Last week, Microsoft finally unveiled the latest version of its operating system, Windows 8.

Any release of the software giant’s flagship product is a big deal for Microsoft, but Windows 8 is arguably the biggest product launch in the company’s history. Why? Windows 8 is the company’s attempt to successfully shift to world in which computing is increasingly touch-driven. And it might very well be be the company’s only opportunity to make the shift.

Chicken and egg

Given the success of Apple’s App Store and Google’s Android Market, it’s no surprise that Microsoft is trying to make the Windows 8 experience an app-driven one. That, however, isn’t without its challenges. The biggest: solving the classic chicken and egg conundrum. If the Windows Store is to thrive, consumers need a broad selection of high-quality apps. But without a critical mass of consumers, developers have little incentive to produce those apps, particularly since the most successful developers have greater revenue opportunities in established app stores.

Given the uncertainty around Windows 8 — many believe it will succeed, many believe it will fall short — it’s clear that Microsoft has its work cut out for it. Windows Store officially launched with just under 8,000 apps, a number that is growing at around 500 per day. Is that enough? While quality is arguably more important than quantity, and the presence of familiar apps like Netflix is probably most important for Microsoft right now, Windows Store lags Apple’s App Store and the Android Market by hundreds of thousands of apps, and its growth rate is much lower.

Early adopter: OWN

What does this mean for publishers grappling with their app strategies? Is it too early to develop a Windows 8 app, or is this an opportunity to get in on the ground floor?

Oprah Winfrey’s OWN apparently believes it’s the latter. As detailed by AdAge, the cable network has developed a free content-rich Windows 8 app filled with “behind-the-scenes video and web extras from OWN shows,” as well as articles from Oprah’s magazine. To promote the app, OWN has launched a contest that will reward the winner with a trip.

According to Noel Kehoe, OWN’s VP of digital marketing, “We are trying to communicate with people wherever they are and however they want to be communicated with.” But is Windows 8 the platform on which to do that?

Risk versus reward

To answer that, it’s worth considering the risks and rewards. Currently, investing in the development of a Windows 8 app comes with a fair number of risks:

  • There is no doubt that millions upon millions of consumers will be using Windows 8 in the near future, but the overall success of the operating system is yet to be determined and millions of consumers will surely delay upgrading.
  • It remains to be seen just how popular the ‘appification’ of Windows 8 will be. While it’s hard to imagine that Windows 8 would be a hit and the Windows Store wouldn’t, the extent to which Windows 8 adoption will drive app adoption is not yet known.
  • While Microsoft is arguably doing something really innovative by making JavaScript a first-class citizen for developing Windows 8 apps, publishers are still facing yet another platform with a unique development paradigm.
  • Best practices around Windows 8 app development based on what works and what doesn’t in real life have yet to be established, creating obvious challenges for early adopters looking to minimize their investment before they ‘get it right.’

And what about the rewards? Those, frankly, are primarily theoretical at this point. Could they be significant and worthwhile? Absolutely, and for publishers Microsoft might provide financial incentives to, a Windows 8 app could be worth a punt. But for publishers whose digital success can’t wait, Windows 8 probably isn’t a priority yet.