Tim Sweeney Comes Out Swinging Against Microsoft's UWP Ecosystem

👤by Tim Harmer Comments 📅04.03.2016 19:36:44

Paragon, an Epic Games title, is set for release later this year


The Universal Windows Platform - or UWP - is an initiative from Microsoft aimed at standardising application development when targeting compatibility over a range of Windows-based devices. The standard defines UI design best-practice, scaling and control for applications, making it suitable to be operated on any hardware from this perspective; the application creator can specify which platforms it will be running, depending on the capabilities of the hardware. UWP applications share common APIs across many devices. Most importantly, they're the default distributable format on the Windows Store, a store shared across all Windows Devices.

Unfortunately the importance of UWP applications beyond fundamental UI design flew under the radar for those not directly involved in software development until last month, when Square Enix brought Rise of the Tomb Raider to Steam and the Windows Store. Those who chose the Windows Store version quickly discovered a significant number of built-in limitations to this build which were not present in the Steam version, most notably enforced V-Sync and an inability to utilise overlays or recording software. HowToGeek ably breaks down these limitations, and most are down to this distributable utilising the UWP paradigm and restrictions this places on use of resources. Furthermore, because much of the UWP app package is protected, user-developed mods or patches are impossible to create and thus consumers need to wait for patches to come directly via the Store.

The debate over UWP gained speed this week following the low-key launch of Gears of War, and the announcement that both it and the PC port of Killer Instinct would be exclusive to the Windows Store and launch as UWP applications. Although Microsoft has been lauded for bringing previously exclusive XBOX One games to the PC, and an intention to use UWP to speed up the porting process from XBOX to PC, is restrictive nature has already begun to spook consumers.

Today Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney took to The Guardian with an op-ed that excoriates Microsoft's attempts to 'lock down and monopolise' PC app distribution, commerce and ecosystem. Calling it the 'most aggressive move Microsoft has ever made', Sweeney highlights their dominant position as the de-facto PC OS and states that favouritism towards the UWP format is a direct challenge to both publishers and digital distributors.

Side-loading UWP apps - i.e. installation of UWP apps that are sourced directly from developers or 3rd party's rather than sold via the Store - is currently disabled within Windows 10 by default, and most consumers wouldn't find navigating the system menus to enable it easy. In essence therefore developers would be forced to sell on the Windows Store, from which Microsoft would get their industry-standard 30% cut. Steam by contrast is an optional (though highly necessary) storefront with multiple competing operations, and most importantly Valve don't own the OS they're distributing to.

UWP would be far less concerning were it not for Microsoft restricting core Windows features to the UWP ecosystem, and their ability to enforce onerous mandatory Windows Updates which could cripple non-UWP application compatibility in the future. The industry's disquiet may be the reason why so few premier Windows applications currently appear on the Windows Store - the only body who benefits from a locked in would be Microsoft, not consumers or developers.

In emphasising his support for all things open on PC, Sweeney suggests three modifications to UWP which would ease his fears.

If UWP is to gain the support of major PC game and application developers, it must be as open a platform as today’s predominant win32 API, which is used by all major PC games and applications. To the PC ecosystem, opening UWP means the following:

- 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.

- 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.

- 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.


In a final summation Sweeney addresses Microsoft's current PR push around UWP, a push which motivated today's Op-Ed. He urges readers to judge Microsoft by their actions rather than their words, and cautions against sleepwalking into a "Microsoft-controlled distribution and commerce monopoly".

Source: The Guardian

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