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The Next Twenty Years: What Windows 8's Closed Distribution Means for Developers

October 16, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

The Return of 1990

The PC's situation in relation to consumer computing is very much the same today in 2012 as it was in 1990. On the PC, we are still using the "Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointers" (WIMP) interface that has been standard for almost three decades (if only on PCs for two). But on the rest of the world's popular computing devices -- smartphones and tablets -- WIMP interfaces no longer exist. OSes like iOS and Android have replaced WIMP with touch-centric interfaces, much as the Macintosh and Amiga eschewed command lines for GUIs in the 1980s.

But on October 26th, Microsoft will release their first touch-centric operating system, Windows 8. Rather than jettison WIMP entirely, they have chosen to include it as a subset of their new touch interface. Just as Windows 3.0's interface ran alongside MS-DOS, Windows 8's new interface will run alongside a traditional Windows 7 desktop.

Also just like Windows 3.0 and DOS, the integration between the two is largely superficial. Some parts are integrated, but most parts aren't. You can create tiles in the new UI that launch programs in the old UI, just like Windows 3.0 could have icons that launched DOS programs.

But just as DOS programs ran in a special container window, and couldn't do things like opening other windows, presenting dialog boxes, using fonts, or transferring graphics to the clipboard, desktop apps are segregated in a special container desktop in Windows 8, and they can't access most of the new Windows 8 UI features.

For example, desktop apps can't be part of edge-swipe task switching. They can't be snapped to the side as sidebars. They can't participate in charm interface elements like extended search or share. They can't present lock screen notifications. They can't use live tiles. And these are just some of the features in this version of Windows. Who knows what new features Microsoft will add in future versions that will make desktop apps even less able to compete with native apps?

In short, the desktop in Windows 8 is where MS-DOS was in Windows 3.0. This brings us to a pivotal question: if Microsoft is as committed to the new Windows 8 user interface as they were to the GUI of Windows 3.0, what will desktop support in Windows look like going forward?

If you believe that history repeats itself, the answer is unambiguous: it will be relegated to obscurity in 10 years, and it will cease to exist outside manually installed compatibility software in 20.

Now, clearly, any prediction about the future is uncertain. Many people out there probably don't believe there's any way the future of desktop computing looks like a much-revised-and-refined version of the new Windows 8 UI. But if you take a step back and realize that people thought the same thing about Windows 3.0 when it came out, I hope you can appreciate how real a possibility it is.

The Promise of Windows 8, Dead on Arrival

For present-day developers, the world of consumer computing pre-Windows 8 is a bit of a mess. There's iOS, a platform where you can't ship anything native without the haphazard and capricious permission of Apple. There's Android, a pleasantly open platform plagued by mismanagement of hardware specifications, lack of commitment to native code support, and the threat of being seriously damaged by obstructionist patent lawsuits. And then there are platforms like Blackberry, WebOS, Kindle Fire (based on Android), and Nook which have yet to see adoption in significant numbers.

Enter Windows 8. It's designed for touch input, has well-specified hardware requirements, features a well-documented native code interface, can be used directly as a development environment with no need for cross-compiling, and yes, it's backed by a notoriously devious company which holds a patent portfolio five times the size of Apple's. So if Apple did try to take the same litigious approach with Windows 8 that they took with Android device suppliers, we'd see a return salvo of infringement claims so massive it'd bury Apple's fancy new headquarters in obtusely worded paperwork.

Perverse as today's computing landscape may be, this could actually be a step forward for developers. Assuming developing for Windows 8's new ecosystem followed the same rules as developing for the old one, any developer could simply install Windows 8, develop software that targeted the consumer touch market, then distribute it for free or as a paid piece of software via their website or a third-party distributor. Fewer platform headaches, no unreliable provisioning requirements for testing, no weird developer fees or subscriptions, and most importantly, no domineering Apple standing between developers and their customers.

But there's just one problem. Microsoft has decided not to make the new Windows 8 ecosystem follow the same rules as traditional Windows. Unlike the transition from MS-DOS to Windows 3.0, Microsoft isn't planning to expand the Windows ecosystem. They are planning to bifurcate it.


The problem begins with the Windows Store. If the name makes it sound like the Apple App Store, that's because it essentially is the Apple App Store. It's a centralized distribution mechanism that Microsoft controls which allows end users to purchase software from a catalog of titles explicitly approved by Microsoft.

This, by itself, might not be all that bad. There are valid arguments against the owners of a platform controlling the default marketplace for that platform, but if the platform allows people to develop and distribute software freely outside the store, then other companies can bypass the store altogether. Developers can distribute their software through other channels, or even provide competing stores, reducing via healthy competition the danger of abuse or obstruction by the platform owner.

However, it is clear from Microsoft's publications on Windows 8 that in order to participate in the new user interface, you must distribute your application through the Windows Store. That means as of October, Microsoft itself will become the sole source of software for everything you run on a Windows machine that isn't relegated to the older desktop ecosystem. Unlike the historical transition from MS-DOS to the Windows GUI, although the old platform (the Windows desktop) will likely remain open, the new platform (the Windows 8 UI) will be closed. This will put Microsoft in a wholly new monopoly position: that of sole software distributor for the majority of the world's desktops.

Now, this is apparently a point of some contention. Perhaps because Microsoft has not made a bigger deal about it in their press releases, not everyone believes that distributing software for the modern UI will require developers to get Microsoft's permission. But they are wrong. In order to set the record straight once and for all, a complete, thoroughly researched analysis of Microsoft's official publications on the subject is included as Appendix B to this article. It demonstrates that there is no method for developers to distribute modern UI applications to the internet at large without receiving explicit approval from Microsoft.

So, with that in mind, it's time to ask the fundamental question: if the new Windows 8 interface does come to completely replace the desktop, and Microsoft has complete control over what software can be published on that new interface, how dramatically would this affect the future of Windows? Will games designed for adults be the only casualties of a closed Windows, or is there even more at stake?

