Security Windows

How Dead Apps Are Drowning the Windows Store

Matthew Hughes 16-02-2016

The Windows 10 app store is notorious for underwhelming its users. It doesn’t have that many apps. The few that are available tend to be of a poor quality. But under the surface lies an even bigger problem for users of the world’s second most used operating system: Dead Apps.


These are Apps that have been discontinued by the developers, but haven’t yet been removed from the store. They sit gathering dust, potentially opening their users to security risks, and continuing to the clutter that is the Windows App Store.

The Windows App Store, on both desktop and mobile, has a disproportionate amount of these dead applications. Here’s how this is affecting users and what Microsoft can do about it.

The Beginnings of the Windows App Store

It’s hard to believe, but at first, developers were optimistic about the Windows App Store. Excited, even.

Microsoft was late to the App Store game when they launched it in 2012. But they had the potential to use this to their advantage, and avoid the mistakes that were made by Apple and Google in the nascent stages of their respective app stores.

When you read developer forums, like Hacker News, you can tell there was a genuine feeling that Microsoft could pull this off. Microsoft was going to make it easy for them to sell apps to hundreds of millions of consumers, and they were going to make a lot of money.


Microsoft even offered developers 80% of sales, which is unthinkable when you consider the industry standard is around 70%.

To turbocharge developer interest in the Windows ecosystem even more, Microsoft radically changed the way Windows apps were built. They made it easy for coders to write an app once, and then run it across the entire Windows family of operating systems.

They started off with Windows Runtime (WinRT), which made meaningful baby steps towards cross-platform apps. This was the basis of Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 apps. With Windows 10, Microsoft took that even further with the Universal Windows Platform (UWP).

But along the line, things went a bit pear shaped, and developers started abandoning the store in droves. The reason why can be found in the execution.


Where the Windows App Store Went Wrong

The Windows App Store’s biggest failing was that it couldn’t change consumer behaviors. Users of Windows had thirty years of getting their software through physical media bought in a store, direct downloads from the Internet, and more recently, through intermediary services like Valve’s Steam and Ninite.

For the Windows App Store to succeed, Microsoft would have to undo that. But they just weren’t able to.

The large studios and professional developers were acutely aware that people weren’t using it. Plus, Microsoft couldn’t offer them the same level of promotion that Apple offers developers in its Mac Store. So, why would developers make the effort to distribute their software through it?

Then there was the problem that the Windows Store just wasn’t all that good.


It could be charitably be described as a veritable cess-pit of poor quality software. The overwhelming majority of the games were of the rapacious, free-to-play sort The Simpsons: Tapped Out Is A Free-To-Play Game That Mocks Free-To-Play Games The Simpson's Tapped Out is a free-to-play game that mocks all of the genre's most annoying aspects, all while still trying to sell you in-app purchases. Read More ; not triple-A titles.


The quality problem wasn’t limited to games. Microsoft wasn’t in the position that Apple was in, where low-quality applications were drowned out by apps that are well designed and built. The end result was that a deluge of poorly-written, poorly-designed apps flooded the market place, and ultimately gained prominence. Some of which were obvious scams Don't Be Fooled! 5 Tips To Avoid Fake Apps In The Windows Store The Windows Store has been spoiled by useless junkware and scams. Microsoft recently purged many fake apps, but the store still features questionable apps. We show you how not to get scammed. Read More .

As a result, developers were reluctant to put their software on it, lest they be judged by association.


It is for these reasons why a worrying trend has emerged, where developers are removing their software from the Windows (and Windows Phone) App Store.

They’re within they rights, of course, as they’re under no obligation to support a platform that is not economically viable. But an undesirable consequence of that is the proliferation of dead apps on Windows.

Windows App Store and Dead Apps

In my experience, dead applications are manifested in one of two ways.

There are those that have been abandoned, but remain available to download from the store. Although they haven’t yet been deleted, the developers have no interest in maintaining them. They might work, but they might not. If a security or performance issue occurs, then… Well? Tough.

The Windows 10 App Store has a few examples of this. One is the American Airlines app, which was discontinued in 2015. The other is Hotel Tonight, which can be downloaded for Windows 10 and Windows Phone.


As a Windows Phone user, I noticed long ago that Hotel Tonight Hotel Tonight: Find the Best Last Minute Deals on Hotels [iOS] Read More had lost feature parity with iOS and Android. But I only noticed that it was a dead app at the end of 2015, when I tried to redeem a promotional code on the desktop version of the app. I typed it in, but the app threw an error, and told me to download the latest update. But there weren’t any updates to download.

I sent the makers a tweet. As Ryan Dube wrote a few months back, Twitter is a great place to get redress Did You Get Screwed By a Company? Take It to Twitter! I used to think that Twitter wasn't very useful, until this year when I learned that Twitter is an amazing way to get what you want from any company you may do business with. Read More from companies that have let you down. Hotel Tonight messaged me back, and told me that they stopped supporting Windows, and to use their mobile website.

