The standard method of installing a Windows Phone app is currently threefold. First, you can use the Marketplace hub on your phone, browsing for the appropriate app or game, selecting it via the Install or Buy button and following any additional instructions.
Second, you might also browse for games in the Zune desktop client, installing them in the same way (if your access to the Marketplace has been blocked in a Zune update, you can undo this). Note that Zune is being deprecated by Microsoft, so don’t expect to be able to use this method long-term.
The third way of accessing the Marketplace is via your web browser, visiting this link. Essentially a web-based version of the Zune interface, the same steps should be followed to add software.
But what if the type of app you’re looking for doesn’t exist? The answer, then, is to look for homebrew apps, software developed by Windows Phone enthusiasts.
Installing Non-Marketplace & Homebrew Apps
Not all apps for Windows Phone can be found in the Marketplace.
As strange as it may seem, there are other locations on the web where you can find applications and games. These aren’t pirated (although the method of installation might be misused for that purpose) but rather created by developers that don’t have access to the Marketplace (there is some expense in listing apps officially. Similarly, Microsoft might reject the app).
These so-called “homebrew” developers add their apps to their phones using the sideloading procedure.
There are no Marketplace alternatives for unlocked Windows Phones – in order to take advantage of homebrew, your device must be unlocked (the equivalent of an iPhone jailbreak or Android root).
Finding Apps Outside The Marketplace
So just where can you find homebrew apps for Windows Phone?
The first place you should probably try is DevStore7, available from this link. This is a phone-based developer hub that features apps from XDA-Developers, new ringtones and wallpapers and the latest Windows Phone news. As the app is phone-based, you will need to download the .XAP file and sideload it to your unlocked phone.
Meanwhile a good selection can be found at 1800PocketPC, a Windows Phone news site that regularly reports on the latest tweaks and apps available from homebrew developers.
Elsewhere, Windows Phone Bazaar will also enable you to download XAP files for Homebrew apps to sideload to your unlocked device, while a whole host of apps and games and tweaks can be found at XDA-Developers if you’re prepared to get your hands dirty.
Limits On Sideloading
As fun as it is to find and use apps that haven’t been listed in the Marketplace, the procedure does come with a downside – a limit on the number of concurrent sideloaded apps.
However you unlocked your phone (either using the now-extinct ChevronWP7 method, the official paid developer unlock/subscription or the free developer unlock/subscription for students) a limit is in place restricting the number of sideloaded apps.
Students are limited to three apps, while pro developer accounts have a ten app limit. To add new homebrew apps, remove those previously installed.
Don’t Use This Guide For Pirated Apps & Games!
Yeah – just re-read those words again.
The installation of procedure for non-Marketplace and homebrew apps can often be used as an excuse by unethical users to try apps and games that have been pirated. I would strongly advise against doing this.
Since mid-2011, Microsoft has had the ability to detect exactly what software is installed on your phone, whether added through the Marketplace or sideloaded. As a result, installation of any illegally acquired software will be listed on Microsoft’s servers against your Windows Live account. You wouldn’t want that to happen, now would you?
Although there can be some expense involved with unlocking your Windows Phone, if your device is developer unlocked then you can take advantage of these great alternative marketplaces.
With tweaks enabling the addition of custom ringtones for text message alerts or icon packs to replace the standard Windows Phone tiles, the efforts of Homebrew developers should be applauded and supported. Microsoft restricts the use of browsers on its mobile platform, but there is a homebrew version of Opera Mini, for example.
Remember to use this facility responsibly, of course. If the system is abused, it could be the end of homebrew.
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