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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 | Workplace

The Activision Blizzard lawsuit has opened the floodgates

An employee walkout, a tumbling stock price and damning new reports of misconduct.

Activision Blizzard is being sued for widespread sexism, harassment and discrimination.

Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Activision Blizzard is in crisis mode. The World of Warcraft publisher was the subject of a shocking lawsuit filed by California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing last week over claims of widespread sexism, harassment and discrimination against female employees. The resulting fallout has only intensified by the day, culminating in a 500-person walkout at the headquarters of Blizzard Entertainment in Irvine on Wednesday.

The company's stock price has tumbled nearly 10% this week, and CEO Bobby Kotick acknowledged in a message to employees Tuesday that Activision Blizzard's initial response was "tone deaf." Meanwhile, there has been a continuous stream of new reports unearthing horrendous misconduct as more and more former and current employees speak out about the working conditions and alleged rampant misogyny at one of the video game industry's largest and most powerful employers.

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Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

Over the last year, financial institutions have experienced unprecedented demand from their customers for exposure to cryptocurrency, and we've seen an inflow of institutional dollars driving bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to record prices. Some banks have already launched cryptocurrency programs, but many more are evaluating the market.

That's why we've created the Crypto Maturity Model: an iterative roadmap for cryptocurrency product rollout, enabling financial institutions to evaluate market opportunities while addressing compliance requirements.

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Caitlin Barnett, Chainanalysis
Caitlin’s legal and compliance experience encompasses both cryptocurrency and traditional finance. As Director of Regulation and Compliance at Chainalysis, she helps leading financial institutions strategize and build compliance programs in order to adopt cryptocurrencies and offer new products to their customers. In addition, Caitlin helps facilitate dialogue with regulators and the industry on key policy issues within the cryptocurrency industry.
Protocol | Workplace

Founder sues the company that acquired her startup

Knoq founder Kendall Hope Tucker is suing the company that acquired her startup for discrimination, retaliation and fraud.

Kendall Hope Tucker, founder of Knoq, is suing Ad Practitioners, which acquired her company last year.

Photo: Kendall Hope Tucker

Kendall Hope Tucker felt excited when she sold her startup last December. Tucker, the founder of Knoq, was sad to "give up control of a company [she] had poured five years of [her] heart, soul and energy into building," she told Protocol, but ultimately felt hopeful that selling it to digital media company Ad Practitioners was the best financial outcome for her, her team and her investors. Now, seven months later, Tucker is suing Ad Practitioners alleging discrimination, retaliation and fraud.

Knoq found success selling its door-to-door sales and analytics services to companies such as Google Fiber, Inspire Energy, Fluent Home and others. Knoq representatives would walk around neighborhoods, knocking on doors to market its customers' products and services. The pandemic, however, threw a wrench in its business. Prior to the acquisition, Knoq says it raised $6.5 million from Initialized Capital, Haystack.vc, Techstars and others.

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Megan Rose Dickey
Megan Rose Dickey is a senior reporter at Protocol covering labor and diversity in tech. Prior to joining Protocol, she was a senior reporter at TechCrunch and a reporter at Business Insider.
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Protocol | Workplace

What’s the purpose of a chief purpose officer?

Cisco's EVP and chief people, policy & purpose officer shares how the company is creating a more conscious and hybrid work culture.

Like many large organizations, the leaders at Cisco spent much of the past year working to ensure their employees had an inclusive and flexible workplace while everyone worked from home during the pandemic. In doing so, they brought a new role into the mix. In March 2021 Francine Katsoudas transitioned from EVP and chief people officer to chief people, policy & purpose Officer.

For many, the role of a purpose officer is new. Purpose officers hold their companies accountable to their mission and the people who work for them. In a conversation with Protocol, Katsoudas shared how she is thinking about the expanded role and the future of hybrid work at Cisco.

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Amber Burton

Amber Burton (@amberbburton) is a reporter at Protocol. Previously, she covered personal finance and diversity in business at The Wall Street Journal. She earned an M.S. in Strategic Communications from Columbia University and B.A. in English and Journalism from Wake Forest University. She lives in North Carolina.

Protocol | Fintech

The digital dollar is coming. The payments industry is worried.

Jodie Kelley heads the Electronic Transactions Association. The trade group's members, who process $7 trillion a year in payments, want a say in the digital currency.

Jodie Kelley is CEO of the Electronic Transactions Association.

Photo: Electronic Transactions Association

The Electronic Transactions Association launched in 1990 just as new technologies, led by the World Wide Web, began upending the world of commerce and finance.

The disruption hasn't stopped.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

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