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Only a few years ago, app stores were an anomaly; now, even my six year old knows how to download and install an app. That simplicity has made the app store so popular with users that it is essentially a necessity for every mobile environment, enterprise application suite and desktop operating system. So, it's not too surprising that Microsoft is embracing the familiar app store concept in its latest incarnations of Windows and Office.

What's Inside

Microsoft revealed it planned to offer an app store for Windows 8 last December. Now the Seattle giant has announced it has similar plans for the next release of its Office suite. Microsoft already has an Office Marketplace for software to extend Office. It is unclear if it will eventually merge with the new Office Store.

Microsoft gave its first official preview of Office 2013 this week. The company also released a beta version of its Office Store. The app store may only be a few days old, but according to Ludovic Hauduc, General Manager for the Office Platform and Store teams, Microsoft already has “a large and vibrant ecosystem of developers building rich solutions for Office and SharePoint” in its new Office Store.

Ease of use and diversity of applications are required to make an app store successful. The ease of use box is easy to check off; just make it work like one of the many existing app stores. Creating a wealth of applications, however, is a bit trickier.

Office and SharePoint have an enormous user base. Microsoft says it sells one copy of Office 2010 every second, which means this user base is constantly expanding. Numbers like this might entice some developers hoping to capitalize on the audience. In addition, Microsoft is hoping to spur momentum with its new cloud-based app development model that simplifies development of Office apps -- including add-ons for SharePoint.

Enough Apps to Make Users Happy

Currently, the Office Store features a small list of apps in each category: Excel, Word, Outlook and SharePoint. The app store also lists about 10 apps that are coming soon like HP ePrint for SharePoint. All the apps currently in the Office Store are free. It will be interesting to see how developer’s price their wares, and if the ad-supported freemium model common to mobile will expand to Office.

Yesterday we reported on an app by that has already found its way to the app store. The app enhances Outlook with social features and integration with SharePoint. Yesware has another interesting app for Microsoft’s email client. It adds information like location, social media presence and company name to Outlook, which could help businesses be more responsive to prospects and customers.

In the SharePoint category, Microsoft created issue tracking and asset tracking apps user can further customize in Access. ModelSheet created an app for Excel that allows users to create models (e.g. sales model, financial statement) using a wizard. One of the 15 featured apps in the Office Store is Factiva for Word 2013, which allows users to search for and view news from within Office. Users can also setup alerts or create a “newsletter” for other Factiva users.

All of the apps now in the Office Store appear to be developed by companies. Now that Microsoft has established a developer site,  offerings from individual developers may begin trickling in. Microsoft will be performing some validation on the apps. The company seems to be taking an approach that is less rigorous than Apple, but more controlled than Google. It is unclear if this will help Microsoft’s app store avoid the issue Android’s app has had with malware.

No matter what happens, Microsoft seems committed to the app store concept. However, at some point the company might want to consider consolidating its multiple app stores into a single, categorized property.