Microsoft finally tries to de-crap the Windows Store

Microsoft finally tries to de-crap the Windows StoreThe Windows Store has come under fire recently for its sheer amount of misleading apps. Scam apps that claim to offer downloads or training for other applications are abundant, and these bogus programs routinely abuse others' trademarks.

This situation doesn't sit well with an app store that's supposed to be curated and vetted to avoid scams.

Similar complaints have been made practically since the Windows Store's inception, and it appears that Microsoft has at least responded. Stricter rules on application naming and icons have been introduced and are being retroactively applied to existing apps.

Microsoft says that most developers are happy to comply with the new rules and update their apps accordingly. But some aren't, and the company has removed more than 1,500 misleading apps and offered refunds to anyone who bought a misleading app. The company also says that it is adding people to detect problem apps sooner.

Microsoft has removed more than 1,500 misleading apps

A cursory glance shows that there are still many problematic apps. A search for YouTube, for example, reveals plenty of applications using YouTube's logo in a manner that can only be described as misleading, including a pair with a publisher named "Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube World Champs." The purpose of this tactic is clearly to trick people.

The stricter rules were introduced in April. Prior to that, the app certification requirements didn't mention unauthorized use of third-party intellectual property; only the (separate) developer agreement stipulated that apps developers must have the relevant rights for any IP in their apps. In April, the app rules were updated to explicitly demand that apps have appropriate licenses.

However, simultaneous with those changes, humans appear to have been largely removed from the app certification process. Third-party developers tell Ars that app certification used to take 1-3 business days and that test accounts (for apps that required logging in or credentials) were always used. Now certification happens within about an hour, at any time of day, with no content compliance checking at all.

This stricter enforcement points at Microsoft's conflicting goals for the Windows Store. The company calls it the "balance between app quality and choice;" but really it's a numbers game. Microsoft wants to be able to boast about having a lot of apps in the Windows Store, but it's easier to get lots of apps if the standards for those apps aren't very high.

This is why we see, for example, copy-and-paste apps such as the various media players from "Digital Cloud Technologies LLC." The company has a basic media player app, and it's been rebranded dozens of times, one "app" for each popular type of media app. So there's one for "AVI" and one for "MPEG TS" and one for "WEBM" and one for "QT" and so on and so forth. It's not exactly misleading, as in most cases the app does seem able to play the format it's named for, but this kind of market flooding isn't something that promotes quality.

The irony here is that these apps don't just create a lousy experience for users; they create a lousy experience for the legitimate developers that aren't trying to flood the store with hundreds of clone apps but instead are trying to create one good app. The bad apps make it harder for users to discover the good apps.

Microsoft isn't alone in being conflicted here; the same problem exists to some extent on Apple's and Google's app platforms. Apple and Microsoft are both in a peculiar, contradictory position. On the one hand, they want to promote their app stores as safe sources of high quality, curated applications. On the other hand, neither wants to engage in any kind of meaningful curation, because curation requires a kind of selectivity that's at odds with high app counts and abundant (if meaningless) "choice."

While some categories, such as games, are legitimately open-ended (though even these have more than their fair share of cloned and misleading titles), it's not clear who exactly is being served by having hundreds of different media player apps. Genuine curation here—a curator who eliminates these clone apps for offering nothing of value to users, a curator who selects only worthwhile software and discards the copy-and-paste—would be far better for Windows Store users. It's good to have a decent range of options, but a handful of carefully chosen, high quality picks are much more valuable than dozens of mediocre options.

If quality is truly Microsoft's goal, the company is going to have to be far more selective and proactive in its certification process than it has been so far. With app counts still the biggest metric that observers have, however, we struggle to see that ever happening.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: Microsoft, Windows Store

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