Windows 8 beta will launch in February with Windows Store

Multiple sources are reporting that Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) has confirmed that its upcoming Windows 8 operating system will launch in beta test form to the public in February.  The operating system is currently publicly available in the form of an earlier, rougher build dubbed the "Developer Preview".  The key message -- Microsoft is giving big developers much more of a revenue cut than its rivals, as well as providing them with other monetary advantages.

I. Window 8: Beta Launches in February, Complete With Windows Store

Despite the polished nature of Windows 7, which made it the fastest-selling OS in history, Microsoft appears to have been able to make all sorts of improvements for Windows 8 based largely on customer feedback.  Among the improved features include a less painful Windows Update processfaster bootsdecreased OS resource consumption, and improved file transfers, a streamlined upgrade process for the initial installation, and switching to a primarily online sales distribution model.

Microsoft also spilled details of its upcoming Windows Store, its take on a PC app store (analogous to Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) recent Mac App Store), at a special Tuesday press event.  It then posted most of these details in a detailed post on its MSDN blog.

Windows Store
Unlike the Mac App Store that's Apple's attempt to control all apps, Microsoft's Windows Store is a bit more purpose driven -- it only accepts Metro-themed apps.  For those unfamiliar with metro, it's the colorful tile driven Microsoft style that pops in the Zune, on the web, and in Windows Phone.  Metro UI is inherently touch friendly, and that's a big reason why Microsoft is pushing the Windows Store -- to promote touch friendly apps over a heterogeneous deployment base (tablets + laptops + desktops) that might otherwise lead developers to neglect the touch end of the spectrum.

Windows Store app example
An example Windows Store entry for a Metro UI app.

Like Google and Apple, Microsoft's approach could be called a "closed garden".  You must meet Microsoft's standards and you must use the Metro UI in order for Microsoft to distribute your app.  Of course those who don't like this can use traditional distribution means or other clients (like Valve), which should be compatible for Windows 8.

II. "Meet Innovation -- Money!"

Winnebago Man
"Meet innovation.... money!" -- Winnebago Man [Image Source: YouTube]

Let's put the biggest developer perk up front -- after the first $25,000 USD in revenue -- which it will take an industry standard 30 percent cut on -- Microsoft will only take a 20 percent cut (lower than Google and Apple).  

The company revealed that it was one-upping its competitors by offering several key improvements for developers.  Unlike Apple, Microsoft offers the ability to set their app price in $0.50 USD increments, starting from $1.49 USD.  

This isn't quite as flexible as Google Inc.'s (GOOG) laissez-faire pricing for the Android Market/Chrome Web Store -- which allows any price -- but that may be a good thing.  In Android Market, most developers set their apps at $0.99 increments anyways, in order to keep prices consistent with other platforms.  But only small developers tend to engage in more chaotic pricing (e.g. $2.02 USD).  In that regard, Google is more flexible, but by and large developers don't really seem to use or need that extra pricing control.

Apple, on the other hand tends to offer developers too little pricing options, mandating prices in $1.00 USD increments, starting from $0.99 USD.  As with many things Windows 8, Microsoft takes the middle path of the two approaches, and arguably comes to a winning formula.

Microsoft promises support for "alternate transaction services" (e.g. subscriptions and other in-app purchases) and support for "multiple advertising platforms".  But with its in-app purchases/subscriptions, it plans to freely allow developers to implement their own systems that it does not take a revenue cut of.  This is in stark contrast to Apple and Google who route purchases through their respective markets, taking a cut. (Plus Google flat-out does not allow in-app subscriptions, a big issue.)

Subscription app
Google does not allow subscription purchases in apps.  Apple allows them, but demands a full cut, prohibiting indepedent distribution.  Microsoft will both let developers come up with their own fee-free subscription services or alternatively use its own easy subscription models for a small fee. [Image Source: Digital Lifestyle Gadgets]

Microsoft also allows developers to charge up to $999.99 USD, substantially more than the Android Market's price limit of $200.00 [source].  This is similar to Apple, but Apple cuts down on your pricing choices at higher prices -- it only allows $5 USD increments from $49.99 USD to $99.99 USD; $10 USD increments from $99.99 to $249.99 USD; and $50 USD increments from $249.99 USD to $399.99 USD; and $100 USD increments from $399.99 USD to $999.99 USD.

III. Windows Store -- the Biggest Developer Opportunity?

While Apple and Google would disagree, on Microsoft's blog it plugs the new Windows Store's as an unmatched developer opportunity, writing:

Windows presents the largest single platform opportunity for developers, with 500 million Windows 7 licenses sold around the world to date.  

The Windows Store will be global, enabling developers to sell their apps in any of 231 markets and in more than 100 languages. 

Like the iTunes App Store and Android Market, Microsoft will work to try to make sure that all its Windows Store apps appear in the search results of the most used search engines.  It will also include a built Windows Store search button in its upcoming Internet Explorer 10 browser, set to launch alongside Windows 8.

IE 10 Windows store buttons
When Windows 8 usrs visit the website of an app in Internet Explorer 10, code launches a "Get the App" button (see bottom right), which allows users to directly visit the app's Windows Store web entry.

For the Beta, all the apps in the Windows Store will be free.  Only select apps will be available.  Developers who wish to be considered for enrollment will have to apply to this contest of sorts, at this link for consideration.  

Build Contest

While free, ad-support will be fully live in the beta stage apps.  Paid app purchases will go live at the Windows 8 launch date, which is tentatively slotted for Fall 2012.  Free apps from the trial period will be fully available for conversion to a paid app, at launch, similar to preview versions in the Windows Phone Market.

Windows Store is the only place where home users can get Metro apps, indicating that Windows 8 will use digital rights management to control Metro UI accessibility.  Fear not, though, business users -- IT and corporate deployments will be free to make their own third party Metro UI apps, which are exempted from the requirement of going through the Windows Store.

(All images are from Microsoft in this article, unless otherwise noted.)

Sources: The Verge, MSDN, All Things Digital

"I'm an Internet expert too. It's all right to wire the industrial zone only, but there are many problems if other regions of the North are wired." -- North Korean Supreme Commander Kim Jong-il

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