Windows Store, you're still clumsy, despite Windows 8 boost

The Windows Store found in the new Windows 8 Release Preview offers a few healthy changes, yet it continues to seem half-done.

Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

Yesterday's Windows 8 Release Preview brought a few tweaks to the Windows Store, but shopping at the virtual store still doesn't feel user-friendly.

Those of you who download the new Release Preview will find changes scattered around the Windows Store. Navigation seems to head the list, as described in a new Microsoft blog.

The Windows 8 beta version of the store offered a breadcrumb, a path that shows you where you've been so you can return to a previous page. Microsoft felt that users didn't see or use the breadcrumb, so it removed that in favor of a new Apps bar.

Right-click anywhere in the store, and you'll now see an Apps bar at the top with a link to return to the store's home page. Another link displays a list of apps that you've already downloaded, either on your current PC or on other Windows 8 PCs. That link is especially helpful if you need the same apps on all your computers and don't want to go hunting for them on each PC.

App downloading has also been tweaked. Clicking on the link for an app currently downloading brings you to another page displaying an image for the app. Right-click on the image, and you can pause or cancel the download.

That's a good idea, but I don't think it's useful, at least not in the way it's currently implemented.

Most Metro apps seem small and can download in a manner of seconds. Several of the apps I selected finishing downloading before I had a chance to get to the pause or cancel options. I'd prefer to see those options more easily available so you can access them quicker.

You can now share links to your favorite apps via e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter. And Microsoft promises that the store will include links to Desktop, aka non-Metro, apps, starting today. I couldn't find any when I checked the store this morning, but hopefully some will pop up later on.

Despite the enhancements, the store still feels awkward to me.

Part of that may be the overall Metro feel, which forces a horizonal layout over the traditional vertical layout. As with other Metro apps, that design works fine on a tablet but doesn't feel as smooth or as natural on a traditional PC. And all the white space just feels like wasted space. But it's the Metro design, so PC users are stuck with it for better or worse.

I also find the sections for each category confusing and cumbersome. Each category offers such sections as All Stars, Top Free, and sometimes New Releases. I'd like to see a section that displays all apps in a particular category, so I can browse everything and decide for myself which ones I'd like to download.

Overall, I feel lost in the store, like I'm in a big virtual shopping mall and am not sure what I want or how to find it. For example, when I tried to search for or browse Desktop apps, I didn't know where to go. There was no category for Desktop apps, and I had no idea what to search for.

The store clearly doesn't offer the usability of Apple's Mac Store or the iOS App Store.

At this point, that's understandable since Windows 8 is still a work in progress. I certainly expect Microsoft to finesse the store further for the final release of the OS later this year.

The company is also focused on trying to get developers to create a huge enough supply of apps. That too is understandable. I just hope Microsoft can devote as much attention to the quality of the store itself as it does to the quantity of apps.

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