The backlash against Windows 8 from various developers continues, but this time the creator in question isn't just expressing discontent. Notch, the developer behind smash hit Minecraft, a game that's torn up sales charts on both the Xbox and PC, has declared that he won't be working with Microsoft to certify Mincraft for Windows 8. Yesterday, Notch sent the following tweets:
Note that this doesn't mean Minecraft won't run on Windows 8. The certification process in question is Microsoft's mandatory rules for submitting content to the Windows game store. In order to be listed there, an application must be Metro-compatible and conform to a laundry list of other conditions. Notch's refusal means that the game won't be available via the Windows storefront -- you'll still be able to download and play it, provided you own an x86 PC. Since Win RT owners can't download or run apps outside Microsoft's walled garden, there's no chance of an ARM-compatible version.
Notch's complaints are an example of how Microsoft's current approach to application management in Windows 8 has fundamentally struck the wrong balance -- but they also obscure what we think the core issue is.
The App Store Isn't Inherently A Problem
There's nothing unethical or immoral about the App Store model in Windows 8, iOS, or Android. In each case, the governing company has established a set of ground rules and expectations. This benefits consumers, who have access to a one-stop location for a vast range of software which has been pre-checked for viruses, scams, and other problems. These security checks aren't perfect, and badware can slip through, but there's a valid tradeoff between the additional security and the rules of the road according to Apple/MS/Google.
problem with Windows 8 is that it locks ARM users into a second class experience. If you buy an x86 tablet, you can download programs from Sourceforge, Github, or any file mirror of your choice. If you're an ARM user, you can download programs from the Microsoft store.
And that's a problem. It doesn't matter if "other tablets" enforce similar restrictions; Microsoft and Intel have put a great deal of effort into selling Windows as the OS that gives you the benefits of Windows in a new form factor. Microsoft has decided to sharply curtail user freedom by hardware type without distinguishing the brand in any great degree. That leaves consumers forced to choose between a device with PC-like freedom to download and install software and a cheaper device that doesn't. Suddenly, software freedom is something you can only have if you're willing to pay $100-$200 more for it.
Microsoft has argued that this sort of strategy allows them to offer a better user experience. Claptrap. Windows' permission system has been refined for decades; the existing framework draws clear delineations between safe and unsafe actions. Here's just one example:
By default, certain key files and folders are hidden, as are protected OS files. To see them, you have to go to "Tools," "Folder Options," and then select the "View" tab. Uncheck the box for "Hide Protected operating system files," and the system presents the following:
You've been warned -- muck with these files at your own risk. If WinRT included an equivalent setting, like an option to download/install unverified code, this wouldn't be a problem. Microsoft wants to establish a monopoly on Windows 8 devices, so it doesn't. The PC platform, however, isn't the problem. The App Store isn't inherently the problem. The bifurcated permission structure is the problem, and it makes WinRT tablets categorically impossible to recommend for anyone who values the ability to install whatever software they please.