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Oh dear. Microsoft is at it again.

Microsoft reverted to its old anti-competitive behavior, and is now trying to use its market dominance to exert Apple-style control over the distribution of apps and games. At least, that’s the argument made by Epic Games co-founder Tim Sweeney in a blistering editorial published in the Guardian.

His quarrel is with Microsoft’s Universal Web Platform (UWP) initiative, which he describes as a “fiasco” and “the most aggressive move Microsoft has ever made”.

Tim Sweeney is really worried about UWP. But you shouldn’t be. Read on to find out why.

What Is Universal Windows Platform?

At the core of Microsoft’s app strategy is Universal Windows Platform. Essentially, it allows developers to write apps that target the full range of the Windows ecosystem – from tablets How Well Does Windows 10 Work on a Tiny Tablet? How Well Does Windows 10 Work on a Tiny Tablet? Windows 10 is taking the devices of disgruntled Windows 8 and curious Windows 7 users by storm. The PC experience is great, but how does it perform on small screens? Matthew tested Windows 10 on... Read More , to computers, to even the Raspberry Pi 2 Another New Raspberry Pi... and it Supports Windows 10 Another New Raspberry Pi... and it Supports Windows 10 Read More .

It seems reasonable, doesn’t it? But the devil is always in the details, and UWP is not without its fair share of controversies. For starters, UWP apps can only be sold through the sorely deficient Windows App Store How Dead Apps Are Drowning the Windows Store How Dead Apps Are Drowning the Windows Store Dead apps are everywhere in the Windows Store. Why are apps abandoned, how does it affect users, and how could Microsoft solve this dilemma? We analyze the sad state of the Windows Store. Read More , where Microsoft takes a 30% cut of sales.

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Tim argues that this is ultimately anti-competitive, as it prevents developers from selling directly to consumers, as has traditionally been the case. It also locks out third-party app stores, like Steam, Good Old Games (GOG), and Unity. It essentially gives Microsoft a monopoly on the distribution of Windows software, much like Apple has on the iPhone.

Admittedly, since November, it has been possible to side-load UWP applications on Windows How to Sideload Apps on Windows 8 & 10 How to Sideload Apps on Windows 8 & 10 The Windows Store isn't the only place where you can get universal apps. We show you how to install apps from external sources using PowerShell or the Settings menu. Read More . However, this process isn’t widely advertised, and is intimidating to non-technical users.

Locked Features

Another one of the concerns raised by Sweeney was Microsoft will eventually use their control over UWP as a weapon to cripple non-UWP software. This concern is understandable. The corporate history of Microsoft is filled with them doing similar things, and getting chastised by the government (or their users) as a result.

In the 1990s, Microsoft was accused of crippling third-party browsers by limiting their access to vital system APIs (Application Programming Interfaces What Are APIs, And How Are Open APIs Changing The Internet What Are APIs, And How Are Open APIs Changing The Internet Have you ever wondered how programs on your computer and the websites you visit "talk" to each other? Read More ). This resulted in the government of the United States actually suing Microsoft, and forcing them to open their APIs.

It’s perhaps because of this lawsuit that we have as much choice of browsers as we have today.

For a more contemporary example of Microsoft using its dominance to hinder third-parties, you need only look at Windows RT Windows RT - What You Can & Can't Do Windows RT - What You Can & Can't Do Windows RT edition was discreetly launched about a month and a half ago with the flagship Microsoft Surface RT tablet device. Though visually indistinguishable from Windows 8, there are some key differences as to what... Read More . This was Microsoft’s ill-fated attempt to release a locked-down, ARM-compatible version of Windows, which would compete with the iPad.

Microsoft didn’t allow browsers other than Internet Explorer to access a software process called Just In Time (JIT) compilation. This essentially made it impossible for them to handle JavaScript, which is a crucial component of most websites. It essentially made Internet Explorer the only viable web browser for Windows RT.

microsoft-surface-rt-tablet-4

Sweeney worries that as Microsoft continues to develop UWP, it will include features (or performance enhancements) that aren’t available to non-UWP apps, thereby disadvantaging them.

Ironically, the few UWP games available to buy are themselves crippled, by virtue of them being UWP games. Take Quantum Break, for example, which will be released shortly as a Windows App Store exclusive.

Because of the limitations established by Microsoft in designing UWP, gamers will not be able to create custom mouse or keyboard bindings. They will not be able to create or install third-party modifications. There’s also no support for SLI or Crossfire What Is SLI & How Can It Improve Gaming Performance? What Is SLI & How Can It Improve Gaming Performance? Sometimes a niche term is taken for granted. We have some such terms in the world of computing hardware, and one of them is SLI. It’s been around for so long that geeks take it... Read More , which is found on high-end gaming systems.

