Is the Microsoft Store on the Way Out? (Premium)

While I don’t expect to hear much about Windows 10 at Build next week, several related topics are top of mind, at least for me. Key among them is the Microsoft Store and the evolving definition of Store apps. Is the Microsoft Store on the way out?

I think it may be game over for Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps platform. And while this doesn’t necessarily mean that the Microsoft Store goes away completely, I do think it means that it will be further diminished by the changes and will be even less important in the future.

Which is saying something: Despite years of improvements, the Microsoft Store is still a wasteland compared to other stores, including not just the mobile stores on Android and iOS but also various games stores like Steam. There’s just no there-there, so to speak, no compelling reason for Windows users to spend time idly browsing through its content.

I’ve written and spoken a lot about this issue in the past, of course, and have noted what Microsoft lacks is the engaged audience we see on other platforms. It has tried to address this problem by adding new kinds of content---like the ill-fated ebook store that was killed within two years---and by continually evolving the definition of Store app to include many other types of “packaged” apps from the desktop, web, and elsewhere.

Those efforts have been partially successful in that there are some high-quality apps and games in the Store now. But virtually none of them are pure UWP apps, the evolution of the mobile apps platform that started with Windows 8 and has struggled ever since. Today, the best apps and games in the Store are all packaged versions of non-UWP apps, like desktop applications (iTunes, Spotify, Photoshop Elements) and web apps (Twitter). Most of which can be acquired elsewhere.

Which is the problem. With more and more Windows users turning to the web to fulfill their application needs, a Microsoft Store in Windows is simply unnecessary, it’s just another icon in the taskbar or Start menu to ignore. Microsoft brought Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) to the Store a year ago, supposedly, though we continue to highlight the same small handful of PWAs now that we did then. Most users simply access the same web apps through their web browsers.

This reality is a big part of the reason Microsoft is switching its Edge web browser to the Chromium code base, of course. Google Chrome, which is based on Chromium, offers a sophisticated way to install web apps to the desktop and then use them as if they were native apps, and this system works across Windows, Mac, and Chrome OS now. You can even install non-PWA web pages and use them in a similar manner, though you will not be able to use PWA-specific features like offline support.

The new Edge offers this functionality as well, of course, and I described it as “inarguably this browser’s single most important feature.” And the Canary (nightly) version of the new Edge ...

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