As strange as it may sound, if a developer offers a limited application for free in the Windows Store, they may then sell, directly in the app, an upgrade or unlock to the full version for which they can accept payment directly. They do not need to pay Microsoft 20-30% royalties as with a Windows Store purchase. Thus any developer who wants to use a non-Microsoft payment system is free to do so. The only thing they can’t do is use a non-Microsoft distribution system, such as their own web page or store.
So it is almost impossible to conceive of a circumstance where Microsoft would lose significant revenue by opening the distribution system since it has already opened the payment system, and substantively all the revenue comes from the payment system. The only revenue Microsoft would still make from the store for an application that did not use their commerce engine would be the variable one-time application fee of less than $100 per app (not per purchase). The Windows Store would have to lose 10,000-20,000 apps to open distribution every day in order for this to amount to even 1% of Microsoft’s revenue. For reference, the most popular app store in the world, Apple’s, is estimated to receive a total of fewer than 500 per day.
Furthermore, the potential for migration of Windows Store customers from Microsoft to third party providers wouldn’t be any greater under open distribution. Anyone using the Windows Store as currently specified will be able to create an account with a third-party payment processor as part of any in-app purchase that supports it. Once they decide to make such an account, they can trivially use that account to pay for any other in-app purchase in all apps that support the same payment processor. The inertia of purchasing through a third party is only present the first time the user needs to use it. Open distribution would be no different. The Windows Store would remain the default source for Windows 8 apps, and only once the user decided to install and create an account with a third-party distribution source would the Windows Store lose its inertial advantage.
Thus Microsoft has almost no financial incentive to disallow open distribution. Presumably, there must be other concerns underlying their decision to keep distribution closed. Is it to mitigate the threat of malware? Is it to prevent piracy? Is it to better manage their brand? Until Microsoft is explicit about its goals so its decision can be assessed against them, we can only speculate on the motives, and all the likely candidates have other straightforward solutions that don’t involve draconian policies like forcing users to only install Microsoft-approved software.“
Where We Go from Here
Experimentation on open platforms is one of the primary sources of innovation in the computer industry. There are no two ways about that. Open software ecosystems are what gave us most of what we use today, whether it’s business software like the spreadsheet, entertainment software like the first-person shooter, or world-changing revolutionary paradigms like the World Wide Web. It will be a much better world for everyone if this kind of innovation continues.
Developers, consumers, and even Microsoft should want the next twenty years to look like the last twenty: year after year of great new and previously unattainable things, brought to you by motivated, creative developers who were free to go wherever their vision took them, knowing full well that if they made something great, there was no barrier between them and disseminating it to the world.
With Windows 8, Microsoft is in a pivotal position to help make this future a reality. They could become one of the primary forces fighting to make tablet development as open as desktop development was under traditional Windows. They could take market share from the completely closed (and thoroughly dominant) iPad, and help restore to that space the freedom to innovate that developers lost when Apple imposed its restrictive policies.
Or, Microsoft can ship Windows RT, Windows 8, and Windows 8 Pro with their current policies in place, and be just another player in the touch device space, with their own set of ridiculous hurdles that severely constrain software possibilities and waste developer time with ill-conceived certification processes.
Why take this risk? Why not bend over backwards to give developers an open platform, so that each and every one of them will be not just supportive, but actually enthusiastic to help Windows make inroads into the tablet space?
The success of Windows 8 in the tablet and phone space is far, far from a sure thing. Does Microsoft really want to go into that battle without some of their biggest assets? Do they want the likes of Valve, controller of over 50% of all PC game sales, deciding to throw their weight behind Linux
because the Windows 8 ecosystem completely prohibits third-party app stores like their flagship Steam? Do they really want the launch of Windows 8 plagued by story
of notable developers coming out against the platform? And above all, are they willing to risk alienating developers to the point where they actively promote and foster competing operating systems as their flagship platforms because Windows no longer offers them the freedom to develop and distribute their software the way they choose?
