Rumors and conjecture have circulated about a possible SharePoint App store since the release of SharePoint 2010. A number of independent attempts currently exist, though they amount to little more than website catalogs. An official app store was thought to be part of Microsoft's launch plans for SharePoint 2010, but it is believed that logistical and technical issues prevented it from becoming a reality. With the success of the iOS version and official plans for a Windows 8 store, it's almost certain we will see something soon for SharePoint.
To Vet or Not to Vet
One feature of app stores that often proves controversial is the approval process for its contents. Apple in particular has come in for much criticism over its guidelines for approving apps. Developers complain of inconsistent judgments, vague rules to follow and a general lack of transparency. Apple simply maintains that its approval process exists to maintain the quality and integrity of its app store. The Google Android store is much less strict: most apps just need to agree not to violate the store's terms and conditions, rather than undergo actual vetting. As a result, it is generally accepted that the overall quality of the Android store is lower than Apple’s.
So what approach might Microsoft take? Is it really considering formally approving all applications in a SharePoint app store? Think of the myriad of web parts, plugins and applications that currently exist for the SharePoint ecosystem. Is Microsoft going to require all of these to be submitted, tested and approved? Will simple web parts be tested in the same way as full backup tools or addins like Nintex Workflow? It seems unlikely.
We can take some clues from the Windows 8 app store approval process, announced late last year. A six step process was revealed comprising:
- Step 1: Preprocessing
- Step 2: Security test
- Step 3: Technical Compliance
- Step 4: Content Compliance
- Step 5: Signing and Publishing
- Step 6: Release
Microsoft has signaled an intention to maintain the quality of Windows 8 apps, without being as restrictive as Apple. How well it strikes this balance will be a key factor in the success of the store. But it is clear they do want to look at content and functionality as well as code and security compliance.
If we assume that Microsoft will adopt a similar approval strategy for a SharePoint app store, it becomes apparent that they cannot be planning a single store for each and every piece of third party software. Web parts, or their SharePoint 2012 successors, cannot be judged next to more significant plugins like Nintex Workflow. They are simply different beasts. Not only might the approval rules be necessarily different, but certainly the time taken to evaluate them would be. The natural conclusion seems to be that if an app store is coming, it will be restricted to certain types of apps -- web parts being an obvious choice. Maybe larger pieces of software will be included, but it would seem very unlikely that they would be subjected to the same approval process. The logistics just don’t make sense, and arguably never will.
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