The Future Could Be Anywhere

Banning today's most acclaimed game software from the new Windows 8 ecosystem -- which also happens to be the only ecosystem that will be available to Windows RT users -- is just one of the many negative consequences of Microsoft's app certification guidelines. Other parts of the guidelines would have prohibited things like Flash, JavaScript, and the dynamic web -- even the app store itself -- from ever being shipped if they hadn't already existed today and thus been included by Microsoft in the platform itself. So it is clear that Microsoft has ensured that the new Windows ecosystem will only ever host the same narrow band of applications that Microsoft already believes is important.

But just because Microsoft has done a terrible job defining the boundaries of the new ecosystem, does that necessarily mean that the only alternative is to make the ecosystem completely open? Couldn't Microsoft simply set new, better guidelines?

The answer is not unless they can see the future. And not just in a broad sense, but literally see it at full resolution, with clarity on every last detail. In the absence of such perfect foresight, how could any company possibly dictate the rules for future software without accidentally prohibiting things on which revolutionary new software might rely?

The reality is that even the world's most successful companies are rarely able to accurately predict the future. Computing history is littered with examples. Digital Equipment Corporation, once the second largest computer company in the world, failed to foresee the desktop computing revolution and now no longer exists even in name. Silicon Graphics, once the world's leading 3D graphics hardware company, failed to foresee the consumerization of that hardware and was eventually forced to declare bankruptcy.

Despite thus far avoiding a similarly dire fate, Microsoft's track record on predictions is no better. As Bill Gates famously admitted in the late 1990s:

Sometimes we do get taken by surprise. For example, when the internet came along, we had it as a fifth or sixth priority.

- Bill Gates, speaking at the University of Washington in 1998

And Microsoft's subsequent change at the helm hasn't brought with it any improvement:

There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.

- Steve Ballmer, in an interview with USA Today in 2007, where he predicted the iPhone would capture "2 or 3 percent" of the smartphone market

Without accurate knowledge of the future, by definition the only way to avoid accidentally prohibiting innovation is to not meaningfully prohibit anything. So the only certification requirements Microsoft could draw up that would fully support the future would be ones that effectively certified anything developers could possibly create.

At its heart, that is the very definition of an open ecosystem.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

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Simon Ludgate
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There is another perspective this article failed to raise: Microsoft may be intentionally distancing the Windows brand from gaming in order to reinforce it's Xbox brand. I'm under the impression that Microsoft doesn't control hardware sales or distribution of Windows 8 anymore than it does with other versions of windows, yet gaming hardware is big business. If I were in control of the most popular gaming platform, I'd want to maximize all aspects of revenue, including hardware. Thus: Xbox.

Arguably, the biggest competition Xbox faces isn't Playstation or iPhone, it's Windows. Microsoft competes with itself in two huge gaming arenas, but loses in many ways with the PC: hardware sales, lack of store control, lack of social media control, piracy, etc. Conversely, Microsoft has much better control of all those things in the Xbox ecosystem.

Kill of the PC, focus on Xbox. Makes perfect sense. And all those top games you mention? Xbox releases.

Jordan Carroll
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There isn't necessarily significant overlap between "hardcore" PC gamers and Xbox owners. They'd just be cannibalizing their PC base and convincing no one to switch to Xbox. People play on PC for very different reasons than consoles.

Eric Pobirs
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Well no, actually console gaming hardware is a horrible business. There is a reason why the market utterly collapsed in the early 80s and didn't come back until Nintendo introduced a viable business model. Without drawing net revenue from software sales there simply would be no dedicated gaming systems outside of a niche hobbyist market. The question is whether PC gaming can continue to be a viable market or would benefit from 'consolization.'

PC hardware is different in that gaming systems carry a premium for their performance feature beyond common desktop systems. But Microsoft isn't in that business. It is motivated to encourage PC upgrades to thus sell new Windows licenses but the PC gamers represent a small subset of that market.

The criticism that Microsoft doesn't offer adult content is more a measure of how the world regards games compared to how they look at movie and other video content. Grnd Theft Auto has been a huge franchise for over a decade but too much of the public still regards interactive games as solely for children. (I'm reminded of the story my mother tells of seeing the 1954 animated movie of George Orwell's Animal Farm and how some audience members were angry because they'd brought their children and weren't expecting a metaphor on Stalinist Russia.)

The game industry needs to make more effort to be regarded as a spectrum of content tyes just like the movie and TV business. The sales channels will respond accordingly if the business matures and they can treat a game like GTA the same way they sell an item like The Sopranos through the video section of their venue.

I don't think Microsoft is going to kill the desktop environment any decade soon. It has too much value. However, I can see parents viewing Windows RT as more suitable for their children thanks to the limited routes for software. Although that increasingly becomes moot as the web becomes more capable.

Twenty years from now, if the desktop went away, would anyone under the age of forty care?

Simon Ludgate
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To be sure, the traditional console market doesn't make hardware profitable. But maybe Microsoft is trying to change that around too.

What if you had a closed gaming console software ecosystem with a controlled upgradable platform? XBox PC, with XBox branded hardware upgrades provided by the big players like nVidia or ATI. Make things swap out in a user-simplified manner, like the XBox hard drive, and limit the immense swath of slight variations to a few notable upgrade levels.

You'd never spend $2000 building a hot-rod gaming console... unless you couldn't do the same with a gaming PC anymore.

I don't think this move from Microsoft has anything to do with misunderstanding the adult nature of video games - the XBox has plenty of them - I think it has to do with finding ways to turn the unprofitable aspects of computing into profitable ones.

Laura Stewart
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The market of people who play PC games at work may not be or switch over to the XBOX console market. And you can't exactly bring the XBOX console to work.

Dave Halsall
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Eric Pobirs, the market did not utterly collapse in the early 80s to be rescued by Nintendo. Atari may have collapsed but the games industry was very healthy and innovative in Europe.

rodalpho carmichael
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It's actually much more insidious than that.

The upcoming Xbox720 runs a version of Windows 8 RT, likely on PowerPC. This means that it will be MUCH easier to port Xbox720 games to Windows 8 RT for x86 desktop computers. While you still have the option of porting to the normal win32 desktop, nobody outside of studios with external pressures like Valve will do it, because you'll save tons of development time releasing in the "Windows Store", as most of the work was already done developing for the Xbox720.

