Thursday, October 18, 2012

Windows 8 Closed Distribution Model

Windows 8 is almost there, and this post on its closed distribution model gave me a quite different historical perspective on Windows 8 and its desktop model.

I agree with the article that Microsoft will be moving towards the Windows 8 UI - and less and less of the old desktop UI. That will probably happen for the very same reasons as DOS applications faded into obscurity, features and focus will be on the new UI, so there will be no reasonable way of maintaining an application running on the old UI for too long.

The whole problem is that Microsoft controls which applications are distributed for the new UI. Just like Apple does with the apps for iOS. And just like Apple, it can dictate what one can and cannot have on their device. And, depending on the distribution model, it can just mean that the device is no longer supported and essentially "brick it" by not allowing apps to be released for the OS version supported by older OSs. Just like what happened with iPhones and more recently with the iPad 1, which had a lifetime of just 2 years.

Although I'm currently a Microsoft employee, this is very scary. I never liked Apple model, and for this reason never had a iOS device. I never liked Amazon Kindle's model, even when I was an employee at Amazon, because Amazon decides where I can actually read the books I purchased (besides the fact that I cannot loan a book for how long I want or give the books away, but that's more a digital media problem than only specific to the Kindle case). Based on the same principles, I'm not comfortable with the Windows model going forward.

What is unfortunate about this whole discussion is whether we have any option. I love open source, but are they viable options going forward to compete with these large app stores? Will Android, which has the most open distribution model, be able to survive in spite of its fragmentation, not very oiled processes, and patent litigations?

One could say that we can just go and use open source, but the future will be mostly in the hands of those that hold data. That is why some startups are very valuable, even if they don't have a defined business model, as long as they have user's data. And they will dictate you which platforms that are supported or not, based on their business reasons. Given that, you will not have an option if you want to use these applications.

One could just say no to all of that and not use any of these applications if they imply using a closed platform and some sort of lock-in. But one can just do that to the extent that it doesn't impair your ability to live your life and/or run your business in an efficient way, otherwise you will have just an "illusion of control", but will have to surrender to the reality and pay up, complying with whatever restrictions these big or small companies impose.

The future looks very scary, unless market forces make companies like Microsoft or Apple open up their distribution models. That will only happen, though, if this is better for their revenue, otherwise they will not do it out of "good will".
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