Protocol | Workplace

Windows 11’s biggest change: Microsoft is reinventing the app store

Fewer rules, fewer commissions, more ways for apps to work. And a pointed message to Apple.

New Windows interface

Much of Windows 11 is just a modernization of the operating system, with softer, rounder designs and a cleaner overall interface.

Photo: Microsoft

Not that long ago, Microsoft was calling Windows 10 "the last version of Windows." Technically, that wasn't true: The company launched Windows 11 on Thursday. But while this may be called Windows and still look like Windows and still run Windows apps (OK, yeah, it's still Windows), it's clear that Microsoft is steering its operating system in a new direction.

Microsoft's Satya Nadella framed Windows 11 as a broad rethinking of what Windows can be. "It's the beginning of a new generation," he said, including everything from the OS to the store to the browser. "This is the first version of a new era for Windows." Inside Microsoft, the underlying mantra of that generation seems to be a single word: connection. If someone's PC is their main machine, the powerhouse around which their computing lives orbit, Microsoft wants to make Windows into a better hub. That means improving connections between devices, connections between users across platforms and connections between developers and users.

Much of Windows 11 is just a modernization of the operating system, with softer, rounder designs and a cleaner overall interface. (Though users won't have to dig too far to get to those old-looking interfaces, an unfortunate side effect of Microsoft's commitment to legacy support.) It integrates Teams, and communication in general, deeply across the OS. It comes with lots of performance benefits, like smaller updates and better search. Widgets and feeds make multitasking easier, and a customizable feed surfaces more information more quickly. It's meant to be lighter and faster, in part to take on Chrome OS devices that have eaten Windows's market share in recent years.

But if there's one feature that has the potential for true industry-shaking impact, it's the new Microsoft Store. Almost any app that will run on Windows is now welcome in the store, regardless of how it's compiled or created. Developers don't have to use Microsoft's payment tools; they can choose how their app is updated; they can host their app any way they want to. Microsoft is adding some curation and editorial content, but relinquishing almost all control of the apps in the store. It's a total inversion of the app store model, swapping a carefully-curated, walled garden for a pure discovery engine.

Here's just how crazy this gets: Microsoft is also bringing Android apps to Windows, through the Amazon App Store, which is in the Windows Store. Users will be able to use a Microsoft Store to download an Amazon Store to download Google apps onto their Microsoft devices. Not long ago, every bit of that would have seemed impossible. "We want you to be able to bring any technology, the technology you love, to the store," Chief Product Officer Panos Panay said. "Whether you've already built it, or are building it now."

The new version of the Store resembles the new ideals of Microsoft.Photo: Microsoft

This new version of the Windows Store, drastically more open and functional, is emblematic of the new Microsoft in general. For decades, Microsoft used its power to force everyone to operate in The Microsoft Way. Even as mobile left Windows behind, the company tried to coerce developers to build universal apps using Microsoft tech, Microsoft APIs and for Microsoft devices. Epic's Tim Sweeney called the Universal Windows Platform "the first apparent step towards locking down the consumer PC ecosystem and monopolising app distribution and commerce."

The Windows Store didn't really catch on. Most popular apps never showed up in the store, with developers opting to continue to go direct in order to keep all the money and customer data. Over time, Microsoft added movies, music and TV shows to the store, combined it with some Xbox content and rebranded it the Microsoft Store, stopped selling music, and in general just could never find a way to make the store a hit. Integrating Xbox games into the Microsoft Store helped, but only slightly.

Over the last few years, though, Microsoft's tone has changed. Nadella told Wired in 2019 that "the operating system is no longer the most important layer for us," and has said repeatedly that cloud computing is the foundation of everything Microsoft does. Microsoft's goal is to get people using Microsoft's hardware and software, while acknowledging that the world is and will always be larger than Microsoft.

Most recently, the store has been Microsoft's weapon in Apple's antitrust fight. Last year, Microsoft published its "10 app store principles to promote choice, fairness and innovation," which amounted to one long subtweet of Apple's app review guidelines. Then, in April, as Apple was preparing to argue that the App Store's 30% commission was an industry standard, Microsoft announced it was cutting its commission on PC games to 12%. That put pressure on gaming competitors like Valve, of course, but also made Apple's arguments more complicated. Now, the new Microsoft Store offers a radically different way of thinking about apps, and regulators will surely notice.