The Xbox720 is due in late 2013, and in the years following more and more AAA games will be released for Windows Store. If Win8 matches Win7's success, most games will be Windows Store by 2015 or so. If it matches Vista, probably 2018. But it WILL happen eventually.

That will kill Steam. And that is why Gabe and Valve hate windows 8, and re pushing hard for Linux gaming, and are trying to jumpstart their own console, etc.

Kyle Jansen
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[citation needed]

Seriously, did I miss something? AFAIK, Microsoft hasn't even confirmed that they're working on a new console, much less a) a 2013 release, and b) running W8 RT.

Yes, your theory might* have some merit. But please, don't represent your speculation as grounded fact.

* I say "might" because it doesn't seem quite accurate, although it is worth consideration. As shown early in the article, the Windows Store seems intent on killing gaming on Windows, by prohibiting M-rated titles. This makes little sense if Microsoft's intent is to merge Windows into the Xbox. If I were the type to engage in idle speculation, I would suspect some "XBox OS" (or perhaps a version of Windows) being prepared for the PC, to once again segment the market between "gaming" and "professional" computing.

rodalpho carmichael
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Nobody can provide a solid citation as everything is obviously under NDA.

There have been various leaks from the Durango (X720) devkit, including multiple eBay sellers, and they all show Windows 8 running the WinRT API with screenshots from VS. It's unclear whether it's PowerPC or x86, it could actually go either way. The devkit is obviously x86. Anyway, could they be fake? Sure. But does it make sense? Definitely.

MS doesn't stand to benefit from segmenting the market in the manner you propose. They make money from every sale in the Windows Store. They want it to be successful. Moreover, the whole raison d'etre behind Windows 8 is avoiding market segmentation. That is why the same OS runs on tablets, computers, and (soon) phones.

Kenneth Blaney
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If Windows 8 fails like Vista, it may not happen at all. That is, if developers say no to Windows 8 then consumers will say no because nothing will run on it... just like earlier problems with hardware compatibility in Vista.

Since Microsoft makes a good OS followed by a bad one, I expect Windows 8 to be a spectacular failure.

Paul Shirley
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@rodalpho:"the whole raison d'etre behind Windows 8 is avoiding market segmentation"

NO. Win8 was built this way as a tool to bludgeon market share in mobile and tablet by abusing the existing desktop monopoly. Limited cross platform support is the *tool* not the reason.

That MS are both desperate enough and willing to screw over desktop users to do this is what's so bloody annoying. That they completely screwed WP7 users with this last minute change of plan is a warning not to trust them.

MS see a huge pot of cash if they can copy Apple and own their users more completely. I don't intend to be 'owned' by convicted monopolists or play any part in allowing them to succeed.

Jordan Carroll
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This article strikes me as a tad sensationalistic. Do we know that the Windows 8 store won't allow Steam? It's required by several AAA games nowadays, and even though the ToS would otherwise prohibit this, I could see Microsoft making an exception for content distribution services like Steam and Origin.

Do the same content guidelines apply for games as they do for generic apps? Even Apple allows games with M-rated content onto their stores. I have a feeling there will be the same parental controls that lock younger users out of R films and M games on the Xbox.

It's too early to judge. We need to wait and see what does and doesn't get rejected by Microsoft before we jump to conclusions.

Frank Cifaldi
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To be clear, you are suggesting that we, as members of the media, should politely stand aside and let corporations do whatever they feel like without raising issues, and just hope for the best?

rodalpho carmichael
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Yes, we do know that the Windows 8 store will not allow Steam to work as a storefront, since you can't sideload "windows store" type applications. Steam will be allowed in a form similar to its iOS incarnation, with chat, friends lists, etc. But that's not the real deal.

Katie Cunningham
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Calling them out on this now saves everyone a ton of heartache down the line. The terms are by no means vague, and almost seem to be geared towards seeing what they can get away with.

This isn't the first time a company has been called out on terms that hurt either the user or developer (or both!). I've seen companies revise their agreements after the some blogs pointed out the consequences and the users started raising hell.

Casey Muratori
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Jordan: Microsoft reserves the right to accept or deny Windows Store apps "for any reason or no reason", so they certainly _could_ approve Steam or Skyrim or anything else if they decide that they want to. They could also turn around and kick it off the store (and thus the whole Metro platform) any time they want, since the license agreement also gives them the right to stop allowing an app even if they have previously allowed it.

That said, the certification requirements _clearly_ prohibit Steam, since one of the requiements is that you may not download any executable content. So Microsoft would have to make a special exception for Steam. Whether they will or not, or whether Valve will even attempt to go that route given the inherent risk in doing a Metro version only to have it exist solely at the whim of Microsoft, is anyone's guess.

But I would argue that we are missing the point if we focus on Microsoft's behavior on a case-by-case basis. The freedom to publish is something that has been enjoyed by PC developers for several decades now, and it is no small philosophical change for Microsoft to unilaterally end that with Windows 8.

- Casey

Florian Boesch
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The ToS do prohibit services like Steam and Origin. And making exceptions for known big game services is killing competition. Tuut, Tuut, last train to establish your game distribution platform is leaving the platform, hurry up, hurry up. Really? No, that's no good.

The ToS do relegate *all* applications to PG-16 or below. Parental control or otherwise.

It's never too early to try to avoid an impending train-wreck (see the responses of Notch and Valve to that train-wreck).

Maurício Gomes
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Also Valve themselves stated they are making Steam for Linux because they think it won't get on Windows 8...

Does it matter if Windows 8 make a exception for Steam or not when its policy results in Valve pushing for Linux?

Chris Dickerson
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I'm no daily user of Linux, but I'm all for Valve succeeding and making Linux a premier gaming platform.

If Microsoft wants to strong-arm everyone into the Windows 8 format... I prefer freedom of choice.

They can make their store - compete with Apple, but why force us to go along with it completely? The start menu was in Windows 8 beta up to a point, then they pulled it completely. Start/Run/Search... start menu... gone. Yes, the floaty-tiles are the start menu... oh look, my monitor isn't touch...

Perhaps this article is a bit reaching... but do you really want companies like Microsoft to get to a point people buy it, accept it, and no one wants to balk because "hey it's Microsoft, we get it pre-installed, we're supposed to like it".

