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Microsoft is turning the PC into a walled garden and 'we must fight it,' says Tim Sweeney

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Epic Games co-founder lashes out at Microsoft's efforts to control the Windows software ecosystem

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In an op-ed for The Guardian this morning, Epic Games co-founder Tim Sweeney has launched a withering attack on Microsoft and its Universal Windows Platform (UWP) initiative in Windows 10. "Microsoft has built a closed platform-within-a-platform into Windows 10," says Sweeney, "as the first apparent step towards locking down the consumer PC ecosystem and monopolising app distribution and commerce."

UWP is part of Microsoft's effort to create universal apps that run across all sizes and types of devices, and is closely tied to the Windows Store. Sweeney's displeasure stems from the fact that Microsoft has launched new Windows features exclusively in UWP, incentivizing developers to get on board if they want access to those features. He sees that move as forcing developers to cede control over their app distribution — which would be done through the Windows Store — and to lose their direct relationship with customers, while also "curtailing users’ freedom to install full-featured PC software."

As the developer of the massively successful Gears of War and Unreal Tournament franchises along with the Unreal Engine for game development, Epic Games is a big and influential name in the games industry. Like Valve's Gabe Newell, Tim Sweeney's name is instantly recognizable to gamers, and he will have thought long and hard before expressing such strident criticism of Microsoft's actions. "In my view, if Microsoft does not commit to opening PC UWP up ... then PC UWP can, should, must and will, die as a result of industry backlash," says the Epic Games chief.

"A closed, Microsoft-controlled distribution and commerce monopoly"

Sweeney's editorial makes a number of strong suggestions on how UWP can be modified so that it can be embraced by developers, with the core of his argument being that third-party companies must be able to retain the right to distribute their content independently. Instead of trying to supplant Steam as the main destination for Windows games via "a series of sneaky manoeuvre," Microsoft should remember the PC's proud history of having an open ecosystem and abandon its plans to lock everything down.

Microsoft's steps toward implementing a locked-down "walled garden" approach — as made famous by Apple's iPhone software ecosystem — on the PC are meeting with stiff resistance from the people who helped make the PC, and PC gaming in particular, as popular as it is today. Microsoft's official response claims that "the Universal Windows Platform is a fully open ecosystem, available to every developer, that can be supported by any store," but Sweeney is no longer convinced by the company's words. "Microsoft’s intentions must be judged by Microsoft’s actions, not Microsoft’s words. Their actions speak plainly enough: they are working to turn today’s open PC ecosystem into a closed, Microsoft-controlled distribution and commerce monopoly."


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