Hopefully, for everyone’s sake, they will realize the only sane answer to all of these questions is ”no“.
This appendix provides some brief statements about Windows 8 which were not explicitly covered in the article.
All versions of Windows 8 are closed for Metro apps, not just Windows RT. Although aggressively disputed by a number of people outside Microsoft, the truth according to Microsoft itself is that no final version of Windows 8 will allow free dissemination of Metro apps outside of enterprise domains. I have documented this meticulously in Appendix B. But even if Windows RT was the only version of Windows with a closed ecosystem, this would still be extremely troubling. Windows RT could turn out to be the most popular Windows version in the tablet or phone spaces, and we need openness in those spaces just like we need it on the desktop. There is no reason to believe we should care less about the policies Microsoft implements on Windows RT than on rest of the Windows line.
Even if the Windows 8 UI debuts poorly, that does not mean it won’t eventually become standard. In 1990, many (if not most) serious computer users probably thought Windows 3.0’s interface wasn’t very good either. But ten years later, its direct descendent was ubiquitous. So regardless of what Windows 8’s UI looks like today, simply because people don’t like it or don’t see its future doesn’t mean its grandchild might not be the dominant paradigm down the road. By that time it will be far too late to convince Microsoft to open its distribution model.
People who do not prefer to use the Windows 8 operating system may still be hurt if it remains closed. If Windows 8 becomes popular, most users will be forced to use it at least occasionally (such as at work), and most developers will be forced to support it due to market pressure. People who dislike the operating system will need it to be as open as possible so that they can install software that replaces features they feel are implemented poorly, something that may well be disallowed by future Windows Store policies (policies similar to these exist in the Apple App Store requirements already, for example).
The fact that iOS is a closed platform is more reason to demand Windows 8 be open, not less. The fact that iOS is closed is actually the main reason why Windows 8 for tablets and phones must be open. If iOS were itself open, developers could go write whatever they wanted for the iPad and iPhone, and they wouldn’t have to care what Microsoft did. It’s precisely because iOS is closed, and Apple has repeatedly denied developers the right to distribute many kinds of interesting and commercially viable software there, that it is essential to have another powerful player in the space that’s committed to open software distribution.
Contrary to popular belief, Android, Nook, and Kindle Fire aren’t actually closed distribution platforms. Android, Nook, and Fire are all actually the same at the core (Android). Although they all have stores similar in behavior to the Windows Store, all three also allow you to install uncertified APKs (program package files) directly from the web. Granted, it is not exactly a well-oiled process on all of them, so in that sense their platform owners could do more to encourage open distribution. But at least they have not physically prohibited it, as Microsoft is doing with the new Windows 8 ecosystem.
Closed third-party stores like Steam are substantively different from operating systems which require all software to come from a single store. The crucial difference between the Windows Store and Steam is that Valve doesn’t own the underlying platform. Any developer can ship a distribution system like Steam to compete with Steam, and any Windows user could install it at the click of a button. The problem with Microsoft owning the distribution on Windows is that once the user has purchased a Windows machine, they cannot simply install, say, an Android system alongside it that they can effortlessly switch back and forth between instantly, as would be the case with Steam and a would-be competitor.
That said, Steam should be opened as well, but that’s an article for another time. In brief, what we really want is open Windows and open Steam, and we’re certainly not going to get there by having closed Windows and no Steam. That’s what we’ll have on Windows RT, and as I argued in the article proper, probably also Windows and Windows Pro down the line.
So we should certainly continue pushing Valve to open up Steam to all developers, but pushing Microsoft to open up Windows is more pressing because once it closes, there’s nothing a third party can ever hope to do about it.”
Can a developer legally distribute a Windows Store app (formerly known as a “Metro” app) to everyone on the internet without first getting permission from Microsoft?
The answer to this question is unequivocally no. It does not matter whether you have Windows RT or Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro, the answer is no on all versions of Windows thus far announced.
In order to ensure the accuracy of this statement, I called Microsoft’s public relations contact for developers and requested a fact check. I asked: