Microsoft pledges to clean up its Windows app store

With Windows 10 due out this summer, the software giant wants to get rid of the junk apps littering its Windows Store.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
4 min read

Microsoft wants to vacuum its Windows Store. Microsoft / Screenshot by CNET

The Windows Store has been slammed for its array of cluttered, confusing and garbage apps. Now, Microsoft wants to clean up its act.

Bernardo Zamora, director of Microsoft's Windows Apps and Store, announced in a blog post Wednesday a set of new policy guidelines for Windows app developers, all designed to rid the store of inappropriate, aka garbage, apps.

Introduced in 2012 with the debut of Windows 8, the Windows Store offers touch-screen apps designed to run on PCs and tablets. But in its race to fill the store with a host of apps, Microsoft has allowed too many similar and junky ones to fill its virtual shelves. The problem here is that the company's app policies have been lenient, leading to too many apps that leave consumers with a bad taste while shopping for software. Due out this summer, Windows 10 is Microsoft's shot to redeem itself following the poor reception to Windows 8. And one part of that redemption will be an attempt to overhaul the Windows Store.

Windows 10 is also Microsoft's effort to offer a more unified experience across all devices -- PCs, laptops, tablets and phones. Toward that end, the company is combining its Windows Store and Windows Phone store into one single shopping center. Therefore, cleaning out the dreck will be even more vital as all Windows 10 owners look to it as a one-stop shop.

In his blog post, Zamora outlined four ways in which Microsoft will attempt to improve its app store via tighter developer guidelines.

One way is to get rid of app clutter. Too many apps with similar titles and icons can confuse customers, according to Zamora, especially when those tiles and icons don't properly represent the app itself. As such, apps that seem too similar to other apps, have similar titles and icons, or use icons and titles that don't match the app content could be kicked out of the store.

Microsoft may also jettison apps that don't offer unique content or value. As one example cited by Zamora, the company may get rid of some "flashlight" apps if it finds too many with a similar functionality.

Another goal is to make sure each app is priced right. Though developers set the price for their apps, Microsoft wants to ensure that customers pay a fair amount. If Microsoft finds an app priced significantly higher than similar ones in the same category, that app may be given the heave-ho.

Microsoft also wants developers to distinguish informational apps, such as guides and tutorials, from functional apps, such as games and productivity software. The aim here is to ensure that customers aren't fooled into buying an informational app when they actually want a productivity app.

"In order to make it clear to users what they are buying, informational apps that are not easily identifiable as reference apps, must distinguish themselves by prominently displaying a text or banner labeling it as such," Zamora said. "If an informational app violates this policy, it may be removed from the Store."

One final goal is to ensure that an app's title and keywords are relevant to its content. The title and description cannot say that the app is similar to or better than other apps unless they're comparable. Further, developers can't use irrelevant keywords to try to bump up an app's rank in the search results and must restrict themselves to no more than eight keywords. Again, if developers violate this policy, their app could be booted from the store.

Microsoft offers a webpage with advice on how to describe your app and another page outlining its its Windows Store policies.

With the impending release of Windows 10, the policy changes are a step forward. But the store suffers from other problems. Certain apps have been faulted for infringing on copyright. For example, you can find games labeled Super Mario, a popular Nintendo series. But some of those games are made by third-party developers and not by Nintendo. Other apps rip off the names and content from such programs as Netflix and Facebook Messenger.

Such apps not only confuse consumers but dissuade developers from designing apps for Windows. And Microsoft needs good developers to create quality apps if it expects consumers to gravitate to the store.

Microsoft may also need to take a lesson from Apple, which follows a strict set of guidelines before it will certify an app for its App Store. Maybe it's time for Microsoft to just say no to certain apps before consumers ever see them.