27
Nov 12

Windows Store: Developers, don’t stuff the store with clones!

Today while navigating the new Windows Store apps that arrived today, I ran across something that sort of broke my heart. I found dozens of copies of the same app from the same developer. Not identical, mind you. Subtle differences in how input boxes are laid out, as well as different names, colors, and application icons. Take a look at FlourMill here:

and then Personal Recipe Book here:

The developer, under the name LunaPlena, has submitted 118 apps in the last two weeks. Almost all but 3 of them (the three oldest) are effectively identical. They are the same “data input” application, with subtle design changes. It would be akin to Microsoft offering a version of Access for hair stylists, another for nail salons, etc. If you have a Windows 8 or Windows RT device, do a search for LunaPlena and you should see an innumerable number of Windows Store apps from the last week that are effectively identical.

This isn’t the only developer doing this, either – though the app is so similar, I have to wonder the relationship between the two. Developer Prafull Kelkar has 89 apps in the store. A few are actually an interesting “quiz-style” application like ADONetQuiz, but most of them are kindred spirits to MyProperties:

or GiftIsGot (which is of course ever so slightly different from GiftIsGave):

I guess in many ways, this isn’t that different from the cadre of developers I’ve seen submitting “quote” applications on the Windows Store (or the Apple App Store for that matter) where the engine of the app is identical, but one can choose a distinct app for each individual they want to find quotes for. Except here the engine is the same, and the candy shell for entering data changes. For what it’s worth, this also isn’t a problem unique to the Windows Store by any means. I’ve seen the same on the Apple store, and Microsoft even mentioned it in their Windows Phone Marketplace blog earlier this year, referring to it as “bulk publishing”, but not outright frowning on the process. I do distinctly recall Microsoft saying they frowned upon developers submitting multiple seemingly identical applications in the Windows Store, yet here we are, seeing exactly that.

Seeing developers do this is disappointing to me for a multitude of reasons. First, because it wastes time – Microsoft has to sort through a tedium of apps that will only ever be downloaded by a handful of users, when developers with a broader spectrum of consumer applicability get stuck in a queue behind them. Second, because it’s nonsensical. Customers with data entry needs would be better suited with one app that was more like Access, FileMaker (or even more likely, Bento), rather than almost 200 data entry apps that are subtly tweaked to each task. It shows a developer trying to flood the store, rather than one who truly crafts an application with broad appeal. Inundating the Windows Store with “fraternal twins” like this doesn’t help Windows 8/RT users find the applications that will make Windows 8/RT valuable to them, and it doesn’t help developers make money (heck – these are free apps we’re talking about here). Clusters of apps like this also make me feel even more that application counts – of anybody’s store are an emperor’s clothes comparison. Yet another reason why I have been de-emphasizing counts.


26
Nov 12

Why no news on winappupdate.com? I’ve been traveling!

Apologies for the lack of updates recently. While the Windows Store has been growing by ~500 apps per day worldwide, only a fraction of these are truly stellar apps, and filtering out the wheat is still a manual process – something I can only do when time allows. Similarly, my rollup reports of the store are a relatively manual process that I hope to automate someday. That day is not today. Given a subtle jab that might seem to infer a lack of news by me here is a lack of anything important in the Windows Store, I thought I’d clarify. I do try to check on on Twitter several times per day, but only do updates here when there is really major news or I’ve had time to do a major report.

This past month has been relatively insane for me, with Build, PASS Summit 2012, SharePoint Conference 2012, and vacation to the Internet-weak wilds of Wyoming for Thanksgiving with family last week. Real work has to come first for me, so that didn’t leave a lot of time for updates on the Windows Store. Combined with the lack of real huge news on the store (besides raw number growth, which I’m trying to move away from emphasizing, since it isn’t the most important metric by any means), there wasn’t much to post here, or time to post it. If you get lonely for updates here, please check Twitter!

I will be doing a rollup report this week, where I’ll discuss the state of the store, categories, which markets are strongest, and a few other details. Stay tuned.


14
Nov 12

Social is not the goal.