BTW: beta of Steam is made to run ala Windows 8 touch panels.

Tom Spilman
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> Also Valve themselves stated they are making Steam for Linux because
> they think it won't get on Windows 8...

Steam runs on Windows 8 right now... I am running it.

Simon Ludgate
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Tom: "Steam runs on Windows 8 right now... I am running it."

In native Metro or legacy Desktop mode?

Original Article: "In short, the desktop in Windows 8 is where MS-DOS was in Windows 3.0. This brings us to a pivotal question: if Microsoft is as committed to the new Windows 8 user interface as they were to the GUI of Windows 3.0, what will desktop support in Windows look like going forward?"

The article takes a long-term perspective: not what will run on Windows 8, but what will run on 9, 10, and whatever comes after those.

Tom Spilman
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> In native Metro or legacy Desktop mode?

In the same way Steam has always run... on the desktop of course.

> The article takes a long-term perspective

Then it should a more plausible one.

The desktop is not going away. Visual Studio, 3dsMax, Photoshop... those will never be full screen only Metro applications.

Metro is not about killing the desktop style applications. It is about killing Win32 APIs. It is about killing 3rd-party installers that have been be bane of a stable windows platform for decades. It is about reinventing the way Windows applications are made to make the platform more reliable.

If you look at the WinRT APIs you can already see how it was designed to support windowed applications as well. This is the 1.0 API... you can bet it will be expanded to support desktop applications next.

rodalpho carmichael
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@Tom Spillman:
"Metro is not about killing the desktop style applications. It is about killing Win32 APIs."

You seem a bit confused. WinRT apps are all "Modern UI" apps, and all Modern UI apps can only be distributed through the Windows Store. So if you kill win32, you kill the desktop.

I agree that the desktop isn't going anywhere. It's a superior paradigm for actual computing, developing, and multitasking. You won't see autoCAD for WinRT any time soon. But you _will_ see games for WinRT, because the xbox720 uses WinRT as I posted earlier.

Dana Laratta
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The PEGI 16 limit is an oversight but one that needs pointed out, because it stands as a real restriction, even if it is arbitrary, because there is now a single choke-point of decision-making control.

I don't think we have to wait and see to perceive how that can be abused. But though I loved this article's point that the only way true innovation is set free is in an open environment (kind of a "butterfly effect" rule of breakthroughs being stifled down the road by some arbitrary rule now), it is probably the weakest point in the cautionary stance.

It's not like innovation failed to happen on the Apple store as it flourished on the open Android platform. And since Microsoft has NOT ensured they get a share of every transaction, then it can only be the control of malware, brand, and uniformity of experience they are pursuing, right?

Clearly, because that worked pretty well for Apple.

Katie Cunningham
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Maybe. I've watched a few apps become markedly less attractive and useful due to Apple demanding that they do something their way.

Textual is a great example. It was an awesome app, but they wanted to get into the App store. Apple demanded some rather strange things that have never been explained: a change to the default styling, and the inability to size the window below a certain width.

I've also seen several apps that would be useful rejected because Apple deemed them too simple. Why can't an app simply be very, very good at what I want it to do? Why does it need extra bells and whistles?

Casey Muratori
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Dana, could you perhaps be more specific about what "innovation" you felt came from the Apple store? I am actually very interested in the public perception here, as I am planning to write several articles on this topic, and would like to know what Apple store software people think was innovative, worth having, etc., just to get a feel for how other people think about the store topic in general.

- Casey

Dana Laratta
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Well Casey I for one know that I have enjoyed the iOS Board Game conversion renaissance myself. Not sure this lies at the foot of any innovation from the Apple Store environment itself, but the company's success in establishing the ubiquity of the platform has certainly led to developers trying things in the App Store economic model that seemed doomed never to come back to expensive retail release on PCs... until Kickstarter started really getting hit by PC developers, that is. The lower price point in the store ended up encouraging riskier development, bought by consumers willing to make riskier purchases with smaller amounts of money. The touch interface seems well suited to board and strategy game conversions, too.

Jake Cattrall
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Meanwhile, in the real world where things aren't as black and white as "Microsoft says no", there will be a "cydia-like" alternative store for the Windows 8 Metro interface perhaps within the first 1 or 2 months of release.

If a customer finds themselves not being able to do what they want like they can on an open platform, they will go elsewhere. Many developers actually profit from releasing their software on these alternative stores because it's so easy to publish there. I can easily envision a windows store alternative that would actually begin to compete with the windows store itself.

They will drive more consumers to piracy.
More importantly, they will drive consumers into the hands of those who will profit from piracy.

Whatever happens, it's gonna be a great ride and I look forward to whatever windows 8 brings to the world.

rodalpho carmichael
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Certainly. But it will require "jailbreaking" on WinRT devices like the surface tablets announced today, just like it does on iOS, and much like on iOS, jailbreaking will largely be done to enable piracy.

You won't see many legit developers posting their products on the Win8-cydia analogue, just as you don't see them putting their wares on iOS's Cydia.

Chad Peters
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Frank, the fact is that as members of the media you should raise information of the issues, but unless what you're writing is an opinion piece; you shouldn't deviate beyond the facts as they are. Offering speculation about what may happen ten, twenty, thirty, or more years down the road takes away from the core of the piece and starts to delve into the scope of (as Jordan stated) sensationalism.

After reading through the article itself, I have to agree with Jordan. Many assumptions are being made by the author on what will and won't be accepted by the Windows Store; with those assumptions being presented not as opinion or supposition, but as simple fact. If not fact where the author is saying "this will happen" fact by omission by not saying it won't. In the end, I think that it's far too early to run around like the proverbial chickens with our heads cut off screaming how Microsoft (through Windows) is destroying the future of gaming by this choice. Thus, yes Frank, to answer your question; we as journalists are better served by reporting simply the facts and standing aside to let what happens happen.

Stuart Brown
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I think you're being slightly unfair with "assumptions being presented not as opinion or supposition, but as simple fact". The author is basing his assumptions on the **actual written policy** of the Windows App Certification policy. If you are assuming that exceptions can and will be made to this in working practice, that is a (massive) assumption of your own, is it not?

