most-popular free apps out there and prevent any third-parties from selling - or even listing - them. That doesn't sound so complicated, does it?
Changes have to be made, plain and simple. As it is, the Windows Store is a mess and Microsoft should be embarrassed.
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