It’s not an unfamiliar story. Countless apps have met a similar fate. And that’s to say nothing about the apps which have been withdrawn and deleted entirely. Chase Bank, Bank of America, and Pinterest have all very publicly quit the Windows App Store.

The Walking Dead

In addition to dead apps, there are those that aren’t quite dead, but aren’t quite alive either. They’re essentially moribund.

Developers will pay lip service to maintaining the app. They release token security updates and stability patches, but they aren’t bothered about overall feature parity. Windows Phone is notorious for this, with lots of big-name applications on some form of life support.


The Twitter App lacks group direct messages Twitter Video and Group Messages: Everything You Need to Know Twitter, the world's favourite micro-blogging social network, has launched two new highly anticipated features. You can now finally record and share videos directly on Twitter, and you can also start private group chats. Read More , which we got in February 2015. The Facebook app does’t support nested replies, which were introduced in March 2013. It’s an embarrassment.

Why this Is Bad for Consumers

It goes without saying that Windows Phone customers have always had to put up with a substandard app store experience. That’s a consequence of Windows Phone’s constant third place position MakeUseOf Says Goodbye To Windows Phone This is going to be a tearful goodbye, buddy, but it has to happen. MakeUseOf will soon be parting ways with Windows Phone. Read More . But it’s not much better on the desktop. Windows is literally bleeding apps.

The biggest losers will be those who prefer app-based experiences, over web based ones. Believe me, there are a lot of people who fall into this camp.

In my experience, these tend to be older computer users who are suspicious of what they see through their web browser, but feel much more comfortable with apps. These people won’t have the same access to features, and ultimately will have less choice.


Dead apps also put a dent in Microsoft’s tablet aspirations How Well Does Windows 10 Work on a Tiny Tablet? Windows 10 is taking the devices of disgruntled Windows 8 and curious Windows 7 users by storm. The PC experience is great, but how does it perform on small screens? Matthew tested Windows 10 on... Read More . Microsoft desperately wants to compete with Apple and Google in this sphere. The overarching design philosophy of Windows 10 was to create a compromise between the traditional keyboard and mouse inputs. It’s for this reason why Windows 10 is so great in a two-in-one environment 5 Reasons to Buy a 2-in-1 Windows 10 Laptop 2-in-1 laptops are incredibly versatile. Running Windows 10 they are powerful enough to do office work. They also convert into a tablet, complete with touchscreen, making everything easier. Let us tell you more! Read More .

They won’t be able to do that if there aren’t any touch-oriented apps available, and many of the apps that have been discontinued were Modern UI (formerly Metro) Unity vs. Modern UI: Should You Choose Ubuntu Or Windows 8? For a good amount of people, the choice between Windows 8 and Ubuntu can primarily come down to the user experience, which is largely attributed to the desktop environment. Read More apps, which work great on touch-enabled devices.

Why this Is Bad for Security

Of course, dead applications introduce an element of risk, as far as security is concerned. While Microsoft sandboxes What's A Sandbox, And Why Should You Be Playing in One Highly-connective programs can do a lot, but they're also an open invitation for bad hackers to strike. To prevent strikes from becoming successful, a developer would have to spot and close every single hole in... Read More all Windows App Store applications, and does a good job of analyzing them for malware, there’s nothing they can to to prevent apps from running old, deprecated libraries.

If a banking app is discontinued, for example, and it turns out that the library they use to make encrypted connections has a severe security flaw that could make it possible for an attacker to intercept the traffic. This is one way in which a deprecated application could present a security risk.

App-Solutely Awful

Before anyone accuses me of an anti-Windows bias, it’s worth emphasizing that Apple suffers from a similar problem. According to a 2014 study from analytics agency Adjust (formerly AdEven), around one in five iOS apps can be considered to be “dead”.

No doubt that number has increased in the two years since that study was conducted. And I don’t doubt that there’s a similar number of dead applications on the Google Play store.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the Windows Store is emphatically terrible.

Microsoft is trying to remedy that with Project Astoria and Project IslandWood Want Your Favorite Android & iOS Apps to Run on Windows 10? Microsoft has an app problem. And their solution could let you run Android and iOS apps on your Windows desktop. Your turn! Encourage developers to port apps to Windows with Project Astoria or Islandwood. Read More . These two toolkits would allow developers to port their Android and iOS apps directly to Windows without having to rewrite them from scratch. If you’ve played Candy Crush Saga on Windows 10, you’ve already used an app ported with IslandWood.


Unfortunately, progress on these projects has been slow, and they’re yet to be fully released to the public. Indeed, some in the technology press question whether Project Astoria will ever be released.

