Is Microsoft Out To Get Steam?
Written by Mike James   
Friday, 29 July 2016

Tim Sweeney, co-founder of Epic Games claims it is and he's not entirely wrong. Despite embracing open source and other postive moves, Microsoft is still heading in the direction of total control of the software space. If you want to run it, Microsoft will have a say in what on and where. 

sweeney

As co-creator  of the Unreal Engine, Tim Sweeney is obviously up to speed on technical things, but keeping an eye on the bigger developments in the programming world can be tough for all of us. Like a techie waking from a dream of code, lots of it, he suddenly seems to have noticed that the world has changed. Now we no longer write code and control where it runs and offer it for sale in a free market. We write code, have it approved, and then, as long as it remains approved, we are allowed to sell it in controlled apps stores. 

Back in March in an opinion piece in the Guardian newspaper, Sweeney denounced the evil Microsoft. In particular he noted that Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps were locked down:

"they are working to turn today’s open PC ecosystem into a closed, Microsoft-controlled distribution and commerce monopoly"

This isn't 100% true in that Windows 10 can sideload UWP apps, but essentially the theory of a conspiracy to control app distribution is correct. Of course, Microsoft didn't invent the idea and both Apple and Google are arguably more evil in this respect.  Sweeney even commented on his own slowness to respond to this "threat":

“If you throw a frog in boiling water, he’ll just hop out, but if you put him in warm water and you slowly ramp up the temperature, he will not notice and he’ll be boiled."

Well there are indeed a lot of boiled frogs in the development world at the moment, but they are often very happy about the situation. As long as you are making money. why worry about being boiled? Put simply. a wealthy frog is a happy frog, even when boiled.

Now, in an interview with Edge Magazine, Sweeney seems to be pushing the conspiracy theory a little too far for some. He now claims that Windows 10 is going to develop in such a way that only UWP apps will be supported - thus killing off, among others, most PC games including every Steam app. The idea is that Win32 will be deprecated and removed. 

"The risk here is that, if Microsoft convinces everybody to use UWP, then they phase out Win32 apps. If they can succeed in doing that then it’s a small leap to forcing all apps and games to be distributed through the Windows Store. Once we reach that point, the PC has become a closed platform. It won’t be that one day they flip a switch that will break your Steam library – what they’re trying to do is a series of sneaky manoeuvres. They make it more and more inconvenient to use the old apps, and, simultaneously, they try to become the only source for the new ones."

Well yes, it is theoretically possible, but only in a far off future where the majority of Win32 apps will have become legacy and deprecated in their own right. Simply dropping Win32 support would make Windows a fairly useless operating system as any operating system is only as useful as the applications it runs. 

steam

The idea that Microsoft might disable Win32 just to stop independent games being run on the platform is generally regarded as a silly idea, but it hides a slightly less obvious truth.

Sweeney suggests that Microsoft will make Steam irrelevant by introducing changes that don't break it completely, but make it unattractive to users. This is not a silly idea and it has a historical precedent in the days when it was claimed that the Microsoft OS team had a slogan - "the job isn't done until 1-2-3 can't run".

The idea was that it was possible to bend the API to stop the most popular spreadsheet at the time, Lotus 1-2-3, from working. Of course Lotus had made things difficult for itself by using undocumented APIs which allowed Microsoft to change things without being held responsible. 

What is far more likely is that Microsoft will continue to apply pressure on programmers to adopt only the UWP API for new programs. Microsoft can simply keep pointing out the benefits of the new API, put existing APIs into maintenance mode (Windows Forms are in maintenance mode, for example), hide documentation, make it difficult to discover what older technologies are preferred and generally make everything except for UWP seem a bad bet for the future. Don't expect Microsoft not to push the technology in the direction it wants it to go in. The company may well have realized the mistake it made with Windows 8, but it doesn't mean that it has changed its overall direction.

There are lots of programmers who think that the new programming environment it great - get into an app store and make money. There are many programmers like Tim Sweeney who, having been brought up in the days when computers were there to be programmed and the freedom to run was an inalienable right, find the walled gardens shocking. 

More Information

Tim Sweeney thinks Microsoft will make Steam "progressively worse" with Windows 10 patches

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Jailbreaking the Developer  

Epic Games CEO Finally Notices That UWP Apps Are A Walled Garden

 

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Last Updated ( Friday, 29 July 2016 )