For Windows 8 applications that use the new Windows 8 UI, Microsoft wants to limit distribution exclusively to the Windows Store, ostensibly to insure quality, compatibility, and freedom from security vulnerabilities and malware. Of course, this means that Microsoft gets a cut of the price (30%, reduced to 20% for volume). It also means that applications must pass Microsoft certification.

We consultants often develop applications that don’t fit this model. If you develop custom applications for your clients, you don’t want those in the Windows Store. If your client develops software for a specific vertical market, they may want to be able to distribute directly to their customers without sharing revenue with Microsoft. Microsoft is making allowances for that, via a process called Enterprise SideLoading. Side-loading allows an IT administrator to install a signed application if the systems they’re installing on are part of a domain, that domain allows trusted applications to install, and either (a) the systems are all running Windows 8 Enterprise or (b) they’ve purchased side-loading keys from Microsoft. Talk about Simon Says rules!

Thus, if you intend to write applications for Windows 8, you have three choices:

  • Don’t use the new UI. Microsoft will not subject desktop applications to this restriction, but we don’t know for how long. Nor do we know how long the desktop will remain a viable interface on Windows.
  • Distribute through the Windows Store. Go through the certification process and hand over a percentage of your revenue to La Cosa Microsofta.
  • Use side-loading. This means limiting your target systems to the Enterprise version of Windows 8, or requiring end-users to purchase side-loading keys per machine. It also means that the machines must be part of a domain, and that the domain enables the policy to “Allow all trusted apps to install.”

I foresee a lot of businesses and consultants going for the first option. If the new UI catches on, though, we will start to get pressured from clients and customers to provide solutions that employ it to its maximum effect. At that point, we’ll have to decide how to fit into Microsoft’s grand scheme, unless they decide to change their policy. Or not — we might be able to convince users that other platforms provide better value at that point.

Also read Jason Hiner’s post Windows 8: Four big takeaways for business and IT