Curtiss Murphy
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I like the idea of a Windows Store. I do NOT like the idea that Steam (et al) is not allowed.

Tom Spilman
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Steam runs on Windows 8 right now... along with every other Windows program on the planet.

Nothing has changed.

Luke Peters
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Your worried about 2032? Get a grip, the Windows Desktop is going to be around for a long time. By the time it goes away you won't want to be writing for that platform, trust me. Much sooner than that you will be gaming on new yet unimagined platforms that will make the Windows desktop seem as out of date than writing for CPM.

Eric Cosky
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About 20 years ago, when the first chapter of my career was just starting to see success as a developer on the Amiga platform, the manufacturer went out of business. While I had learned a lot in that time, my 8 years of work on the Amiga suddenly had a lot less value. I had to make a choice for what platform to focus on if I was to continue this line of work: Mac or Windows PC. I liked them both. I went with PC for one key reason: I didn't want to ever again be on a platform where one company could seriously screw up my work as a result of mismanagement, dev unfriendly policies, or simply going out of business. So between the two, the choice was pretty clear (there was no practical 3rd choice at the time). I've been happy with programming on the Windows platform ever since.

With Windows RT, I'm having some of the same concerns again and this article covers most of them very well. I really don't like the fact that Microsoft is the gatekeeper of apps for the platform. I don't like they have one-size-fits-all content rules. I don't like that people can't install apps from anything other then the Windows Store. Fundamentally, I don't like the fact that one company would be in a position to break or significantly influence my business plans - this is just too much control. Sure, iOS is exactly like this, but this is also one of the reasons I haven't developed for iOS. And yes, Windows as a platform isn't perfect but most of the time it has been the best choice for me. I don't expect the average consumer to be as concerned as a dev about these things, but I do think the perception of ownership and control of the hardware has played a large part in the rise of Android.

If Microsoft wants to seriously compete with the iPad, it needs to do more than just setting a similar price and adding a few hardware features that will likely be matched next hardware cycle. It needs to compete at a philosophical level. It needs to allow users to select multiple, different application stores which have their own content rules. Let me use Steam, or whatever else out there has the content I want to purchase. It needs to enable users so they are in control of their device, and they know it. If they lock us into a PG-rated padded room where only the content they approve is available, they will lose customers to Android.

The solution to these problems seems pretty clear to me. Allow users to select from a number of registered stores, where each store would have their own content policy. Allow users to install apps from local storage. These are both easily doable, and would address the biggest complaints I'm aware of about the new platform. Retain the open environment that has been so important to the success of Windows in the past.

I hope Microsoft changes course on this, I've been a loyal customer, developer and fan of the company for a long time and I would like to see them achieve success with their new products. I fear they may be too blinded by the success of the iPad to see their own best path.

Chad Wagner
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Allowing others to create storefronts is exactly the approach that HP was taking with WebOS - and, with packed in delivery of the system on PCs, I was really excited about where it could go. I have a notorious history for championing things doomed to failure. It seems to me that MS let them know what was coming in Windows8, and HP backed off completely.

It's nice to see many of the good things from previous favorites being done in Windows8 - but I want the extreme friendliness towards developers that HP had.

Eric Pobirs
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Open platforms are swell for developers. Merry Xmas! Happy Birthday! But it really sucks if you're the company that needs to make a business out of selling the platform itself. Out of all the companies that made a go of it only a handful still exist. And some of those parasitically live on the platforms of others, most notably Linux. (Look at all the handwringing over whether Linux can be installed on a tablet built for Windows RT. Want hardware, guys? Make your own!)

If platform makers try to make good margins on the hardware they are hated by developers who see it as limiting the installed base for them to sell into. But without those margins on the hardware you have to get a piece of the action on the software. (Apple manages to do both but scarcely anyone else does.) Would Android be worth Google's time if the Play store weren't the primary venue for software on most Android devices?

If the Microsoft desktop goes away there won't be lack of a replacement. The question is whether the replacement can be a viable business while having to take over advancement of the hardware platform on its own. And will that replacement have any numbers beyond a small hobbyist realm? Having the freedom to do whatever you want isgreat but don't be surprised if you lack an accessible platform because nobody wanted to cooperate or put some of their revenue towards keeping the platform alive.

Michael Wenk
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I wonder if something like this will push game developers to Chrome OS. Sure, Google controls the Chrome Web Store, but its much easier to distribute via the web. And yes I know Chrome OS isn't there yet, but I suspect it could be there if MS really forces people away from M content.

Benjamin Quintero
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Doubtful. People would jump to Linux before they jump to Chrome if they are looking for an open platform with similar features to WinXP/7. If I'm not mistaken, Chrome OS is almost completely web/cloud-based. As much as we'd like to think that broadband is everywhere, it's not. As much as we'd like to think that broadband can support our needs, it can't. I have trouble streaming 480p video on my "broadband" service some days. The last thing I need is my desktop running slow because someone cut my line with their lawnmower.

Dominik Dalek
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For a "let's look 20 years into the future" article, this is pretty shortsighted and in places plain wrong. Here are two examples.

Article assumes that R-rated content block on Marketplace is here to stay (although apparently everything else can change) and since for no apparent reason desktop will be gone in 20 years, we won't be able to play Elder Scrolls games (or a lot of games for that matter). So Microsoft is going to kill all R-rated games. Why? Nobody knows, but this is what we're supposed to believe.

Article also states that Microsoft blocked old (DOS and Win 3.x) applications on latest OSes. The truth is that 64-bit CPUs don't support modes required to run 16-bit code. In order to make them work MS would have to emulate the CPU. That means adding feature (software emulation of a CPU) that did not exist there in the past. But when you're clueless about something (as author seems to be), there's always an easy answer: it's Microsoft's fault.

Game industry veteran or not, FUD is just that FUD. When Apple introduced its mobile OS there were few complaints about back compatibility with, say, OS X applications yet semi-closed nature of Windows RT (completely new operating system for new form factors) suddenly is some sort of a problem. For some reason Rosetta was an OK solution from Apple but transition from 16-bit to (still supported!) 32-bit to mdoern 64-bit applications is not enough of a transition.

I mean... What is this I don't even.