The most important outstanding question, of course, is whether Microsoft can convince developers to care. The company's recent history is littered with new products that died on the vine for lack of app support. Too few developers bought into Windows Phone, or signed up to make those UWP apps, or even put their apps in the Microsoft Store. There's some early good news on that front: Microsoft showed off Adobe's Creative Cloud and Document Cloud apps in the new store, and Zoom, Disney+ and other apps are in there as well. But while Microsoft has certainly made the proposition more appealing by lowering the barrier to entry, good ideas and intentions don't add up to much if developers don't care. People go where the apps are.

Protocol | Fintech

A lawsuit tests who controls the stock market

Citadel Securities seeks to block IEX's product that limits high-frequency trading advantages.

Kenneth Griffin is the founder and chief executive officer of Citadel LLC, which argued during Monday's hearing that IEX's D-Limit order type shouldn't have been approved by the SEC.

Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Market maker Citadel Securities, stock exchange IEX and the Securities and Exchange Commission each gave oral arguments Monday in a legal case that could have large implications for financial markets.

Last October, Citadel Securities sued the SEC, seeking to reverse the SEC's previous decision last August to approve IEX's D-Limit order type, arguing that this order type would hurt the overall market. The case was argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals Monday.

Keep Reading Show less
Tomio Geron

Tomio Geron ( @tomiogeron) is a San Francisco-based reporter covering fintech. He was previously a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal, covering venture capital and startups. Before that, he worked as a staff writer at Forbes, covering social media and venture capital, and also edited the Midas List of top tech investors. He has also worked at newspapers covering crime, courts, health and other topics. He can be reached at tgeron@protocol.com or tgeron@protonmail.com.

If you've ever tried to pick up a new fitness routine like running, chances are you may have fallen into the "motivation vs. habit" trap once or twice. You go for a run when the sun is shining, only to quickly fall off the wagon when the weather turns sour.

Similarly, for many businesses, 2020 acted as the storm cloud that disrupted their plans for innovation. With leaders busy grappling with the pandemic, innovation frequently got pushed to the backburner. In fact, according to McKinsey, the majority of organizations shifted their focus mainly to maintaining business continuity throughout the pandemic.

Keep Reading Show less
Gaurav Kataria
Group Product Manager, Trello at Atlassian

Everything you need to know about the Allbirds IPO

Allbirds wants to become an iconic global brand for shoes and everything else.

Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The humble venture capitalist puts on her Allbirds one shoe at a time, just like everybody else (or at least everyone else in Palo Alto).

Since its founding in 2015, Allbirds has become an essential component of the tech bro uniform, alongside such staples as the embroidered Patagonia quarter-zip, Lululemon ABC pants, the Zuck-inspired black T-shirt and a Y Combinator-branded Hydro Flask.

Keep Reading Show less
Hirsh Chitkara
Hirsh Chitkara (@ChitkaraHirsh) is a researcher at Protocol, based out of New York City. Before joining Protocol, he worked for Business Insider Intelligence, where he wrote about Big Tech, telecoms, workplace privacy, smart cities, and geopolitics. He also worked on the Strategy & Analytics team at the Cleveland Indians.
Protocol | Policy

It’s Frances Haugen’s world. We’re all just living in it.

With the release of the Facebook Papers, Haugen holds Facebook's future in her hands.

Haugen's decision to open the trove of documents up to outlets beyond the Journal has sparked a feeding frenzy.

Photo: Frances Haugen

Facebook knows a thing or two about optimizing content for outrage. As it turns out, so does Frances Haugen.

Or at least, the heavyweight team of media and political operatives helping manage the rollout of her massive trove of internal documents seems to have learned the lesson well. Because the document dump known as the Facebook Papers, published the same day as Facebook's earnings call with investors and the same week as the conference where it plans to lay out its future as a metaverse company, wasn't just designed for mass awareness.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Here are all the Facebook Papers stories

They paint a picture of Facebook that's very different from what Mark Zuckerberg likes to say.

Image: Getty Images, Protocol

Monday morning's news drop was a doozy. There was story after story about the goings-on inside Facebook, thanks to thousands of leaked documents from Frances Haugen, the whistleblower who wants the information within those files to spread far and wide. Haugen is also set to speak in front of the British Parliament on Monday, continuing the story that is becoming known as The Facebook Papers.

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Latest Stories