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To find a new app on Windows 10, you may need to skip the Windows Store.

That’s the takeaway based on our experience so far with the Windows Store on Windows 10 desktop and touch-screen machines. A month after the now-unified storefront debuted, it still feels geared toward mobile devices and lacks some essential programs. Missing apps include popular communications client Slack, the full Evernote and even Microsoft’s full Office Suite for desktop users.

In some cases, the store does include lightweight versions of those essential apps, such as Evernote Touch and universal versions of the Office apps geared for touch devices. And with other apps, such as Slack and the full Office suite, the software is available for download on the web.

But anyone looking for a one-stop shop for Windows 10 apps will be disappointed.

How it works

Searching for NFL brings up everything from the official NFL app to
Searching for NFL brings up everything from the (many) official NFL apps to old-timey NFL-themed albums.

With Windows 10, Microsoft introduced a new way for users to buy all of their digital goods. From movies to watch on your desktop, to apps for your phone, the Windows Store is where Microsoft wants you to shop for virtual products for all your Windows devices. But that all-in-one experience leads to a cluttered store and makes finding apps hard. Plus, the obvious omissions make the store feel incomplete.

It’s not necessarily the design that causes the Store to fail. There are clear sections for apps, games, music and movies. The download process is pretty seamless as well, with recently downloaded apps showing up in the rehabilitated Start Menu. But the selection is sparse.

The first thing you notice when logging into the Store is the preponderance of games. If you’re logging on from a more traditional desktop setup, the touch-focused games probably aren’t what you’re looking for. In fact, the whole Store seems aimed toward the Surface, touchscreen laptops and, eventually, Windows Phone users.

The Store was populated from the outset with a lot of mobile apps, which users can now download on their desktops. Facebook and Twitter are there, brought over from the Windows Phone store. And with an update to Visual Studio that lets developers reuse code from other platforms, users may see more apps popular on iOS and Android coming to Windows 10 soon.

But there is still a lot missing. There’s no TweetDeckTodoist or Slack. Classic desktop games like Civilization and BioShock are missing too. Instead of a full-fledged Evernote, the Store only has the mobile-focused Evernote Touch.

Even Microsoft’s own apps aren’t the full-fledged desktop versions. The Windows Store only has the touch-optimized, mobile versions of Word, PowerPoint and Excel; if you want the full versions, you have to turn to the web.

Microsoft has made this distinction purposefully. But why have a unified store if it’s not comprehensive?

A host of mobile apps, but not the desktop version of Word
The Windows Store offers a host of mobile versions of Office apps, but not the desktop versions. The “Get Office” app leads you to a webpage to sign up for Office 365.

Users who want Word may turn to Google to find the right download. But when you search for “Word download,” everything after the initial results looks like a cesspool of malware-infested sites.

A main benefit of having a store built into your operating system is that it makes it easy to download apps without worrying if they’re safe to open. But the Windows Store has a bunch of knockoff apps, like this misleading BioShock Infinite app.

A common problem

Microsoft isn’t alone in having this problem. The Mac App Store has similarly slim pickings. It does have Slack, the desktop version of Evernote, some classic desktop games and Apple’s iWork suite, but apps like Spotify and Dropbox are nowhere to be found. Apple does warn users who try to open apps downloaded from the web, but users still have to turn to Google to find many essential apps.

However, Apple also has separate stores for mobile and media purchases. The App Store on iOS is the only way to get your app on iPhones and iPads, so developers have been conditioned to submit apps there from launch. And iTunes was a pioneer in the market of music, movie and TV show downloads.

It isn’t necessarily Microsoft’s fault that developers aren’t putting their apps in the Windows Store. Right now, developers have full control of how apps are distributed. But Microsoft is quietly nudging developers to cede some of that control to the Store. Sure, it benefits Microsoft if they control the storefront, but they’re trying to make it better for developers too.

The Windows Store home page on Friday
The Windows Store home page on Friday

Updates are more seamless for apps downloaded through the store. And users who use Cortana to start their searches will see store links without ever having to open a web browser. If a user asks Cortana to find a painting app, she’ll point them toward an app in the Store. Developers who jump into the Store early can use that exposure to their advantage.

But Microsoft still has a way to go if they want to compete with offerings on other platforms. They’ll have to push developers hard and make it easier to tell whether apps are meant for desktops or phones.

In the meantime, you might just have to turn to a search engine — and trust your gut — to find your next Windows 10 app.

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