This week at the SharePoint Conference 2012, I attended a roundtable with two customers who have deployed Yammer within their organization and are pleased with the results. Last year I attended a roundtable with two customers who had deployed SharePoint 2010′s social features and were pleased with the results. The conversations were similar – and I can’t help but notice a pattern.

The pattern is the beating of the “social in the enterprise” drum. Not just by Microsoft either. Companies today will try to sell you social like others tried to sell you “mobile” in 2009, “cloud” in 2010,  or “apps” in 2011. It’s a buzzword that can mean something, but often means nothing. As a result, getting “social in the enterprise” when you buy many products is much like a teenager believing that if they get the latest fashions, that they’ll get friends in the in-crowd and a date with the person of their dreams. No, social isn’t an end. It isn’t really even a means to an end. It’s a shotgun that organizations keep grabbing for, hoping that they can fix what’s broken.

Read that again. Adopting “social” is really about fixing what’s broken. It really has nothing to do with “getting more social” at all. It has to do with repairing the organization, and its ability to communicate, collaboration, and archive and share knowledge.

Microsoft offers innumerable tools for collaboration. Let’s use that word “collaborate” broadly. Yammer, SharePoint, Exchange, Outlook, Windows 8/RT Mail, Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Messenger (soon to pass on to the great beyond), Skype, Lync, Office presence and co-authoring features, SkyDrive… Numerous names and numerous ways for, in many ways the same thing – tools that encourage users to work together and share better – or simply to share at all. Yet ironically each provides it’s own portal to information that users need to aggregate (or ignore).

Somehow along the way, we all got lost. The goal of all of these tools is the same – to connect entity A with a query with entity B (et al.) with knowledge or decision making capabilities.

I think in some ways an organization that is communicating effectively is somewhat like becoming enlightened – you never think about whether you are communicating effectively because you just are. It isn’t something you can build towards, it’s a state of being. Your organization is either communicating efficiently, or it isn’t.

As a result, we need to stop thinking about “putting more social options in front of users” like they’re food pellets for them to select from. I mentioned all of the tools that Microsoft produces above that are “social”. Alas, you add Twitter (one of my most useful knowledge-sharing/gleaning tools), Facebook, and any other external social network, and users aren’t lacking for social options. No, they are lacking tools to help them unify – to find the signal in the noise.

Subscribing to every single feed and every single document isn’t the answer either. We don’t necessarily need users to have more options to select from to build their knowledge. We need them to have better options. Better search that helps them find domain experts in a field they’re investigating, and help them broker knowledge sharing and find and learn from archived institutional knowledge that should be coveted. Better filtering that eliminates duplicity and reduces noise. We don’t want users getting back to the Pavlovian <DING> response so many of us got conditioned to with email alone. No, we need to learn how to integrate knowledge sharing into our daily lives, without letting it randomize us or break our ability to accomplish actual work. Fewer, better communication options, not a cornucopia.

Organizations today need to do more with less – and there is no indication that that will change anytime soon. As a result, we (all) need to start collaborating more efficiently – not just more. For years, organizations were able to simply look at a room full of minions and say, “Look. They’re diligently working.” When you have people chatting on Twitter, Facebook, or internal Exchange discussion aliases, it can often appear that they are not working – at least they are not working the way you are used to seeing them work on a computer – in diligent isolated silence – for the last 20 years.

This is the new world. It is time to kill the anti-social enterprise. We don’t have to do anything here, though. All we have to do is watch. Organizations need to enable their workers to find the communication tools that work for them, and help them to minimize waste and redundancy caused by individual knowledge silos. The social worker shouldn’t be stigmatized. The isolated worker should be emboldened to think beyond their own knowledge and skillset to learn from others. We are a storytelling species. Employees should be rewarded for sharing knowledge, for collaboration – for cross-team collaboration that may now have a clear marker in their annual review.

When I worked at Microsoft, Exchange discussion lists were the way we all shared knowledge. Much like Twitter, it would pass you by, but you could archive it to a PST, and some were archived to public folders. The information shared here was shared because it was important to someone. It was saved because it was important to someone else.  Important information resonates – it echoes. It reduces the need for every user in the organization to watch for the information, because it will cross their desk in a high visibility channel at some point. I worry with things like standardized email retention policies, this kind of institutional knowledge, and the value it represents, is being lost. Organizations that forget the past are condemned to repeat it.

