The Dangers of a Windows 8 App Market

I’ve been reluctant to write about Windows 8 since the Developer Preview at the Windows Build event. I was NOT impressed by the preview, but I’m waiting to see an actual beta release before I get too invested in a well thought out opinion on Windows 8 itself.

But one aspect of the strategy around Windows 8 really does bother me -the Windows App Market.

With the phone and X-Box, Microsoft has followed Apple’s app store model far too closely for my tastes, and from what we’ve heard from official sources so far, it seems that the Windows 8 App Market will continue that pattern. The current intent is that all metro style apps will be distributed ONLY though the official Microsoft app market. It will be policed, not just for technical issues, but for content and functionality. Basically, if Microsoft doesn’t like what the app does, how it does it, or the content they will refuse to distribute it.  

Think about that for a moment.

They’ve already established an “objectionable content” (no-porn) policy. So imagine it is 1998, and apps are coming from an app store like what microsoft is proposing. Would Duke Nukem have been approved? What about Grand Theft Auto a few years later? What about a Hustler subscription app? What about an app that displays the naked human body for use by human anatomy students. What about apps dealing with human reproductive biology? And that’s just the censorship arguments.

What about apps that compete with Microsoft’s own?

How long before my ISP, or the MPAA, starts paying Microsoft to reject or pull BitTorrent clients?

Even the pro-security arguments in favor of policed app markets are problematic. What about apps that have new capabilities no one’s seen yet? Imagine an app market back in 1993. Now consider the Trumpet Winsock TCP/IP suite, which allowed windows 3.1 to talk to that brand new internet thing. Would that kind of insecure network stack have been an approved app for distribution in a Microsoft policed app store?  

And how long before governments start passing laws policing those same centralized app stores too? 

I understand the arguments for better quality control, policing against malicious apps, easier app discovery, etc. I don’t have a problem with the default setup preventing most consumers from installing apps from 3rd party sources. But there needs to be a way for people to unlock their devices and use 3rd party markets if they choose (without paying Microsoft, without being a developer, and without having to register with Microsoft to unlock the device).    

Currently Microsoft is playing these concerns off by pointing out that these restrictions only apply to the new metro-style apps. You can still load and distribute traditional desktop apps without going through the store. That’s a bullshit argument though. It limits the free-exchanges for apps to “legacy” technologies, which Microsoft’s incentive will be to eliminate one-by-one over the next several years. If they are successful with a Microsoft exclusive, locked-down market for Metro-Apps, it’s almost inevitable that future versions of windows will do the same to traditional apps too.      

I’m all for there being a nice safe, secure, and policed Microsoft app market. But having that as the ONLY option is probably the scariest proposal Microsoft has ever made.    

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