updated 12:20 pm EDT, Mon September 19, 2011
Windows 8 app store limits raise antitrust issues
Details just now coming from a developer session at Microsoft's Build conference last week have raised major concerns about the legality of the Windows Store. While it was already known the company would likely take a 30 percent cut for paid apps using Windows 8's Metro interface, Windows Store director Ted Dworkin is now known to have also told the audience that developers will be banned from offering Metro-optimized apps outside of the store. Apps written using classic Windows programming, including ones optimized for touch, wouldn't be subject to the same rules.
Similar to Windows Phone, apps would also be screened for the store, primarily to prevent viruses, as well as a five-computer limit during at least the development phase. It was already known that non-Metro apps wouldn't require a Microsoft royalty cut, although it's not clear if these will be filtered as well.
The approach is primarily intended to mimic the controlled policies of the Mac App Store and to some extent the iOS App Store, where Apple has argued that a "curated" experience is best to preserve the quality of apps. While Apple has restrictions on how licenses and code can run through the Mac shop, however, it doesn't preclude developers from selling apps written with a particular interface outside of the Mac App Store. In some cases, developers sell the same app both inside and outside of the Mac App Store with only a few necessary changes.
Microsoft's strategy is more restrictive and will limit apps using the officially blessed Windows 8 experience to its own store. While most likely intended to replicate the iPad model, it also negates the ostensible freedom of choice that Microsoft has usually tried to wield as an advantage on the desktop. Only Metro apps will have elements like "charms" to share their content as well as the full tiled interface.
Windows Store exclusivity could pose an antitrust issue for Microsoft. As it still has a monopoly in desktop operating systems, competitors may argue that it may be unfairly abusing its dominance to control the distribution of Windows apps. Apple is often accused of a similar strategy in mobile, but as the iPhone doesn't constitute a majority of that market, it's in no immediate likelihood of regulation.