Hakim Boukellif
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While you're mostly right, I still consider the spirit of the article to be valid. To counter some points:

Even if the R-rated content block is removed, that is far from the only problem that comes from having one arbiter decide what gets to be on the platform and what doesn't. Even if they're not killing R-rated games, you could at least say they're killing software Microsoft doesn't want on the platform. That can be a good thing (when it comes to malware and such), but also a very bad thing, as has been demonstrated several times on iOS.

Certainly, the 64-bit versions of Windows can't run 16-bit software is because the hardware doesn't support it, but at the same time, they could have integrated an emulator in the OS to keep supporting those. The reason they didn't is because they didn't it consider it necessary, or at least not worth the effort. The chance that supporting the desktop will one day be considered not worth the effort or worse, interfering with the direction Microsoft wants to take the platform is still very real.

iOS never pretended to be MacOS (though I believe it's built on the same base, at least), so it makes sense that people didn't complain about MacOS software being incompatible with iOS. Furthermore, when iOS was introduced, it was considered an OS for cellphones and media players, which traditionally weren't open devices. People are complaining about that now, though.

Tom Burk
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I'm new here, so I absolutely defer to all of you regarding mobile gaming, which I think is what this article concerns. I only know desktop PCs, and even that is purely as a user. I just pre-ordered the Surface RT but I have zero previous experience on mobile platforms. My only way of even grasping the new "touch" paradigm, for now, is watching YouTube videos and reading about it.

That being said, my guess is that the closed ecosystem is fundamentally driven by the limitations of ARM processors -- in this case, the Surface ARM processor, its battery life, and the nature of Windows. Third-party apps, if left uncontrolled, will bring the Surface to a screeching halt (perhaps literally). It seems like MS is short-sighted here, but, for now at least, they want their foot in the door of this (to them, and me) multi-touch "world". And it is indeed, a new world of computing. Touch opens up an incredible number of new doors. Portability, the wireless Internet, and a great platform (I hope Surface becomes that -- otherwise I'm wasting my 600 bucks) is the future. Apple has a massive lead on this. Android, from what I hear (and I could be completely wrong) is just too buggy for novices. Surface, I think, is intended for people like me: new to tablets and touch, who would love a huge selection of 3rd-party apps, but fear that the hardware is somewhat primitive and mainly want apps that I know will work seamlessly. I love PCs and the zillions of apps for them. But if my hardware can't run them seamlessly, I will defer to the hardware vendor. I want my software to work seamlessly. And for an ARM tablet, apparently, this goal is often not met with uncontrolled apps.

Matthew Harris
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I haven't seen anyone discussing the possibility that the next/future version of Windows will bring the desktop in to the store fold as a "Windows Desktop Store" which will block us from installing whatever we want on the desktop. This has already been done in Windows RT which features a desktop mode you cannot install anything on.

The touch centric approach is never going to replace content creators needs for a desktop interface so I don't believe the desktop will be removed, but I do believe it will be controlled more strictly in the future under the guise of adding security, safety, etc.

Also I feel that the M-rated issue is irrelevant. When everyone is required to have a Microsoft Account to access Windows they can build in age restriction stuff in the future. I don't think Microsoft is seriously intending to block all adult themed software to the exclusion of the video and gaming industry, its just not their focus for this generation. They just want simple, casual games/apps that are easy and friendly for everyone.

Todd B
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This could be the beginning of the end for many of us who code software. I REFUSE to be a part of this trend. There is no way in hell I will allow Microsoft or Apple or anyone else to dictate to me what I do and do not code and/or release on my own. If Microsoft wants to take things this way then I will move to a different platform. I am from the days of the Commodore Amiga and the only reason I use Windows is I had no other choice when Commodore folded. But computers are NOT required in my life and I can and do live without them.

People seem to forget the past so easily.. you know the days when Microsoft outright stole others ideas and software. And now they want us to willingly give THEM control over what we can and cannot release or even write or create? Are you so willing to jump on the censorship bandwagon here?

Sure maybe for the moment there is an 'avenue' that still allows us to release our own products on Microsoft Windows. But you can dam well bet that if enough devs adopt Microsoft's gameplan, Windows 9 will force ALL of us to do their bidding.

Matthew Holmes
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Hyperbole much? So you're going to stop writing code because Microsoft has a new type of application you can just choose to avoid writing? You sound like a petulant child who's going to take their ball home because the other kids don't want to play by your rules.

But that's fine...get out of the programming industry, more work for me. I don't need ideologues clogging up the works when I'm trying to get freelance work. I'll enjoy continuing my programming career in a growth industry while you struggle to find a decent job.

George Petras
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The article is all doom and gloom but

1) The Windows 8 tile interface is not able to handle complex applications like Photoshop and cannot handle business desktop users in general. Those users matter to Microsoft and that means the desktop isn't going to disappear

2) Third-party apps still install the same way they installed in Windows 7 and business customers will expect that.

3) The Windows app store is developing while looking at the iOS App Store and Google's app store. The iOS App Store is heavily curated and even that store has fraudulent applications get through (fingerprint reader anyone?) while the Google app store is computer-curated and has lots of questionable applications. Microsoft will have to figure out where they stand and if there are additional mechanics they will allow such as certified apps that are managed by the store but distributed independently. Right now, Microsoft created a Windows app store for "mom & pop" so it tries to protect that demographic and provide them with what they might need. Eventually, there will be changes, possibly changes the writer will welcome.

4) A fully locked down Windows environment would result in at least some investigations from European and American anti-trust regulators. Microsoft knows that and knows that they to tread carefully.

Tom Raider
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Do we need a paradigm shift in game delivery that works _with_ Store-based operating systems, not against?

If we accept Microsoft are taking the Apple App Store route for the Windows 8 ecosystem, the Apple and Android precedents show that they’ll get away with it, for now at least. It lets them clean up their act, dispelling the reason people move to other platforms; that of viruses and malware. Without end users installing software from any source, giving full access to the PC, the closed model helps less-technical users from getting themselves into trouble.

Let’s assume Windows Store-only software is here to stay. In this model, there are parallels with other industries in the same boat – movies and music also have classifications which Microsoft may want to lock out from the Store. But if you split content from the player, and shift the ‘tainted content’ away from what you’re trying to get classified and accepted into the ecosystem, perhaps there’s a way forward.

