Intel online software stores set to conquer world
First North America, now Europe, then...
Intel has expanded the beta versions of its online Windows 7 and Windows XP netbook-software storefronts to include Moblin 2.1 in the US and Canada. It has also announced it will soon move across the pond to offer Windows and Moblin 2.1 apps to anyone whose currency is denominated with a £ or €.
On March 31, the Intel AppUp Center Beta will become available in 27 European countries - although at launch only English will be supported, with other languages to be rolled out over time.
Intel's Peter Biddle, headman of AppUp products and services, told The Reg that a multi-language roll-out is on the way. "There's a bunch of moving parts in this system - not the least of which being things like VAT. We're starting with English and the Euro, and then we'll be rolling out localizations into local European languages over time."
Developers must submit their netbook applications to the Intel Atom Developer Program  for validation before those apps can be accepted into the AppUp Center storefronts. However, Intel promises that the validation process will be less onerous than what many developers have experienced from, say, Apple's App Store police.
"We heard very clear feedback from the software-development community that we needed to be transparent and not seemingly random or capricious," Biddle said. "That's why we published our guidelines  right off the bat. That's why we are being as transparent as we possibly can about what the requirements are going to be, as well as providing you with direct and accurate feedback about where you are in the queue, and the reasons - if you do fail validation - why, and remedial steps to fix it."
The AppUp Center will be managed by Intel, but netbook vendors will be able to add their own custom front-ends to Intel's "storefront" back-end. "We call them 'storefronts'," Biddle told us, "because when you think about what it takes to run a store, things like back-end, validation, and catalog are all implied - and those are all things that we manage."
No specific netbook-manufacturing partners were part of Thursday's announcement, although Intel CEO Paul Otellini had said during the AppUp Center's coming-out party  at this year's Consumer Electronics Show that Acer, Asus, Dell and Samsung had all committed "to build AppUp Center storefronts of their own." However, Biddle said: "We're still working with those guys and super-excited about them. And they're awesome."
Those still-to-be-announced netbook vendors will have a high degree of freedom in designing their front-ends. "Right now you go to the Intel beta storefront. In the future, we look to you being able to go to an Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Samsung storefront - and other unannounced partner storefronts - and at that storefront you will see the offerings that that e-tailer wants to highlight, as well as the listings they want to make available. They have control over the catalog, over what gets listed. They also have control over ... a 'top five,' for example, or 'store picks,' or 'editor picks.'"
Referring to a vendor's options, Biddle said: "We're a developer program and a store in a box. You can do it as lightweight or as heavyweight as you want. If you want to go light and just say 'We're going to do a quick-and-dirty store' as an experiment, we can manage basically everything for you, if that's what you want. If you want to say, 'We actually see this as a great market-differentiator for us, we're going to double-down on our ability to work directly with consumers, so maybe we're going to offer only software that's consistent with our marketing and our demographic,' then you can do that too."
When asked whether there would be, for example, an Acer area at the Intel AppUp Center or a standalone Acer AppUp Center, Biddle replied: "Honestly I don't want to sound sort of emphatic about one or the other because it could turn out that both are true. What we're thinking right now is that there would be, for example, an Acer store - whatever they want to call it, the Acer Marketplace, the Acer Download Place, Acer Cool Stuff, whatever. It would have the Intel AppUp Center logo in the lower lefthand corner, but otherwise it's the Acer store."
From Intel's point of view, a Samsung netbook user could, for example, buy something from the Acer store. That said, Biddle cautioned that locking out an app could happen at the device level, though not at the store level. "If somebody builds a device that has controls over what can and can't run, then they can, for example, make their device exclusive to their store - but that's outside of us."
Although the netbook AppUp Center betas currently support only Windows and Moblin 2.1, Linux is under investigation. "We're looking at Linux," Biddle says - but his priorities are clear: "We want to support Atom. We are first and foremost a processor vendor - we're going to support Atom right now, and clearly the right answer to that is Moblin and Meego, but we are a CPU business. We want to make sure users of our devices have the best possible experience.
"This is very much consistent with what we want to do in AppUp - and, frankly, with Moblin and Meego. This is supporting both our current position in existing markets like netbooks and our pursuit of future markets like slates, tablets, and handhelds."
But Biddle doesn't want to tell vendors or consumers what to do. "I've got a lot of scar tissue around 'imposition of will' on consumer demand, as well as on third parties, and so my perspective is that we want to focus energy around Atom and netbooks because we think it's a sufficiently large-volume installed base but not so big that we're trying to boil the ocean."
At CES, Otellini expressed high hopes for the future of the AppUp Center approach to software sales: "Looking forward," he said, "our vision is not to limit this just to netbooks. The vision is to extend it to any Intel-architecture device in the computing spectrum. So, up into the PC space to be able to address the billion units of PCs that are out there ... but increasingly down into handheld and even smart-TV space over time."
But the concept has a long way to go before it conquers the world. For example, the fact that both the North American and European AppUp Centers are still in beta, according to Biddle, is "very much by design." There's a lot of work that remains to be done, and the beta tag provides some cover. "Keeping the beta label around things like rolling out new currencies, rolling out new direct runtime support - getting a few of those under our belt we think is super-important while we're still in beta so that we can make sure that we can make them bulletproof."
But netbooks are, for Biddle's money, the right place to start, and Europe is a great place to dive in. "We're super-excited about Europe because, for example, the consumer profile is quite interesting. And the commuter profile is quite interesting: a lot of short-to-medium plane, train, and bus transport - and if you're on a train for an hour, a netbook is the perfect device. It's ideal. It's got great battery life - it's better for that experience than my iPhone, hands-down." ®
Although Biddle claims that the AppUp Center's validation procedures will be transparent, they do have one thing in common with Apple's App Store: a distaste for human flesh. According to the Application Ratings  section of the developer guidelines, "Content that generally falls under the category of pornography" will be prohibited - namely: "Nudity or sexual material (e.g. exposed breasts, bare buttocks, visible genitals, visible sexual touching, explicit sexual language, erections/explicit sexual acts, bondage/SM, erotica)."