While Microsoft can rest on their laurels, the fact is that the the success of their app store is directly related to their long-term success, as was argued by Matt Weinberger from Business Insider.

How Microsoft Can Turn Things Around

I struggle to see how Windows 10 will be a success on the mobile and tablet stage, while its app store remains so dismally bad. The only way Microsoft can possibly turn things around is to start afresh.

Microsoft should close the app store as it is right now, and launch a new one with astronomically high standards of quality. All apps that are submitted should be manually scrutinized by a human, to ensure that nothing manages to get onto the store that shouldn’t be there.

When an app is abandoned, Microsoft should immediately delete it, if it starts being a detriment to the app store, and to their customers. There should be no dead applications.

When an application starts to lag behind the versions released for other systems, Microsoft should ensure that the developer takes efforts to ensure that they have feature parity.

Microsoft should do more to attract quality developers, who will be able to support and maintain an application long-term. To do that, they should take a leaf out of RIM’s (now called Blackberry) book.

Prior to the launch of Blackberry 10, they guaranteed anyone who released an app for Blackberry 10 would make at least $10,000. If they didn’t get that, RIM would pay them personally. They even provided developers with free handsets.


If Microsoft did something similar, it would go a long way to building the type of digital marketplace that developers would be proud to have their apps on.

But what do you think? Are dead applications a problem for you? Do you think the Windows App Store can be saved? Let me know in the comments below.

Related topics: Computer Security, Windows 10, Windows Mobile, Windows Phone.

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  1. Anonymous
    February 17, 2016 at 7:14 am

    Ha! Reminds me of my middle school library back in the '70's - it had science books dating back to the 40's - but there was never any culling, cause that would empty out the shelves!

    • Matthew Hughes
      February 29, 2016 at 9:27 pm

      That's a really great metaphor for the Windows app store.

  2. Vic
    February 16, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    The high quality App Store idea is genius. If only Microsoft listened :(

    • Matthew Hughes
      February 29, 2016 at 9:28 pm

      If only.

  3. Anonymous
    February 16, 2016 at 9:05 pm

    I struggle to find a reason to use Modern (Windows Store) style apps on Windows. I have Surface devices and a Dell Venue, all of which are designed to make full use of chunky, touchscreen-enabled apps. I just can't see a reason to use them.

    There are a small number of exceptions: Plex and Netflix both have wonderful clients in the Windows Store. IM+, a chat client for Windows and Android, works really well. But there are some home-run grade programs that are completely MIA from the Windows Store, like an official Youtube (existing software is ad laden and missing features available on the web or via other mobile clients), Spotify or Imgur client. There isn't REALLY even a solid local media player option; neither VLC nor Mediamonkey have feature parity with their normal desktop versions. Games tend to be terrible mobile-style microtransaction-fests rather than the rich experiences our PCs are capable of giving.

    It all strikes me as a failure to launch on the part of Microsoft.

    As an IT guy who handles Windows system administration for a number of customers, four years after the Windows Store launched, I just today, for the first time, had to set up an Azure-federated Active Directory because someone finally wanted managed installations of a Windows Store application.and I finally had a reason to make Windows Server machines talk to Microsoft accounts.It was four years before anyone actually wanted something that was presented as a core feature of both Windows 8 and Windows 10. My takeaway from this is that no one care and Microsoft still hasn't given anyone a reason to start.

    • Matthew Hughes
      February 29, 2016 at 9:28 pm

      Agreed. Microsoft royally screwed up on the execution.

  4. Anonymous
    February 16, 2016 at 5:40 pm

    I think Microsoft should tie up with Google (Apple will never agree to it) and give access to the Google play Store.

    Since android emulators already exist on Windows this shouldn't be too difficult.
    The result would be phenomenal. Access to the Google play and also to full blown windows apps that everyone loves.

    Just imagine the sales of the surface pro if Microsoft manage to pull it off

    • IndianEradicator
      February 16, 2016 at 7:46 pm

      Stop eating fish, you will come up with even more clever ideas.

    • Anonymous
      February 16, 2016 at 11:17 pm

      Microsoft has tried it: Project Astoria, which would let Windows Mobile devices run Android apps, has all but disappeared, just like it's supposed to run iOS apps (I can't recall that "project"'s name right now).
      Blackberry OS 10.3 added Android app compatibility, as well as the Amazon Appstore. None of these generated any interest.
      If Windows' WinRT/Metro/Modern App framework, which is huge, clunky, and requires everybody to re-learn the .NET framework (which many developers eschew for C++), it might work...but Windows developers, unlike iOS and Android developers, don't like giving Micro$oft 30% of everything. It's also very difficult to make sure your app runs on "mobile Windows" without crippling the desktop Windows version.