There are adult movies, songs with explicit lyrics, and a good proportion of websites are intended for adults. But this doesn’t get the player applications banned – media player apps, radio streaming apps, web browsers. With music, 7digital has a music store for Windows 8. Radio players give access to arbitrary streams.

If the game engine _is_ the app, certified to be malware free, and itself free of adult content, then content to play in the app can be played within it, either downloaded or loaded from local storage.

Perhaps the extreme approach is OnLive, but for local hardware gaming why not have say an Unreal Engine app, or studio specific game engine, which would allow the user to play their game content – a package of media, gameplay, rules, definitions but no executable code. Portable to any platform with the engine App. Is the logical separation of code and content the way forward?

TC Weidner
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Time for a dose of reality. Windows has made it billions and will continue to make it billions because it is the adopted preferences of businesses and government the world over. Microsoft is not going to suddenly destroy its main business and revenue stream so it can maintain and control some app store. Windows runs over 90% of all govt and business software in the world. There is no way microsoft could suddenly ask the tens of millions of business programs to suddenly ask fro some inclusion in some store. Incredibly complex databases and business software is built using windows, it not about to be reduced to asking for permission to run on newer machines.
So lets get real, while microsoft may in fact create a apple like market place for its toy-like RT tablets, real machines running real windows OS cannot and will not ever be ask to summit to such nonsense. Its open platform is the reason windows runs the world.

TC Weidner
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again business to business and business to government will not put up with any nonsense. What works, works, and in the business world that in itself is a 10 ton boulder, you dont mess with it or you will get squashed. I deal with governments everyday that still run xp are are happy, why? cause it works for them and their programs(apps) so you dont mess with them.

Again, microsoft will never close off it open platform, its what built it, and what runs the world. For RT and silly crap like games for RT, they may, but that is of no consequence.

Chad Wagner
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MSDOS will never die! All the business programs run on it! And it's the only program that supports my Epson dot matrix printer!

TC Weidner
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No one is saying that future OS will not continue to evolve, the topic is about the openness of said systems.

Jonathan Davis
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"Windows runs over 90% of all govt and business software in the world." Wake up, it's 2012 not 1999. That statistic is extremely stale.

Lex Allen
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I think that they need to ask Bill Gates to come back and get the company back on track. This whole thing just seems ludicrous.

Alan Rimkeit
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As I have said before I am never buying Windows 8, ever. For the rest of time. Microsoft can go to hell.

Dave Holbon
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The big breakthrough in making the PC and Microsoft the dominant force in computing was the cloning of the original IBM BIOS, in effect this made it possible for any manufacturer to churn out PC’s which they did my the millions reducing the costs by orders of magnitude.

In effect this also opened up the software market and relegated all the other players to the shadows as pointed out in this very good article.

To attempt to follow the Apple model (a closed system) here is surely a massive mistake on the desktop; it merely takes us back 30 years.

This of course will provide an opportunity for another operating system on the desktop to get its foot in the door.

Only an accountant (or CEO with an IQ of 30) could have devised such a road-path which historically is a known slow car crash.

There’s too many marketing guru’s at Microsoft and not enough people with their feet on the shop floor.

Craig Dolphin
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Well, the sole thing keeping me from switching from windows to linux has been the dearth of good games on linux. I won't be buying win 8 or accepting microsoft as the gatekeeper of my software choices. If devs switch to developing for linux instead, i suspect that many pc gamers like me will follow them over.

Paul Barrass
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Hmmm. I have to confes to having several issues with this piece. Firstly your focus is too narrow I think. I'm presuming you are solely a games developer, and although I've done some of that, I'm an enterprise developer at heart, and the desktop paradigm will be around for a long, long time, although it may of course change over time, particularly a twenty year timescale. Secondly, the timescale itself???? My goodness no one alive today can currently predict what computing is going to look like in 20 years time. If we have a precise bio-computing interface revolution within that time then all bet's are off as to what computing or gaming will look like, but even using a conservative approach, the major money is in enterprise, meaning that the desktop will most likely continue to exist in some shape or form, and as the MS desktop is now unified across server and PC streams it stands to reason that it will continue to exist for gaming.

As a case in point, I use a single AMD installer for my drivers on all three of my home OS/es: 8 preview | Vista & Server 2008 R2 and can game on them all. (8 is actually fastest on average. surprisingly server and vista swap times depending on the title!)

Thirdly, you make the comparison between the pairing of MS-DOS to Windows and the pairing of Windows Now to Windows Future. This is not an applicable comparison by any stretch of the imagination, and you actually make the distinction yourself, by stating that your concerns about the future are about control and publishing mechanisms, including curatorship by the OS owner, whereas the move from DOS to Windows was about the underlying architecture and the (quite frankly rubbish and not correctly implemented (look at any good science book or even Wiki' on what makes a true OS - NT was MS' first)) multi-tasking and shared driver capability.

What I will say though, is that despite this I enjoyed the piece, and think that we do have to keep pushing Microsoft on this, because even though I do not believe desktop is going anywhere I am often wrong, and if we don't make a fuss, it (open deployment capability) will go.

I would also like to say that (IMO) we, as a development and content creation community do not want MS to lose it's dominance or part dominance of the sector. Wintel, despite it's faults, pushed the frontiers (HW & SW) for us, for a long time, and I cannot see how anyone else can affect a similar pushing. Apple are often content to lie way behind the hardware curve and sell "product", and consoles are too cycular(???). This is important, because MS are losing, and Intel with them, and we need them to get back in the game big style. For this reason, I am hoping that Windows 8 is a huge success across the board, and I for one think that as long as that desktop is left open that Windows 8 is almost certainly going to be the best platform to develop and support on. (I still love Visual Studio over all other IDEs for one thing, although the preview edition on Windows 8 is a step backward I think)

Having read the appendices, you cover some of these points anyway :-)

Rob Allegretti
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Leave it to Microsoft to alienate a bunch of users in the name of profit and exclusivity. Taking a page from Apple's book, eh MS?