In the end, we need social organizations – we need organic, collaborative organizations – because those that refuse to collaborate and grow, and encourage their employees to collaborate and build their individual knowledge and skillset – will die.

A standard joke has made the rounds for some time about the exec who asks another, “What if we teach our employees and give them valuable skills, and they leave?“, to which the other replies, “What if we don’t train them, and they stay?

CxOs around the world should be asking themselves the same thing about fostering cross-team information sharing, archival, and search throughout their organization. Social isn’t the goal, even if that is how a product or feature to fix it is sold to you. The goal is fixing broken, dysfunctional, or poorly functioning communication and information sharing in your organizations before it takes the whole ship down with it.


01
Nov 12

Windows RT, Sideloading, and Office. Oh my.

When you start working with Microsoft licensing – well, to be fair, almost anyone’s enterprise licensing, it can be mind-numbing. Truth be told, when I stepped up to pinch hit for my colleague, to cover the immense changes to SQL Server 2012 licensing, I developed a migraine with vertigo – something that hadn’t occurred for several years. While it could have been coincidence, we’ve taken liberty with it at work, and turned it into a running joke for our boot camps, that enterprise licensing can give you migraines.

In junior high school, we had a science experiment using perspective-flipping glasses (kind of like these). Now the lore goes, if you wear this kind of glasses day in and day out for 3-5 days, your mind will actually adjust, and flip the image right side up (take them off and it’ll take a while to reverse again). I could barely walk, and felt like I was going to hurl when I tried the glasses.

But licensing? I’ve been wearing those glasses for around six months, and you know what? My vision is stabilizing, and I can honestly almost walk straight. So while some people new to (Microsoft) licensing may look at certain things that Microsoft does and say, “WTH?”, I say, “It makes perfect sense – squint and turn your head upside down for a second”.

Two recent decisions from Microsoft fall in this same category:

  1. Office Home and Student in Windows RT not including commercial use rights.
  2. Windows RT requiring a… bit of work to enable sideloading of applications.

Now, these don’t necessarily have anything to do with each other, except they do. Follow along.

When you have a business model – whether it’s working or not, you like the line for revenue to go up (and operating expenses to ideally go down) – even if it’s just a little bit. Microsoft is fastidious about this. Keep earnings up, and don’t drop the income ball.

So why is H&S free for non-commercial users? Easy. Windows RT (and largely Windows 8) is all about consumers. Look no further than the marketing materials. Windows RT and Windows 8 are intended to bring Windows, touch, and power efficiency to a new world of devices (and ideally, stave off some/much of the appeal of the iPad by doing so). Some businesses may move to Windows 8 in short order, but most won’t. They’ll stick with Windows 7 until they see how, and where, they want to deploy Windows 8. In the meantime, the users within these businesses will buy iPads, Android tablets (somebody does, right?) and Windows RT tablets for home use, and wind up bringing them into the office. All three platforms bring legal landmines for Microsoft and other enterprise software. But this isn’t the place for me to dive into that. We offer a whole 2 day course that covers many of those issues. :-) So Windows RT includes Office as, really, a loss leader. It’s a prize at the bottom of the Windows RT box. I don’t mean to denegrate either product by saying that – but the goal is very clearly a better together strategy, even though Windows RT includes only a few of the Office apps, and limited  functionality when compared to Office on x86/x64.

By offering H&S as free on Windows RT, Microsoft can make that platform more appealing to consumers. By not including commercial use rights, Microsoft can ensure that (back to two paragraphs ago) it doesn’t harm their enterprise sales/Office 365 subscriptions/Software Assurance revenue as it does so. All of those are non-small numbers for Office.

Mary Jo Foley walked through how businesses can obtain commercial use rights, and in a nutshell, you buy Office 2013 for a user’s Windows 7/8 PC, they get commercial use rights for Windows RT (turning RT into a companion device by definition). Now, that means that for the business, Office on Windows RT isn’t free, but it also means it isn’t full price. In many ways, businesses get to take advantage of the multiple-device licenses that Office has had for some time (install on your primary and a secondary device), it’s just that the license is applied to Windows RT, rather than the actual bits as users would have historically done in the past. So that’s Office. What’s the deal with sideloading?

