Ryu’s Views: Tim Sweeney ‘v’ Microsoft and the Universal Windows Platform

Posted on March 4th, 2016 by Ryu Sheng |

In todays Guardian newspaper (here in the UK) there is an interesting OP-ED piece written by Tim Sweeney. Tim, as you may or may not know is the CEO of EPIC, and has a very good, and very respect reputation within the gaming community; so when he writes an article people pay attention to it.

Now, while I personally find the title of the piece to be a click baiting one, the points that Tim raised in the article are interesting and worth bearing thought on, hence this piece of mine coming into being. Later while I was checking sources and proofing, Microsoft replied to the editorial piece, so I’ll be going over their reply as well. After laying out each of Tim’s points I’ll give my thoughts on what’s being said.

Before we begin, if you’re interested in what the UWP is, from what I understand it’s about making things more compatible across windows devices, including the Xbox One. I’m going to be honest here, trying to read up on this sent me to sleep, Microsoft wrote the longest most dull and boring piece on it, but here ya go for those that want to know more about it.

With its new Universal Windows Platform (UWP) initiative, Microsoft has built a closed platform-within-a-platform into Windows 10, as the first apparent step towards locking down the consumer PC ecosystem and monopolising app distribution and commerce.

In my view, this is the most aggressive move Microsoft has ever made….

Okay, first of Tim, seriously, ever heard of Windows Live? That was Microsofts first attempt at this, and they seem to be following the exact same formula here. So it’s neither their ‘first apparent step…’ nor their ‘most aggressive move’, they’ve made more and worse over the years.

Microsoft has launched new PC Windows features exclusively in UWP, and is effectively telling developers you can use these Windows features only if you submit to the control of our locked-down UWP ecosystem. They’re curtailing users’ freedom to install full-featured PC software, and subverting the rights of developers and publishers to maintain a direct relationship with their customers.

Okay, so when Valve did this they’re hailed as dragon’s among men, worthy of worshiping (and frankly the amount of Gaben worship is worrying!!). Yet when every other developer does it it’s a bad thing, and when Microsoft does it they’re the devil wanting to suck the soul out of PC Gaming.

Valve are notorious for this, you can’t use our X,Y or Z system unless you pay us money and use our almighty Steamworks package! So far almost every digital distributor with their own delivery system has features that are reserved purely for those that are tied to that system. Yes it blows chunks, ideally every system would be open and everyone would play nice. However this is the real world where money talks and playing nice can GTFO.

Ask your self this, why did EA’s Origin become the only place you could play EA games? All the drama aside it happened because EA wanted to sell DLC from within the games, which would mean they’d get all the profit and Valve none of it. Valve didn’t want that, and ultimately EA went solo and Origin became it’s new Steam.

So frankly Microsoft doing this isn’t a big surprise, especially given it’s history…Windows Live.

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. This contrasts with the position the government took in its anti-trust prosecution, that Microsoft’s free bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows was anti-competitive.

My view is that bundling is a valuable practice that benefits users, and my criticism is limited to Microsoft structuring its operating system to advantage its own store while unfairly disadvantaging competing app stores, as well as developers and publishers who distribute games directly to their customers.

Interesting, but you’re lacking something critical here, specifics what systems are locked down that developers not using the system can’t use, over those on the system can use? It’s all well and good to make that bold statement but you need to back it up!

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.

So the first paragraph is condemning UWP for being Steam? You can’t go to say Amazon, download your game from them, and then ‘side-load’ it into Steam. You buy a ‘code’ and then download through steam. Since UWP is (apparently) going to use the same system, where other retailers can sell the codes, what’s the problem?

As for the second paragraph I nearly died laughing. In just previous paragraph you’re condemning them for not having a service (though in reality they do…) but in your next paragraph you admit they do infact have a better service, but it’s just turned off and you’ve got to look into the settings to turn it on…..honestly I’m lost for words on this one. I think the idiocy of these two paragraphs says it all by themselves!

That any PC Windows user can download and install a UWP application from the web, just as we can do now with win32 applications. No new hassle, no insidious warnings about venturing outside of Microsoft’s walled garden, and no change to Windows’ default settings required.

But they already can Tim, they already can. Seriously, he already admitted they can above. As for warnings, I get those all the time asking me if I want to allow X program to do Y and so on. If you don’t like those turn them off. I know it’s shocking isn’t it! We get to mould our UE the way we want it a little!!

As for ‘no change to Windows’ default settings’, I got a question for you all. How many of you have NEVER changed a Windows settings? How many of them are on the exact same default settings as when you either a) installed windows, or b) bought the machine? I know I’m not, no where near being on default.

That any company can operate a store for PC Windows games and apps in UWP format – as Valve, Good Old Games, Epic Games, EA, and Ubi Soft do today with the win32 format, and that Windows will not impede or obstruct these apps stores, relegating them to second-class citizenship.

Cause you know, Valve (Steam), Good Old Games (Galaxy), EA (Origin) and Ubi Soft (UPlay) aren’t walled gardens at all……As for second class citizenship just look at Steam, if you’re not on their system, forget second class; you’re not even fifth class in the eyes of many!

That users, developers, and publishers will always be free to engage in direct commerce with each other, without Microsoft forcing everyone into its formative in-app commerce monopoly and taking a 30% cut.

Again, how is this different from Valve and it’s Steam, Origin or UPlay’s platform? A shop selling your game without taking a cut simply doesn’t exist.

