So-called deceptive “crap apps” have always plagued the Windows Store. But now, Microsoft appears to be finally ready to do something about them.
In a blog post late Wednesday, Microsoft said that it had removed 1,500 deceptively named apps as part of a policy shift to crack down on developers “trying to game the system with misleading titles or descriptions,” the company said.
A year ago, Microsoft publicly said that the Windows Store has more than 100,000 apps, and it’s unlikely that that number has climbed higher than 200,000 apps by now. But as far back as Oct. 2012—before Windows 8 even launched—analysts were pointing out that the fate of the Windows 8 app store didn’t need a large number of apps to be successful. It needed quality, and that’s not what Microsoft delivered. Instead, consumers are faced with numerous clone apps and paid “alternatives” to freeware, both outcomes that give those users a bad taste in their mouths.
PCWorld first started looking at the problem more than a year ago, when the Windows Store was stocked with games of decent quality from developers looking to score with early Windows 8 adopters. But wander into the video apps section, and numerous YouTube clones started popping up.
A problem from the beginning
Note that while every app store has clones, knockoffs, and generally poor quality apps, Windows seems to be plagued by it. In July 2013 the problem began surfacing once again, as Windows developers began to come forward and say that they were being asked to design adware wrappers around their apps. Curation, we concluded, was the answer Microsoft needed to implement.
But it didn’t—until another expose by HowToGeeks surfaced this week, with more examples of how bad the problem had grown.
On Wednesday, Microsoft said it needed to “recalibrate.”
“We strive to give our worldwide customer base easy access to amazing app experiences while keeping developer friction to a minimum,” the company said. “From time-to-time this process slips out of sync and we need to recalibrate.”
Earlier this year, the company said, it had heard “loud and clear” that people were having problems searching for the apps that they were looking for. The company modified the app store certification requirements with a renewed emphasis on clearly naming each app, to ensure that they are located within the proper category, and to have a unique icon that won’t be confused with others, including the “real” app.
Those policies are actively being enforced, Microsoft said, both to new apps as well as apps that are already part of the Windows Store catalog. “Most of the developers behind apps that are found to violate our policies have good intentions and agree to make the necessary changes when notified,: the company said. “Others have been less receptive,” prompting the app’s removal.
A work in progress
“The Store review is ongoing and we recognize that we have more work to do, but we’re on it,” Microsoft added. “We’re applying additional resources to speed up the review process and identify more problem apps faster.”
In the meantime, customers can click the “report concern to Microsoft” buttons next to an app or email the company at firstname.lastname@example.org. A May update to the Windows Store also prioritizes Microsoft-curated “collections” of apps, providing a safer section of the app store to browse.
In reality, however, some of those “crap apps” actually step in and provide alternatives to first-party apps that those developers simply haven’t ported to Windows 8, or like the numerous YouTube apps, provide download functionality that YouTube itself does not. One of the concerns is simply separating the wheat from the chaff. And with over 300,000 Windows Phone apps, you can argue that the problem may be even greater in the mobile space—and, to be fair, in more obscure corners of the web, like Chrome add-ons.
Microsoft’s begun the process. It’s worth noting that a couple of apps that HowToGeek pointed out, ‘VLC Player Download” and “Download Vlc Player,” appear to have been pulled from the Store, evidence that Microsoft is indeed cracking down. As the images above show, however, there is still lots of work for Microsoft to do.