Microsoft makes big Windows 8 push to developers

A week after launching the eagerly awaited Windows 8, Microsoft is pushing for software developers to build masses of apps for its new operating system.

The software giant is hosting a developers' conference in Seattle this week called 'Build', where developers have been invited and courted to recreate the thriving 'ecosystem' of apps that is behind the success of Apple's App Store and Android's Google Play.

Although the Windows 8 line-up - including the operating system, the Microsoft-produced Surface tablet, and the Windows Phone 8 mobile operating system and associated smartphones - has been met with good reviews, the lack of apps is widely considered to be its primary weakness. The Windows Store currently features heavyweights like Netflix and the New York Times, but is missing other prominent apps such as Facebook and Twitter.

Microsoft is trying to rectify this through, among other things, the four-day Build conference, where chief executive Steve Ballmer pleaded with 2,000 developers to "please go out and write lots of applications".

The company gave attendees a Surface tablet and 100GB of free space on its SkyDrive online storage service. On top of that, handset partner Nokia threw in a free Lumia 920 smartphone running Windows Phone 8.

Microsoft is hoping a new set of tools, like its Azure cloud platform, will win over developers. However, the company believes its best argument is the sheer size of the Windows user base - it sold four million upgrades to Windows 8 in its first four days, with a further 670 million or so machines around the world currently running Windows 7.

"Some of the new changes are pretty incredible and are going to make developing, especially some of the mobile apps, much easier," Mike Cousins, a software developer following the conference by webcast from Calgary, Canada, told Reuters.

Other developers agree and admit it is an exciting new platform to build apps on.

"The Surface is really exciting. It's been interesting to see people that would normally be critics of Microsoft surprised to see how good it is," said Greg Lutz, product manager at development tools company ComponentOne, who is attending the conference.

Russ Whitman Chief strategy officer at Ratio Interactive, a design agency that helps companies create apps, believe that Windows new 8 system has the potential to overshadow its rivals.

"Microsoft recognizes it needs apps to flesh out its new online Windows Store and make Windows 8 machines more attractive to users. The catalog (of apps) is where they are weak, there's no doubt. But if Microsoft stays focused on quality not quantity, they can win," he added.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has predicted there will be 400 million new devices running Windows next year, including PCs, tablets and phones, and confirmed that the company will market heavily to consumers.