App store businesses are a hot topic these days, with governments on both sides of the pond and across the world trying to put Big Tech under a microscope. Apple and Google are, of course, the poster boys for app stores but they are hardly the only big ones out there. There’s Steam, PlayStation, and Xbox, for example, and even Microsoft has its own Windows app store. The latter is now being promoted as the more open app store by codifying what almost all developers already know: you don’t have to be on the Microsoft Store.
Microsoft boasts about Windows, specifically Windows 10, being an open platform, but that is more a product of history than a philosophical choice. Windows was born at a time when app stores didn’t exist, let alone a profitable business model around it. Microsoft didn’t really have much of a choice but to keep Windows open to build its kingdom and it’s far too late to close that up without severe consequences, as it already learned the hard way multiple times.
In response to recent events surrounding app stores, and probably subtly throwing shade at Apple and Google, Microsoft published its 10 guiding principles for promoting app fairness. In a nutshell, it puts in black and white what is already the practice today, that Windows software developers are free to publish their apps wherever they want, use any billing method they want, or even ignore the Microsoft Store completely.
Microsoft, however, is also painting the image of a Microsoft Store that is more open than any other commercial operating system in the market. Of course, that store has its own rules, which Microsoft promises to be transparent about, but it will also have less restrictive requirements for developers to follow. More importantly, it promises to charge reasonable fees and not block competing app stores.
These principles are in line with the new Coalition for App Fairness so it’s no surprise that Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney, once a vocal critic of Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform push, is very happy about this public commitment. Microsoft does reserve the right to review and revise these principles and those who know the company’s history might not be so convinced about its long-term implementation.