Could Microsoft Ever Replace Steam?

Microsoft was able to shift tens of millions of copies of Windows 10 because they essentially gave it away for free Make Today Your Launch Day: Get Windows 10 Now! Make Today Your Launch Day: Get Windows 10 Now! You're eager to install Windows 10. Unfortunately, you missed the Insider Preview and now it's taking a while until the upgrade will be rolled out to you. Here's how to get Windows 10 now! Read More , rather than selling licenses to end-users.

Windows-10-Upgrade-Ready-640x450

While this is great for Microsoft’s user numbers, it’s not great for their bottom line, and Microsoft now has to recoup the missing income. So far, they have experimented with integrating service like Bing tightly into the operating system, and displaying adverts on the lock screen, and elsewhere How to Ban Windows 10 Ads & NSFW Content from Your Desktop How to Ban Windows 10 Ads & NSFW Content from Your Desktop Windows 10 may be crossing a line with desktop ads and NSFW content. Microsoft and third-party developers can push promotional material directly onto your desktop. We show you how you can defend yourself. Read More . One of their biggest potential money-spinners is their app store. Unfortunately, it hasn’t taken off.

One of the main reasons why, is that, unlike on Android and iOS, users have a choice. Microsoft, like Apple Why Do Developers Keep Leaving the Mac App Store? Why Do Developers Keep Leaving the Mac App Store? Is the Mac App Store becoming a burden for Mac developers? We decided to talk to a few and find out. Read More , has found it difficult to build a compelling alternative to the existing distribution systems.

But there’s also the fact that these distribution systems, especially Steam, are inherently better than anything Microsoft could offer.

Take Steam. Valve’s wildly popular games distribution service has been around for well over a decade now. They essentially have a captive audience of customers, who have spent years and thousands of dollars building collections of games, which cannot be ported to rival services. I’m hardly a gamer myself, and I own well over 120 Steam games. This means I’m almost certainly never going to move elsewhere.

SteamGames

Steam’s hard product, while shaky at first, is amazing, too. They’ve perfected every aspect of the gaming experience, from delivery, to non-intrusive DRM, to customer service. They’ve included value-added extras, like trading cards and achievements. They’ve embraced the modding community with open arms, and made it easier for end-users to download third-party code.

It makes sense that Microsoft feels threatened by Steam. They’ve got a mature, solid product, which people love, and it earns them a lot of money. It’s allowed Valve to become a hyper-profitable games company, despite not releasing all that many games.

You could be forgiven for speculating that Microsoft would use their muscle to disadvantage Steam, and other third-party distribution networks, in favor of their own offerings.

But it is just that. Speculation.

Nothing to Fear

I can understand Tim’s logic. UWP, by design, essentially gives Microsoft a monopoly on distribution.

I can also understand why Microsoft would want to exert more control over their app ecosystem. Not only will it earn them more money, but it also gives Microsoft leverage to raise the quality of Windows’ apps, and to improve security.

But despite that, I’m not convinced by Tim Sweeney’s argument. At times, it felt a bit like Netflix worrying about Betamax taking all their business. Sweeney is worrying about something that has failed to happen.

Although it’s early days, UWP has been a dismal failure. It hasn’t caught on, and it won’t. Not while the rival offerings are so strong, and while the Windows App Store is so weak. Not while Windows Mobile 10 How Much Windows Phone is in Windows 10? How Much Windows Phone is in Windows 10? Windows 10 is not that novel. It contains a whole lot of Windows 8 and many features that were successfully pioneered on Windows Phone. Now we all get to enjoy them. Find out which ones... Read More is yet to be released, and while Windows Phone 8.1 occupies a statistically insignificant share of the mobile market MakeUseOf Says Goodbye To Windows Phone MakeUseOf Says Goodbye To Windows Phone This is going to be a tearful goodbye, buddy, but it has to happen. MakeUseOf will soon be parting ways with Windows Phone. Read More .

SmartphoneMarketShare

But let’s suppose Sweeney’s fears come to pass. Let’s imagine Microsoft begins crippling non-UWP apps. What would happen?

Well, the uproar would be audible from outer-space. It would be disastrous for Microsoft. Gamers, who are a lucrative market, would move to other platforms in their droves, like Steam OS Is SteamOS a Good Choice for a Gaming System? Is SteamOS a Good Choice for a Gaming System? Can you rely solely on SteamOS with good performance, or should you still keep that dual-boot with Windows? Let's take a look. Read More , mainstream Linux, and OS X. There would be an immediate uptick in console sales.

