In an interview with Edge magazine (via PC Gamer), Epic co-founder Tim Sweeney shared his opinion that Microsoft could weaponize future updates to Windows 10 to destabilize competing storefronts—namely Valve's Steam, the biggest competitor to the Windows Store.
Sweeney outlines his case. For the past few decades, PC apps have been written for 32-bit environments, or Win32 codebase. That includes every PC game for Steam. Unfortunately, Win32 has a fatal flaw. "It’s been both responsible for the vibrant software market we have now, but also for malware. Any program can be a virus," he said.
Enter Microsoft's Universal Windows Platform, or UWP. According to Sweeney, it's next to impossible for UWP apps to contain or be viruses because they exist in Microsoft's sandbox. They're vetted, and locked down.
"The risk here is that, if Microsoft convinces everybody to use UWP, then they phase out Win32 apps. If they can succeed in doing that then it’s a small leap to forcing all apps and games to be distributed through the Windows Store. Once we reach that point, the PC has become a closed platform. It won’t be that one day they flip a switch that will break your Steam library – what they’re trying to do is a series of sneaky maneuvers. They make it more and more inconvenient to use the old apps, and, simultaneously, they try to become the only source for the new ones."
When asked for to expand on his theory, the Epic co-founder postulated that all Microsoft has to do to turn users off of Steam is patch Windows 10 to chip away at compatibility for Win32-compatible software. Year after year, patch after patch, Steam and other Win32 apps would become progressively more unstable and inconvenient to use. In parallel, the UWP will become more attractive.
"They’ll never completely break it, but will continue to break it until, in five years, people are so fed up that Steam is buggy that the Windows Store seems like an ideal alternative. That’s exactly what they did to their previous competitors in other areas. Now they’re doing it to Steam. It’s only just starting to become visible. Microsoft might not be competent enough to succeed with their plan, but they’re certainly trying."
Should you somehow get the impression that Sweeney is in favor of Microsoft throwing its weight around with UWP, think again. He and others have been vocal about the dangers of locking developers out of certain features and functions unless they agree to write software exclusively for the platform.
This strategy—should Microsoft move forward with it—has the potential stifle innovation, if not suffocate it outright. Sweeney believes the PC has remained at the forefront of graphical innovations due to the platform's open nature. By herding developers into its walled garden, Microsoft would set the pace of new technologies—not just graphics, but VR, AR, and other game changers.