This true openness requires that Microsoft not follow Google’s clever but conniving lead with the Android platform, which is technically open, but practically closed. In particular, Android makes it possible to install third-party applications outside of the Google Play store, which is required for Google to comply with the Linux kernel’s GNU General Public License. However, Google makes it comically difficult for users to do so, by defaulting the option to off, burying it, and obfuscating it. This is not merely a technical issue: it has the market impact of Google Play Store dominating over competing stores, despite not being very good.

I fad a Galaxy S4, took me all of 30 seconds to turn on side loading in the settings. I’m not tech savvy when it comes to phones, so yeah I had to jump through a couple of menus, but it was hardly hard!

Microsoft has certainly followed this lead in technically exposing, but practically burying, options that let users escape from its force-bundled services. If you’ve tried to change your Windows 10 search engine, web browser, or movie player, or to turn off their invasive new lock-screen ads, Windows search bar Bing spam, and invasive “analytics”, you know what I’m talking about. It’s a deliberately anti-customer experience: the options are there, but good luck finding them.

Now, I don’t use Windows 10, I had it on my system for a month or so but found it’s compatibility with the games I played to be atrocious, so I went back to Win8.1 which works fine for me. As for how Win10 is NOW I can’t say. However in the few months I used it I never had any issues turning off the options mentioned above. Yes I had to use the settings and even multiple menus, there was no magic ‘press this button for your perfect customer settings’ button. But like all previous versions of windows it took me a few hours over a few days to get it set up the way I wanted. I certainly didn’t need ‘good-luck’ finding them, I just opened my eyes and looked! 

The ultimate danger here is that Microsoft continually improves UWP while neglecting and even degrading win32, over time making it harder for developers and publishers to escape from Microsoft’s new UWP commerce monopoly. Ultimately, the open win32 Windows experience could be relegated to Enterprise and Developer editions of Windows.

Finally we get to what is in my view, the crux of his long winded post. And frankly it’s a valid argument, sort of. At the moment we have no idea where Microsoft is planning to take UWP and how they intend to work it with win32. The problem is win32 is old, and it requires a lot of workarounds to get it work properly. Which Microsoft does in a bid to maintain backwards compatibility. However at some point they’ve got to ask themselves, ‘is it still worth the effort’ and ‘is it cost effective’. I’ve no idea how far from or close to that point we are, but it’s something that WILL happen eventually. Is UWP the next things? Possibly, but given it’s in in it’s infancy we’ve no way of knowing how it’s going to grow and change. Or it could end up like Windows Live, dead on arrival and something else takes it’s place.

Now while I do feel Tim’s concern is valid, I do feel it’s been over dramatised. Windows 10 is still in it’s infancy, UWP is a new born, and yes it’s wise to give voice to the concerns now so as Microsoft are made aware. However you don’t start reaching for the pitch forks and shot guns until they start to show signs of fucking up.

Valve’s Steam distribution service is booming with over 100m users, and publishers like Adobe, Autodesk, Blizzard, Riot Games and EA are operating highly successful businesses selling their games and content directly to consumers.

So again, walled gardens are fine, so long as it’s not a Microsoft walled garden? Monopolies are fine so long as it’s not a Microsoft monopoly

Microsoft’s situation, however, is an embarrassment. Seven months after the launch of Windows Store alongside Windows 10, the place remains devoid of the top third-party games and signature applications that define the PC experience. Where’s Photoshop? Grand Theft Auto V? Fifa 2016? There are some PC ports of what were great mobile games, and some weirder things, such as the Windows 10 port of the Android port of the PC version of Grand Theft Auto from 2004.

But the good PC stuff isn’t there, with the exception of Microsoft’s own software products. Does Microsoft really think that independent PC developers and publishers, who cherish their freedom and their direct customer relationships, are going to sign up for this current UWP fiasco?

Photoshop – Adobe Closed Garden

GTA 5 – Rocksteady Closed Garden (Requires the Rocksteady launcher and social club)

Fifa 2016 – Origin Closed Garden

So yeah……kinda obvious why they aren’t for sale on UWP. As for that second comment, again I was laughing, ‘cherish freedom and their direct customer….’ so we signed up for other closed gardens instead.

Microsoft responded with the following brief statement:

In response to Sweeney’s allegations, Kevin Gallo, corporate vice president of Windows at Microsoft, told the Guardian: “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.

“We want to make Windows the best development platform regardless of technologies used, and offer tools to help developers with existing code bases of HTML/JavaScript, .NET and Win32, C+ + and Objective-C bring their code to Windows, and integrate UWP capabilities. With Xamarin, UWP developers can not only reach all Windows 10 devices, but they can now use a large percentage of their C# code to deliver a fully native mobile app experiences for iOS and Android. We also posted a blog on our development tools recently.”

So, the post by Tim was written and released in todays Guardian Newspaper, a full 3 months after Microsoft fixed one of his ‘core’ problems:

in the Windows 10 November Update, we enabled people to easily side-load apps by default, with no UX required.

I have no idea what the future holds of UWP, no one does yet, it’s still an infant. But the thing we have to accept is win32 the current API is getting old, it’s requiring more and more hacks and workarounds to work properly. At some point it becomes more time and effort than it’s worth and is dropped for a new and improved system. Time moves on folks, stop being the old codger who hates the new fangled thing.

I’m usually one of the first to rise up and condemn Microsoft, but in this case it’s looking more and more that Tim is happy with walled garden’s so long as it’s not Microsoft’s walled garden. As for my thoughts on UWP, right now I’m not sure, so I’ll hold my thoughts on it and write about them after I’ve looked into it some more, and thought about it.

What are your thoughts on the Tim’s or my comments? Comment bellow!

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