Windows Phone 7 apps: an open and shut case

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?

TOPICS: Emerging Tech

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.

Topic: Emerging Tech

Rupert Goodwins

About Rupert Goodwins

Rupert started off as a nerdy lad expecting to be an electronics engineer, but having tried it for a while discovered that journalism was more fun. He ended up on PC Magazine in the early '90s, before that evolved into ZDNet UK - and Rupert evolved with them into an online journalist.

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  • Great article, Rupert. Putting restrictions on software is a great way to protect your IP, but it is also a great way to stifle innovation, which is, in this case, the purpose of MS. They have a track record of hate for open source, and are not about to do an about face. They may talk nice occasionally, but talk is cheap, and actions speak louder than words.
  • Wait, your advice comes from Adrian ... REALLY?
    You do know how wrong he is about most things?!! hahaha

    BTW - 30% of Wp7 apps are free and overall, wp7 are cheaper.
    Also Adobe still planning to run flash on Wp7 as well. Cross platform.

    Open source is great but many time haphazard. MS's plan is to go crossplatform across the net, IE9 and on their phones. I'm not sure but I'd look to that as the reason why they didnt want it.
  • Not all GPL software are equal :-P I think it needs to be more clear that this seems to relate to GPL v3 only, seems like GPL v2 could be ok:

    This isn't a surpise though, there are some restrictions in GPL v3 that isn't to everyone's liking, as far as I know the Linux kernel itself is still under GPL v2 and Linus knows much more about the licensing issues than I ever would.
  • @vole - while only the GPLv3 licences are called out by name as excluded, the definition of excluded licences covers more than that if you read through the terms; some permissive licences like BSD and Apache are allowed (not sure if the Apple Store allows those, must go check) but ones that insist on onward source distribution and no DRM wrapping are not. I think the biggest problem with open source licences is that you need to be something of an expert (there's a fab O'Reilly book on OS licences, but if it needs a book...).

    And I'm very keen on code signing; I'd like to see it be mandatory when a cert costs a whole $25, because of how much it can protect from malware. So I'd love to see a way that GPL could co-exist better with it. DRM can be benign, licences can be rich and permissive, it doesn't all have to be about greed and reduction of rights. I'd like to see a much more nuanced debate about all this than we often see ;-)

    Simon Bisson and Mary Branscombe
  • @rupert - isn't it the Novell patents that are thought to be potential dangers to open source? The Nokia 'billions' I heard Elop talk about were "value transferred" and that made me think cross-licencing deals on Navteq/Ovi rather than Ms handing over cash for the deal or buying patents (and surely they'd only get to cross-licence them rather than buy them? so it would be Novell wading in against Android, like the other handset manufacturers in the glorious internecine war within the mobile industry that is the patent suit crossfire).
    Simon Bisson and Mary Branscombe