The Windows You Love is Gone
Windows RT: Runtime? Or Get Up and Run Time?
Update #1, 10/26/2012: Apparently it does not take long to see the first tremors of certification woes. A Windows developer by the name of Jeffrey Harmon allegedly wrestled with Microsoft certification support 6 times over 2 months because his app did not meet minimum standards. He was not given clear and specific reasons why -- apparently little more than copy/paste of the regulations he failed to achieve. Kind-of what to expect from a closed platform... right? Imagine if some nonsensical terms become mandated or other problems crop up?
Also, Microsoft has just said they will allow PEGI 18 games which would have received an ESRB M rating. Of course their regulations can and will change further over time... the point is the difference between a store refusing to carry versus banishing from the whole platform even for limited sharing. The necessity of uproars, especially so early on and so frequently, should be red flags for censorship to come. Could be for artistically-intentioned nudity or sexual themes. Could even be not about sex, language, and violence at all.
Last month, I suggested that the transition to Windows RT bares the same hurdles as transitioning to Linux. Many obstacles blocking our path, like Adobe and PC gaming, are considering Linux; the rest have good reason to follow.
This month we receive Windows RT and Microsoft’s attempt to shackle us to it: Windows 8.
To be clear: Microsoft has large incentives to banish the legacy of Windows. The way Windows 8 is structured reduces it to a benign tumorous growth atop Windows RT. The applications we love and the openness we adore are contained to an app.
I will explain how you should hate this -- after I explain why and support it with evidence.
Microsoft is currently in the rare state of sharp and aggressive focus to a vision. Do not misrepresent this as greed: it is not. Microsoft must face countless jokes about security and stability. Microsoft designed Windows with strong slants towards convenience over security.
That ideology faded early into the life of Windows XP. How Windows operates is fundamentally different. Windows machines are quite secure, architecturally. Con-artists are getting desperate. Recent attacks are almost exclusively based on fear and deception of the user. Common examples are fake anti-virus software or fraudulent call center phone calls. We all win when attackers get innovative: survival of the fittest implies death of the weakest.
The WinRT architecture distrusts its users to an extreme end: like Apple, Microsoft removes user control.
WinRT is the layer which forms the basis for Windows RT and Windows 8. Apps designed for WinRT will run anywhere WinRT does. Windows RT will only run WinRT apps and those apps must come from Windows Update or Windows Store. Web apps in Internet Explorer are the only exception.
Again, do not think Microsoft designed Windows RT out of greed. Microsoft supports open web standards even over Silverlight, their platform with a now uncertain future. Security and stability are favored over selling proprietary development tools.
Yes that was Photoshopped... to remove whitespace and make it smaller without scaling.
No UI elements were cut out, just pushed together. The full size image is just as ironic.
It makes sense for Microsoft to slowly end Windows as we know it and transition to Windows RT. Microsoft will never be dependent on a hardware platform again and they can finally shake their insecure stereotype. They certainly seem to be trying.
Removing legacy UI elements enables a less cluttered experience with their new interface. The concern is not that Microsoft removed the Start Menu and boots to the Start Screen. Microsoft did not stop there. Microsoft breaks numerous hacks to restore previous functionality. That extra effort is an attempt to make the past uncomfortable.
Windows Server is even more telling. Windows Server is not a consumer operating system and yet your choice is the “Modern UI”, a telling name to occasionally replace “Metro” with, or Powershell. Visual Studio Express was WinRT-or-bust until developer outcry made Microsoft sweat. Just this week Bill Gates discussed how Windows 8 and Windows Phone platforms are “evolving literally into be(ing) a single platform.” Compare Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8: Windows RT is the middle ground.
Do not be surprised if Microsoft intends to remove the cancer it considers its legacy.
… The Bad and the Ugly
Applications in the Windows store must adhere to strict but not permanent guidelines.
A curated platform is also a censored one. Microsoft will only allow an equivalent of ESRB M for North America or PEGI 16 for Europe. You might feel okay with Windows Store not carrying ESRB AO -- like most retailers -- but that is not the issue we face. This abolishes content from the platform. European gamers might be worse off as the following games exceed PEGI 16: Bioshock, Dishonored, XCOM, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Borderlands 2, The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, and of course Grand Theft Auto. I just name a few.
Again, this is not a refusal to carry in the store. This eradicates content from the platform.
Steam chooses what they carry, not what you carry.
If they don't carry it? GOG.com, Amazon, the author's website, you can make it yourself...
Parental filters are one issue but a strict ban on the basis of sex and violence is a whole other one. It even puts pressure upon censoring sensitive political topics such as same-sex relationships -- as allegedly the case with Harvest Moon -- and it throws the baby out with the bathwater.
Problems are prevented by discussion and context -- not by silence.
The power of art marries societal issues with their consequences. You benefit when art contextualizes the general issues of humanity and that is especially true for an audience in a time of personal struggle. Such as the case of a kidnapping where the captor views the victim as an object instead of a real person, violence is often a result of the dissociation between actions and consequences to a being. Likewise, art helps victims recover through a similar contextualization. Check out ConnectSafely for their discussion about child access to violent media.
Then consider if Microsoft faces pressure to change their mandate and require official ESRB/PEGI rating? Getting told that your content is safe for children is expensive; even worse, those who can pay are less likely interested in art.
Before we stray too far from the topic of certification fees, Xbox Live Arcade developers must pay an estimated $40,000 to validate a single patch.
Not a full game, just a patch.
What if Microsoft decides that Windows cert fees are the burden of the developer? Consider the impact on free or open source software should Microsoft invoice them. If they do on Xbox they can on Windows RT.
Mods are at risk too. Six years ago we faced Games for Windows Live. Mike Capps of Epic said it best: “I think the thing gamers need to worry about right now is that we’re seeing the console mod community coming to the PC -- which is that -- you cannot ship content to people because Microsoft is afraid of what you might put into it. Right? They are putting a cert process, or considering it, for Games for Windows Live: and that’s scary.”
Is artistic censorship or developer restraint not important enough? Consider a government who demands Microsoft block encryption apps. Well that is really scary. We know Microsoft complies with a law despite its political intent. Why shorten your own leash? If you build censorship, they will come.
A few silly problems: maybe Microsoft eventually wants you to include controller or Kinect support? Maybe your app replicates core functionality? Maybe you gave up your recourse when you entered the walled garden.
Seem fishy, yet?
I fear for users and developers. There will be perpetual problems when Microsoft finally drops the hammer on legacy Windows and closes the platform. The average person stresses, “I am just doing simple things.” Simple is subconsciously defined as what they do: Flash support, Outlook, PowerPoint, the rest of Office, a specific web browser, doing their taxes, a game, or even printing documents. It is all simple until it is found simply impossible.
Then they are stuck.
Keep your options open in case Windows RT becomes Windows. If you truly have simple needs Linux should be dead simple. Most Linux distributions are designed for the simple and typical needs of most users, right from install. You do not need to move immediately or maybe at all. Just consider an action plan and keep it as easy on yourself as possible if Microsoft bares decision day upon you.
Does the mention of Linux remove your confidence that your needs are simple? That might be more reason to consider an open and community-supported platform.
At least then a single company cannot say no.