Marco Arment (best known) for creating Instapaper, recently wrote up a post explaining what he sees as Microsoft’s coming developer problem in Windows 8. His basic argument focuses around three questions:
- Which platforms do we use ourselves?
- Which platforms have large installed bases?
- Which platforms will be profitable to develop for?
In his opinion, Apple and iOS/OSX hit the mark for all three. Windows 8 will hit the second, and the third remains unknown, but the first is the contentious point. He feels that Microsoft is going to have a hard time attracting developers when Windows 8 hits this fall because the developers (he assumes) Microsoft wants don’t use Windows anymore. The consumer product developers, who were already using Macs, simply started making apps for what they were already using.
There’s some truth to that, to be sure, but I think he is missing a few points. First, Microsoft doesn’t make it’s money from consumers. Their most earnings press release clearly shows that the majority of their money comes from business sales and enterprise licenses. While the new push for Windows 8 was clearly to re-invent Windows as a modern consumer product, that’s not where the money is. The Windows platform not only creates billions of dollars for Microsoft, the majority of the IT industry’s billions of dollars in profits are dependent on Windows.
Now, because of this, the Windows Marketplace will also open up this massive market to any developer. The business/enterprise market is still waiting for an app revolution similar to what has happened in the consumer space, and because of the nature of business, will be much more profitable. You can afford to price your apps higher when it can double a business’ productivity, and businesses will have no problem paying for it. This will be a huge draw to many developers who have grown weary of the $0.99 price point, or are looking for new challenges.
Second, I think Marco severely underestimates the importance of having a large user base. Windows, in all its forms, still commands roughly a 75-80% share of the desktop/laptop market. Think the apps in the Mac App Store are great? Wait until you can send them to three times as many people. The sheer numbers involved will draw developers to create, even if it’s just porting over an app they already have on Mac. And with the Marketplace, Microsoft is finally making an easy-to-use, centralized repository for quality, third-party applications. This will be big.
Third, it’s reasonable to assume that it will be at least as profitable as developing for iOS/OSX. Microsoft has free developer tools, the market will be bigger, and because it’s a new app store, there will be a first-mover advantage. His question on how payments will work show that he isn’t a regular Windows user. Many people already have a Live account, whether they know it or not. Al 67 million Xbox users, and every Windows phone user, already has their payment information stored. It’s as easy for customers to buy as any other platform.
Last, to answer his main point, is that the current developers that Windows 8 needs don’t need to already use Windows. He assumes that all the great app developers are on Apple and will never switch. I don’t necessarily disagree with the first part of that statement, but I do with the second. Windows is cheap. You can get a netbook, or a laptop, for $500 at basically any given time. The development costs are the same as on Apple (free for the tools, $100/yr to list on the Marketplace). Outside of an unwillingness to learn, the barrier to entry for Windows is minimal.
Further, he doesn’t recognize the many up-and-coming developers who already do Windows development. C# and C++ are just as popular as Objective-C, and that doesn’t factor in all the other benefits to being a Windows developer. Kinect? Visual Studio? DirectX? Xbox Live? Those are some pretty decent draws to the platform. Visual Studio alone is a phenomenal IDE, even at the free level, but the ability to port my Windows game over to the Xbox with minor code changes is pretty sweet too.
Without sounding like too much of a fanboy, I think Marco significantly underestimates the potential Windows has. Developers for Windows might not be as passionate as Apple, but Microsoft hasn’t really given them a reason to be until now. Microsoft is just as supportive for development as Apple (Ballmer, anyone?), and for much longer. MSDN is incredibly helpful, and new developers should have little trouble getting up and running.
That’s not to say that it will be an easy road. Windows Phone 7 still hasn’t gone anywhere, and Windows Phone 8 won’t either until Windows 8 itself does. However, this isn’t comparing apples to apples. iOS development soared because the iPhone was immensely successful. For similar reasons, I feel comfortable saying Windows 8 will be just as successful in the desktop/laptop market. Windows 8 is a dramatic departure from its’ predecessors, and anyone that’s used it will tell you how consumer focused and pleasant it is. Where the users go, the developers will follow, and Windows 8 won’t be any different.