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Universal Windows Platform - Walled Garden vs Open System

by Jeff Martin on Mar 24, 2016 |

With the debut of Windows 10, Microsoft introduced the Universal Windows Platform (UWP).  The technical goal of UWP is to provide a developers with a consistent platform such that an UWP app will run on any device that runs Windows 10.  This means that the same UWP app can run unmodified on computers running Windows 10 as well as devices that include Xbox One, HoloLens, and Windows 10 Mobile.  (Subject to the specific input/output capabilities of a given device.)

Initially the UWP approach seems like a good deal.  Developers get lots of potential users across numerous devices while users can easily install new apps without worrying that their system will be compromised or left cluttered.  The counterpoint to this vision is that following the UWP guidelines does apply a few restrictions that are of particular note to high-performance users that includes gamers.  These restrictions include the inability to use mods, full-screen mode, and the ability to use SLI are missing with UWPs.  These limitations are compounded by the fact that Microsoft’s preferred and easiest method of distributing UWP applications is through their app store which requires publishers to grant Microsoft 30% of all sales proceeds.

Epic Games cofounder Tim Sweeney has added his voice to these criticisms of UWP apps.  He first wrote an opinion piece which appeared on The Guardian to explain his position.  He begins by recalling Microsoft’s 2001 antitrust conviction but says that while that was bad the UWP initiative as “the most aggressive move Microsoft has ever made”.   Sweeney has 3 main criticisms of the UWP apps:

  • Sideloading available by default, without requiring any changes to Windows’ default settings
  • Allow UWP app stores to be operated by anyone, not just Microsoft.
  • All software publishers will always be free to engage in commerce with their customers without requiring Microsoft to receive 30% of the proceeds.

Sweeney since followed up this editorial with further comments in an article on VentureBeat.  While he cites positive dialog with Microsoft executives, he notes that Sideloading is enabled by default with the Windows 10 November update.  However, this still requires the app to be digitally signed by Microsoft before it can be sideloaded by an end-user without additional security prompts.

A developers's goals for their application will dictate how much the current state of affairs affects UWP adoption.  If you are designing a UWP app for deployment as a line-of-business application in a corporate setting, it is much easier to distribute a digital certificate.  If you are considering building a UWP app for public use, then Microsoft’s digital signature is almost a necessity to avoid confusing the user or repeating the same concerns that arise when running a binary of unknown origin.

Responses have varied from those proclaiming the need for freedom to others that feel it is much ado about nothing.  Microsoft’s Phil Spencer has replied in part to these concerns that “UWP is a fully open ecosystem…”.  With the Microsoft Build conference coming up next week, Microsoft should have a chance to clarify their position.

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