In an editorial posted on The Guardian this morning, Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney called on Microsoft to make a commitment to keeping PC development open. Sweeney is worried about Microsoft's recently announced Universal Windows Platform (UWP), a set of APIs that allow developers to make applications and games on any platform that runs Windows. Make a game for Windows 10 and it'll run on the Xbox One or Microsoft Surface as well.
UWP is Microsoft's replacement for Win32, the current Windows APIs used by most developers. (API stands for Application Programming Interface: the stuff developers use to interact with Windows and make programs for the operating system.) Most UWP programs are sold directly through the Microsoft Store right now, but developers and publishers are able to sell UWP and Win32 applications through their own stores as well. Sweeney's contention is that as Microsoft improves UWP, it will continue to lock certain functionality and new features behind UWP exclusively. The final speculation is Microsoft would then require all UWP programs to be sold directly through the Windows Store.
"I'm not questioning the idea of a Windows Store. I believe Microsoft has every right to operate a PC app store, and to curate it how they choose," wrote Sweeney. "The specific problem here is that Microsoft's shiny new Universal Windows Platform is locked down, and by default it's impossible to download UWP apps from the websites of publishers and developers, to install them, update them, and conduct commerce in them outside of the Windows Store."
"It's true that if you dig far enough into Microsoft's settings-burying UI, you can find a way to install these apps by enabling 'side-loading'. But in turning this off by default, Microsoft is unfairly disadvantaging the competition. Bigger-picture, this is a feature Microsoft can revoke at any time using Windows 10's forced-update process."
If you've been around the PC market a long time, what Sweeney is worrying about is Microsoft's old "Embrace, Extend, Extinguish" strategy. The strategy is as follows: make software that works with a competing product or public standard, add new features not supported by that competing product or standard, and once users rely on those new features, slowly marginalize other competitors.
In this situation, "Embrace" is offering Universal Windows Platform to everyone. "Extend" is the slow addition of useful features that are exclusive to UWP and Windows 10. "Extinguish" is the speculated forcing of UWP programs to go through the Windows Store only, thus giving Microsoft a cut of all profits. (Exactly like iOS.) Embrace and Extend are already happening, Sweeney is looking towards the potential Extinguish.
In an interview with Polygon, Sweeney admitted to liking the idea of Universal Windows Platform. Win32 applications have access to too many operating system features, allowing applications like web browsers to potentially run malicious code. UWP is a potential fix for some of those issues, once Microsoft improves functionality.
Sweeney wants to make sure that UWP is an open format, just like Win32 applications. He wants Microsoft to minimize the roadblocks (app warnings or default settings in Windows) and allow UWP apps to be sold through any store, including Steam, Good Old Games, Origin, or UPlay. Sweeney also wants to make sure that developers and publishers can bring their UWP programs directly to consumers with no issue.
"Microsoft is a black box," Sweeney explained to Polygon. "I know a lot of people there who are really awesome, smart people who want to do the right thing, but then there are other people there who appear not to be because some of the bad decisions they're making on Windows 10. There is not proof of an evil plan to do this, but just the fear."
Microsoft itself has already responded to Sweeney's editorial with a statement to The Guardian, pledging to keep the Universal Windows Platform fully open.
"The Universal Windows Platform is a fully open ecosystem, available to every developer, that can be supported by any store. We continue to make improvements for developers; for example, in the Windows 10 November Update, we enabled people to easily side-load apps by default, with no UX required," Microsoft vice president of Windows Kevin Gallo explained.
For his part, Sweeney believes he's just keeping Microsoft honest, because to him the Windows PC ecosystem is too widespread to give up now.
"Microsoft's intentions must be judged by Microsoft's actions, not Microsoft's words. Their actions speak plainly enough: they are working to turn today's open PC ecosystem into a closed, Microsoft-controlled distribution and commerce monopoly, over time, in a series of steps of which we're seeing the very first," he stated.
"We want to fight for our rights as independent software developers to make PC software without Microsoft's permission. My tendency is to fight this really early on as they're starting to do this."