Matt’s lengthy walkthrough demonstrates the technical hurdles of sideloading apps (putting apps on Windows 8 or Windows RT without going through the Windows Store), but there’s a licensing angle here too – and in many ways it’s the same one I just demonstrated, if you put your glasses on and turn your head over.

Why is sideloading so complicated? Because there are three competing forces at play (in no particular order):

  1. Microsoft’s desire to keep the WinRT platform and Windows Store secure – sideloading gates what can/cannot run on these devices.
  2. Microsoft’s desire to keep the Windows Store as the preferred means of obtaining apps written for WinRT – retaining the 30% (or 20%) of revenue from app sales.
  3. Microsoft’s desire to (hum along if you know the tune) maintain Windows enterprise licensing sales – Enterprise includes sideloading. It’s a paid option on other editions.

By requiring a key for other versions, and requiring payment for that key, and requiring a minimum number of those licenses, Microsoft discourages “casual bypassing” or piracy of those keys as a mechanism to try and avoid using the Windows Store by tinkerers or hackers, or commercial distribution of apps that wouldn’t meet store guidelines, which is something sideloaded apps can do (see 1 and 2).

By not requiring any special keys or costs in Windows 8 Enterprise, Microsoft rewards those customers who have invested in SA (or Intune) and incentivizes customers on the fence about Windows client SA (or Intune) to take one of those avenues (see 3).

Like Active Directory membership was in the beginning (guilty!), sideloading is important, but I think may have been overblown in terms of either importance or complexity. The more I look at it, the more I realize that there are very few apps that will really require sideloading. Most commercial apps should be distributed on the Windows Store, either for sale (sharing revenue with Microsoft) or for free with a subscription (which, unlike Apple, for now at least, does not require revenue sharing with Microsoft). Instead, only enterprises building in-house Windows 8 and Windows RT line of business (LOB) apps will really need sideloading – at least as Microsoft would like it to exist.

As we start progressing to more of these enterprises building LOB apps, the need for sideloading may become more important. But I don’t anticipate most enterprises going into their own Windows 8 development lifecycle in short order (<6-12 months). They’re still trying to get their hands around the platform as a whole. That, combined with the lack of guidance on building LOB apps that align with the design principles Microsoft has been evangelizing for the last year, are taking, and will continue to take, some time for them to digest. Not that some companies won’t build their own WinRT LOB apps – some already are, and those may likely require sideloading. For customers with SA, which are likely to align reasonably well with those who have the time and energy to build apps for Windows 8 and Windows RT, the licensing “bumps” put in front of sideloading are likely a non-event. For consumers or hobbyists? Sideloading is a non-starter. Exactly as it was likely intended.

 


01
Nov 12

Windows Store: I’m holding out for a hero app

Last Thursday, my app counter went rather off the charts. Since the day before launch, the Windows Store has been adding 500 or so apps per day (with one exception). There aren’t a ton of stellar apps. I’m doing my best to document those that I do find on my Twitter feed, and I’m working on a better methodology. But for now, that’s where I put them.

On Thursday and Friday in particular, I expected a bump in the number of apps – and I saw that. One thing I saw struck me though. A lack of really distinct, platform exclusive apps.

Gaming consoles have historically had “hero titles” – exclusives that pull people to that platform because they can’t find them anywhere else. Those, theoretically, are the things that motivate consumers to buy consoles, and keep buying titles in that series from that publisher.

In the beginning, the iPhone had no hero titles. It had… no titles. Web apps or nothing. When the App Store arrived, it brought a gold rush of authors trying to make the most of the handheld, touch-driven, gyroscopic fundamentals of the iPhone platform (and make money). Among them? Angry Birds. Along the way, Rovio made themselves quite successful, as did a few other early iPhone developers, like Lima Sky (Doodle Jump) Pangea Software (Enigmo, etc). Many of the most successful games resulted in a virtuous cycle, as the titles were hero titles for the device, and the device was the exclusive place to get them. People bought iPhones (and then iPads) to play titles like Angry Birds, Enigmo, and eventually titles like (my personal favorite iPad game of all time), Contre Jour.