Michael van Drempt
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I think that's precisely what's happening. The article was right to point out that Microsoft has a lot of shareholder pressure, and right now those shareholders are looking at how successful iOS and the App Store have been, and they want Microsoft to do the same thing: nice interface; touchscreen; closed distribution.

Absolutely no thought on their part has gone into the potential chilling effect on innovation or how Windows' openness has potentially been the one thing that's kept users and developers from completely abandoning it. They're angry at MS for losing customers to Apple, and their response is, "Well, be more like Apple, then!"

Darrell Mullen
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@Tom Spilman
You said "Steam runs on Windows 8 right now... along with every other Windows program on the planet."

"Nothing has changed. "

I am sorry but you are WRONG! Diptrace does not run on Windows 8. There are other programs that will not run on Win8, but we really only need the one example to disprove your comment.

Michael van Drempt
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Is anyone else happy that this may finally mean the rise of Linux as a mainstream computing platform? I've tried really hard to get into Linux, and honestly it was the poor graphics driver support and the difficulty getting games running that kept me from adopting it full-time. If there's a lot of industry motivation to move to open platforms like Linux and Android, then perhaps we can finally wave the current generation of OS monopolies goodbye.

Sure, it would be difficult. There would be new things to learn in the transition and some skills that belong to the older-style environments would no longer be useful. But honestly, did you get into software development expecting that you could just lie back and stop learning?

Brandon Van Every
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I won't say "happy" because I abandoned Windows 6 months ago in favor of developing on Linux, now that a critical mass of game development looks poised to take off there. It's been 6 months of getting nowhere, I'm still not productive on the platform yet. I mostly blame OpenGL which is a real POS API, but maybe I'm just not an amazing dev when it comes to gory boring details and I'm just expecting too much. But when wondering whether I'd made a big mistake, and reinstalling all my Windows dev stuff, I found I just couldn't go back. I feel that MS is a pile of bunglers, they've been hemorrhaging their brain for a decade, and I want to move forwards instead of backwards. Whatever warts Linux has, it's a way forwards.

Brent Krische
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I think Casey's words are worth heeding even if you don't believe Microsoft will adopt a closed development environment for Windows.

As it stands now, we don't really have an alternative platform to develop on if Windows becomes completely closed off. We'd be forced to choose between developing what we want and having limited exposure or getting large amounts of exposure at the cost of being constrained to a certain development style.

That said, I do like there being some kind of standard in which our software must adhere to. Certification requirements regarding software compatibility and stability, the saving and loading of content, and how content is displayed are all good things. I can't tell you the number of times I've told a developer that something was a bad idea and that it'd come back to bite them in the ass later and lo and behold, it did.

If Microsoft is intent on having a submission process for developers to use the new features of Windows 8, I want it to be more akin to Games For Windows and less like Games For Windows LIVE.

Brandon Van Every
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Technology has cyclical opportunities for getting in "on the ground floor" and making big money. It is important to recognize the emergence of such opportunities and be ready to move when they're coming. I believe that's about to happen with Linux gaming, and there is objective evidence to support my point of view, if you go look at it. Wringing hands about "limited exposure" is not appropriate right now. No risk, no reward. It's nearly a virgin game market and it's poised for growth. Only people who are willing to move first are going to score it big, before the rest of the world recognizes the opportunity and belatedly starts to act. This already just played out with the iPhone, all those early developers who struck gold. It happened with Minecraft as the first popular voxel genre game. If you miss the Linux boat, be ready and looking for the next cyclical opportunity that comes after that, whatever it may be. Gotta surf one of those waves sometime.

Philipp Mastyaev
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In my country we often say - don't compare round to soft.
There are two (2!) different platforms - both software and hardware - under the name of Windows 8.
First is a Windows 8 RT Edition, designed specifically for use on ARM-based devices, such as tablets and smartphones. On that market there is Apple with their iPad, iPhone and iPod devices, and Google with their Android devices. Apple use the same approach for app and games distribution which Microsoft using with Windows 8 RT - premoderated, closed site, on which your application appears only if it get approved by a team of experts and testers. Why no one screams about horrific Apple which killing game industry denying its users the right to play Skyrim and other great games? iOS developers has the same amount of troubles and almost the same troubles porting their games to iOS from any other platform.
And second platform is Windows 8 Home and Pro editions which are specifically designed to replace Windows 7 on workstations. This replacement works fine with Modern UI and Classic UI apps so anyone can play Skyrim on a gaming station under Windows 8.
Now, about the fuss... Valve, EA and many others complain only about one thing - that Microsoft cuts them off their "royal right to sell games they didn't make for whatever price they want". Steam and Origin both works fine on Windows 8, tested myself, and so are the games that distributed via these networks.

ibrahim adams
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We as developers chose this future so lets all live in it. No one has pulled their apps from apple's $99/year store in protest against paid stores so I guess we enjoy being treated like this. No free store for developers, No apps. This should have been the stand against steam, apple and the like. Stop complaining and live in the future you created.l

Peter Supan
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As previously said, Apple is doing this for years, with exactly the same (and even more hilarious) requirements in order to please them to get your games accpeted, so why complain now?
Although I would welcome a revival of Linux Gaming, from a User and developer point of view :)

Rhys Yorke
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As a gamer, I don't really care if I'm running Windows or Linux if the game I want to play works well on my system. If Linux is able to rise to the top as a gaming platform, then great!

As a developer, I've been doing mostly OpenGL based development anyhow with Android, iOS, OSX and Linux - I would love to see Linux gaming make some headway here also. Perhaps we'll see a Steam Linux distro in the future.

I honestly don't believe that Microsoft sees "hardcore" PC gaming as a community they want to support - Tablet gaming, certainly - they've made that clear. But can we blame them? The PC gaming sections at local Best Buys, Futureshop and EB Games, are shrinking rapidly and are often shoved into a corner as more and more PC gamers use digital distribution channels like Steam or Origin to obtain their games. The trouble is, Microsoft isn't offering something like Steam, it's instead trying to mimic Google Play and Apple's App Store. 'Hardcore' gaming on Windows 8 seems like an afterthought.

My prediction is that 'hardcore' gamers won't be gaming on a Microsoft OS in 2032.