With the launch of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, Microsoft has embraced the age of the app and opened its own app store--the Windows Store.

Like Apple's iOS App Store and Google's Android Market, the Windows Store is a central location for browsing, purchasing, and downloading apps. But it's hardly an exact duplicate of its rivals. Let's take a closer look.

Browsing for Apps

The Windows Store uses the same "Metro" aesthetic as the Windows 8 Start screen, with blocks of rectangular app icons sprawled across a long, horizontally-scrolling list. Each category gets its own clump--for lack of a better term--on the Store's home page, with featured apps, curated lists, and links for top paid and top free apps. The way these categories are spread out across the main screen makes casual browsing enjoyable, though getting to a particular category can be slightly frustrating without a master list.

Clicking an individual app brings up a description page, with an overview as well as screenshots, user reviews, and other details, such as what types of data the app intends to access. These pages are pretty thorough, but eventually I'd like to see links for more apps from the developer, plus other similar apps that users also installed.

One major omission is the lack of a master list of all the apps the user owns within the Windows Store itself. Users can view their app library though the "All Apps" list on the Start screen, but this doesn't allow users to visit the app description page, which would be helpful for viewing version history or posting a review.

Installing and Running

All apps in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview are free, and installing them is as simple as clicking the "Install" button on the app description page. For paid apps, developers will be able to include a "Try" button for timed or feature-locked app trials, alongside a "Buy" button. For the final version of Windows 8, paid apps will cost a minimum of $1.49, and a maximum of $999.

Installed apps appear on the Windows 8 Start screen, but they don't have to stay there. Users can unpin the app so it only appears in the "All Apps" list (accessed by right-clicking on the Start screen).

Uninstalling is easy: Just right-click the app (or press-and-hold on a touch screen), then select "Uninstall" from the menu on the bottom of the screen. In welcome contrast to Apple's iOS App Store, users have the option to uninstall apps that are included with Windows 8, such as Mail, SkyDrive, and Xbox LIVE. These apps have their own section in the Windows Store if the user wants to reinstall them.

Other Features

The final version of the Windows Store will include some features that aren't yet part of the Consumer Preview. For instance, if the user visits a Website that has an app in the Windows Store, an icon will appear in Internet Explorer 10 linking to the app page--or to the app itself, if the user already has it. Microsoft also plans to make Windows Store app pages discoverable through Bing, but that hasn't happened yet.

Eventually the Windows Store will also feature listings for desktop apps sold outside of Microsoft's ecosystem, which will take users to external Websites for purchasing. No such listings are part of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview. Keep in mind, however, that Metro-style apps will only be available through the Windows Store. External listings will only be available for desktop apps.

There are currently 72 apps available in the Windows Store.