But in the end, exclusivity to a device matters little to independent developers – which is why you primarily see lock-in with hero titles that are primarily owned (Nintendo/Mario) or tightly licensed (and formerly owned – Microsoft/Halo). No, with independent developers, you see that they want to break free. To go promiscuously to almost any viable platform they think they can move to.

While Angry Birds did well on iOS, they moved to any other platform they could. I mean any platform. So today, when you tout that you have Angry Birds on your platform, it could be viewed as a staple (I hate the expression “table stakes”), but more likely it’s like saying your tires come with raised lettering. Nobody cares. What else can I do with your platform? I struggled with a name for these apps. A bunch of ideas were suggested when I asked on Twitter. But when I thought about it, the word that I realized I was thinking was promiscuous.

An app is promiscuous when it is as, or more concerned with it’s own viability than that of any platform it runs on. Examples of promiscuous apps? Angry Birds of course, but the Amazon Kindle Reader is probably the front-runner here. Though they make their own platform, the Kindle Reader has little shame, and will (luckily for content owners) run on almost any device. This compared to the iBooks app, which is so locked down, you can only read iBookstore content on handheld iOS devices. Other promiscuous apps? Netflix, Hulu, key video content providers, the NY Times, USA Today, etc. The amusing thing about almost all of these apps? They are literally about getting as many eyes as possible on content as possible.

To that end, a ton of the apps that have come into the Windows Store over the last week are just promiscuous apps. I’m not seeing stellar apps that are platform exclusives, and more importantly, I’m seeing a dearth of, well, productivity apps. I guess it’s only fair, right? Microsoft themselves said that writing productivity apps in WinRT is hard. Well, they didn’t say it was hard, they just didn’t bring Office over to the WinRT world. To be fair, it is going to be a ton of work to reproduce the productivity value of Office in a TDLFKAM world. A ton of work. I’ll write another post on this soon.

The other issue at this point is still a lack of some essential promiscuous apps. While Twitter surprised many (even seeming to surprise Ballmer during the Build keynote) by announcing they would create a distinct Twitter app for Windows 8. This is even more interesting given that Twitter recently killed Twitter for the Mac. Well, not technically killed – more created a zombie. While Twitter has promised a Windows Store app, Facebook and Microsoft are seemingly locked in a public “he said/she said” debate.

But I think the lack of apps that really help drive the plaform – hero games or hero applications, is a problem. We need to see more developers really taking chances with the Windows 8 platform, and finding things that you can do on Windows 8 and Windows RT that you can’t do easily on the iPad. (Do I know what these things are? No.)

It’s great to have the promiscuous titles, as it gives an air of familiarity to Windows RT and Windows 8 that users with earlier smartphones or tablets might expect to be there. But the hero titles are what pull people to the platform, and can help it grow and succeed – even if those hero titles shift to support other platforms in time too.

Update: A friend on Twitter pointed out, and he is correct, that Angry Birds wasn’t available until 2010, almost two years after the App Store debuted. So, my bad – it was a horrible example to use as a hero app – since it wasn’t even on iOS first, I believe it was on Facebook first. Apologies. Doodle Jump, Enigmo (and many of the Pangea titles, some of which were featured in the first Apple App Store commercials) are still good examples. Some comments below have pointed out that the platform will sell, which will bring app developers. This is definitely possible – it depends on how much the platform itself+the suite of “everywhere” apps, and the growing list of platform unique apps all appeal to them. The iPhone and iPad both benefited from a first-mover advantage, where the devices themselves motivated sellers before their app stores were even fully stocked. Trouble with a first-mover advantage is, it’s not usually available if you’re not the first mover, which, depending on how you look at Windows 8/Windows RT, Microsoft may or may not be the first mover. Regardless, there are a ton of dynamics at play here that really nobody can predict. It will be a fascinating holiday season to watch, and I look forward to seeing in the new year how Windows 8 and the Surface RT (and other Windows RT devices) have sold, and how well the Windows Store is stocked with titles that draw consumers. Again, apologies for the misstatement – and thanks for reading.