It’s also deeply uncharacteristic for post-Balmer Microsoft, which is trying to reinvent itself as an open and collaborative company. Microsoft is trying to court users of Linux Does Microsoft Really Love Linux After All? Does Microsoft Really Love Linux After All? Microsoft and Linux have had a tumultuous relationship. Over the years, CEOs have expressed a desire to see Linux disappear, but these days the story is different. Does Microsoft really like Linux after all? Read More , and especially OS X Microsoft Loves Apple – These Mac and iOS Apps Prove it Microsoft Loves Apple – These Mac and iOS Apps Prove it Stuffy, boring, insular. These are three adjectives that have been used to describe the Microsoft of yesteryear. But that Microsoft is gone. They've changed. Radically. Read More , with new applications and services. They’re working on Project Islandwood Want Your Favorite Android & iOS Apps to Run on Windows 10? Want Your Favorite Android & iOS Apps to Run on Windows 10? Microsoft has an app problem. And their solution could let you run Android and iOS apps on your Windows desktop. Your turn! Encourage developers to port apps to Windows with Project Astoria or Islandwood. Read More , which allows iOS developers to port their code to Windows. More recently, they acquired Xamarin, in order to make it easier for Windows developers to write applications for iOS and Android, using Microsoft’s C# language.

Microsoft isn’t the anti-competitive dragon it was in 1999. It’s a fundamentally different company. Somebody should remind Tim Sweeney.

  1. Brian McMahon
    March 18, 2016 at 10:25 pm

    This is one of the best and most accurate articles about UWP that I've read. The fear and loathing of UWP is all based on speculation that an "evil Microsoft" will end support for Win32 and DirectX development APIs (except within UWP). If Microsoft actually attempted to carry out such a plan, they would both destroy their stock value and bring down upon their lofty heads the wrath of just about every government on planet Earth. End of support for Win32 without a non-UWP replacement is simply not something that Microsoft could pull off. It is literally in the fabric of all Windows compatible applications used everywhere around the world. Attempting to corner this kind of technology into UWP is just never going to happen.

  2. Linuxy-Dudey
    March 11, 2016 at 8:36 pm

    Hold on, Microsoft is the bad guy. They tried to make it you cannot buy a PC without paying for Windows, I don't want pissy WIndows, I want Linux.

    Microsoft constantly try to shut down the competition.

    Microsoft Sucks, period.

    • Linuxy-Dudey
      March 11, 2016 at 8:37 pm

      I mean, in my opinion Microsoft Sucks Period...

  3. Neoalfa
    March 10, 2016 at 8:24 am

    Personally, I'm all in favor of Microsoft going the way of tightening its software distribution policies. This way maybe Linux will finally receive the attention it deserves and we'll be seeing less distros and more developers working together to offer an all-encopassing product that third-party companies will be willing to invest into. I use Linux only sporadically and I love the look, feel and perfomarnces of Windows 10, but Microsoft asinine policies have been a thorn in everyone's side for decades. It's about time we see another shift in the OS market.

  4. Vectre
    March 9, 2016 at 8:39 pm

    Just a minor issue with a few of your points:

    "For a more contemporary example of Microsoft using its dominance to hinder third-parties, you need only look at Windows RT. This was Microsoft’s ill-fated attempt to release a locked-down, ARM-compatible version of Windows, which would compete with the iPad."
    - Windows RT and by extension the Surface RT was not Microsoft's attempt to use "its dominance to hinder third-parties", it was MicroSoft's attempt to release a tablet. MicroSoft is not by any measure dominant in the tablet market. You are ascribing ill intent where there was none. Attempting to enter a 'new' market isn't necessarily bad behavior nor is it evidence of Microsoft being the bad guy.

    "Microsoft didn’t allow browsers other than Internet Explorer to access a software process called Just In Time (JIT) compilation. This essentially made it impossible for them to handle JavaScript, which is a crucial component of most websites. It essentially made Internet Explorer the only viable web browser for Windows RT."
    - Once again you are trying to make Microsoft the bad guy. The reason there were no other viable browsers for Windows RT was the companies refused to make them. The only thing they would not have been able to do was have the browser on the desktop. They each have browsers in the app stores for other tablets, why is a browser in the app store for Windows RT suddenly a bad thing.

  5. Aaron Stackpole
    March 9, 2016 at 7:00 pm

    And while the product manager of windows 1.0 (Gabe Newell) obviously has no love lost for his alma mater, Tim is smoking crack because he's still living in the 80s.

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