Developers need to be clear that the days of freely developing and distributing software for Windows are coming to a close with the advent of Windows 8.
As the launch date for Windows 8 nears, the magnitude of the changes Microsoft is engineering are beginning to sink in.
Steve Ballmer's letter to shareholders this year laid out in plain words what Microsoft had been hinting at for some time now: that the company's emphasis is going to be transitioning away from software and towards hardware devices and services -- "borrowing Apple's playbook," as Forbes put it. Do you recall the shocked reaction last June when Microsoft announced that it was going to be manufacturing Surface tablets, seemingly turning its back on partnerships with hardware manufacturers it had been nurturing for decades? That move, baffling at the time, fits into an Apple-like strategy of controlling all elements of the company's own ecosystem.
Ars Technica ran an op-ed urging Microsoft, if it must emulate Apple, to adopt the app strategy of OS X, not that of iOS. In other words, don't make it impossible for independent developers to sell what they develop anywhere except Microsoft's own store. For that's the direction Microsoft is heading.
Casey Muratori, a programmer and game industry veteran in Seattle, takes a long and hard look at Microsoft's closed distribution strategy. Applications written for the new, "Modern" touch user interface (formerly known as "Metro") will only be available from the official Windows Store. Murtori continues:
Microsoft has stated that applications for the older desktop interface will remain unaffected by these policies. ... Many Windows users have taken this as an assurance that the open distribution model that they enjoy today will still be available in future versions of Windows...
Developers should not rest easy that the open distribution environment that has served them, their customers, and Microsoft so well for 20+ years will continue into the future. Murtori builds a strong case, arguing from Microsoft's own history, that the company's desktop UI "will be relegated to obscurity in ten years, and it will cease to exist outside manually installed compatibility software in twenty."
The limitations Microsoft has established for apps sold through the Windows Store are similar to Apple's. An app can be rejected if it contains any adult content, encourages illegal activity, displays obscene content, and so forth. Muratori demonstrates convincingly that the most highly regarded interactive games of recent years would, to a title, transgress one or more of Microsoft's rules. So would many TV shows. So would many other apps that push the current boundaries.
What Microsoft is risking with its closed distribution strategy is the banning of innovation from the Windows platform. That isn't good for society at large, and it can't be good for Microsoft's shareholders. It certainly is no good for developers.