The new Windows Marketplace

Congratulations to Microsoft for finally getting the new Windows Marketplace up and running. Windows Marketplace has long been a site where Microsoft-certified ISVs could hawk their wares. It's never been a huge draw due to smaller-than-expected uptake and a less-than-simple buying process. Microsoft announced its intention to fix and redesign Marketplace late last year, and it's finally finished the job.

The new Windows Marketplace is like a highly organized bazaar of XP-compatible software. Its search engine covers more than 150,000 products in their entirety, of which about 60,000 are downloadable titles. Loads of these are purchase-only, but the site has always highlighted free downloads, too, and will continue to do so. Right now, for example, there's a photo management suite that's freely available from Shutterfly. Microsoft also says that it'll have some stuff up there soon that will sport a design look similar to that of Vista's Aero interface.

A brand new addition to the Marketplace is Microsoft's new Digital Locker. At first blush this sounds like a customer-convenience tool -- a secure area within the Marketplace to store customer information and preferences. But it's really a selling aid for smaller Microsoft ISVs.

Although it isn't presented the same way, you can think of this as being similar to the purchase tracking feature on Buy or peruse a few things there and Amazon remembers what you were interested in and presents similar products to you in subsequent visits. Microsoft hopes its version will allow smaller marketing-challenged ISVs to use the Marketplace to get their products advertised in front of targeted audiences. The locker also offers secure and streamlined software download services, so these same small ISVs don't have to worry about CD or packaging costs.

Overall, it's great stuff, but my sys admin alarm bells are still going off. One of the chief mental hurdles my users have to downloading and installing unsupported software via their wild and wooly Internet links is that they're not certain whether it'll run right. If they "break" their desktop, then tech services will know why and fur will start flying.

But now, Marketplace has essentially become a massive one-stop quick-shop for everything from games to media management to additional productivity software. And although lots of it costs, it often doesn't cost that much --and a whole mess of it is entirely free. When my users figure this out, I can see a bunch of the more daring ones cruising around the Marketplace looking for interesting downloads.

True, it's not much different than CNet's download site or Tucows, but seeing that Microsoft-approved logo is going to embolden those that might have shied away from other sites. I'll have to see how this plays out, but there may be some anti-.exe group-policy work coming my way in the near future.

The flip side, of course, is that as a sys admin, Marketplace has the potential to be a real treasure trove. Its wide variety combined with its ability to allow customers to evaluate software products right there on the site means we can look for new tools in the same place that we can discuss them with other Microsoftees.

Yeah, it's a double-standard, but nobody said life was fair.

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Oliver Rist

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