Windows Phone 7 apps: an open and shut case

Summary:We know that Microsoft stares hungrily at Apple's success, if only because the CEO doth complain too much. And a practical result of envy is flattery of the highest form: not only does Microsoft now have a Windows Phone 7 Marketplace, a la App Store (well, who doesn't?

We know that Microsoft stares hungrily at Apple's success, if only because the CEO doth complain too much. And a practical result of envy is flattery of the highest form: not only does Microsoft now have a Windows Phone 7 Marketplace, a la App Store (well, who doesn't?), but it's decided to ban GPLv3 software from it.

It's not that there aren't plausible reasons for such restrictions. Microsoft and other proprietary companies have made a cottage industry out of creating plausible reasons. GPL'd software requires that the source code be available — clearly impossible. GPL'd software can't be DRM'd as it must be able to be redistributed — and app stores must stop that happening, or nobody would ever write any software. Or without DRM, you can't sign software — and unsigned software on phones means Malware Calamity Meltdown whereas signed and DRM'd software is perfectly safe.

You can, of course, go through each and every such reason and make a calm and logical case that none of the above need be true. People have been making calm and logical cases (among others) for GPL'd software for decades. There's even a thunking great app store in the Android Market that, amazingly, distributes it.

None of this is the point. The point is that it is both possible and demonstrable that GPL'd software can be utterly worthwhile. It is both possible and demonstrable that it can be safely distributed, used and fulfils its function as a conduit of ideas that defends itself against restriction. The recent history of the software industry — and the handset industry — would be very different otherwise. GPL has earned its spurs to be taken seriously.

That's true of open source software in general, which for all its failings and foibles encapsulates the freedom to innovate that drove the whole industry through its most astonishingly inventive phases long before software patents got going.

But not in the eyes of Microsoft and Apple. It's a sad and otiose reminder of the customer's place in the scheme of things, that making a model which fills a need for the end user so often comes second to perpetuating a model that puts a low value on inventiveness and a lower one on openness whenever it seems to ceding control. (Speaking of which, guys, how about an update to your interoperability pages before the first anniversary of the last one?). If Microsoft wanted to have an app distribution model that included GPL3 and similar licenses, it could build one with ease. It's not that it can't, it's that it doesn't want to.

Remember that in the future, especially when the next solar flare of IP lawsuits hits open source software — and what exactly do you think Microsoft bought from Nokia with those billions of dollars, if not extra weaponry to nobble the opposition? All in the name of protecting and promoting innovation, fair rewards and level playing fields, of course.

Unfortunately for some, that's stuff you just can't buy. Especially not in the Apple App Store or the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace.

Topics: Emerging Tech

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Editor, ZDNet UK. Ex technology/technical editor of ZDNet UK, IT Week, PC Magazine, Computer Life, Mac User, Alfa Systems, Amstrad, Sinclair. Micronet 800, Marconi Space and Defence Systems, and a dodgy TV repair shop in the back streets of Plymouth. Can still swap out a gassy PL509 with the best of 'em.Dear Reader - contact me via our m... Full Bio

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