Microsoft delays controversial Windows App Store policies


The Microsoft Store, an online source for Windows apps and other apps, was supposed to adopt new policies on July 16 prohibiting developers from selling open-source apps that are otherwise available for free and distributing browser apps that use Apple’s WebKit engine.

But on Friday, Giorgio Sardo, general manager of the Microsoft Store, indicated that Microsoft would delay the app in response to ears Redmond received from the developer community.

Announced last month, the changes appear to be aimed at improving the Microsoft Store experience. For example, they include a section prohibiting apps that “provide content related to real-world information, news, or current events from spreading misinformation.”

But the revised rules limit what developers can do with open source software. For example, they contain a ban on Microsoft Store apps using Apple’s WebKit browser engine. In fact, any web browser engine that isn’t Chromium, Gecko, or EdgeHTML would be banned, so it’s not just WebKit verboten.

Apple’s WebKit-based Safari browser hasn’t been officially supported for Windows since 2012, although WebKit is open source, an enterprising developer (or a team of them, as browsers are complicated) might presumably create a browser for Windows.

What makes this unusual is that Microsoft announced its Open App Store Principles in February to address regulatory concerns about competition stemming from its Activision/Blizzard acquisition. The Windows giant has made it fully aware of the antitrust challenges of Apple’s App Store and Google Play around the world. In fact, Microsoft has backed efforts to force rivals to relax rules for their own stores.

One of the main aspects of the regulatory crackdown on Apple has been its App Store browser rule, which requires all iOS browser apps to be based on its WebKit engine, rather than Google’s open-source Chromium/Blink engine or Mozilla’s open-source Gecko engine.

The EU’s Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act aim to boost competition with new rules that ban Apple’s WebKit requirement. The UK Competition and Markets Authority is considering a similar rule, as is the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in the US.

It is therefore unexpected to see Microsoft stating in section 10.2.1: “Products that browse the Web must use either the open source Chromium engine or the open source Gecko engine.” (The company is also making an exception for legacy Microsoft Store apps built with its discontinued EdgeHTML engine.)

Developers seem more concerned about Microsoft’s decision to limit how apps based on open-source software can be sold. Section 10.8.7 of the revised policy states, “Do not attempt to take advantage of open source software or other software generally available for free, or a price that is irrationally high in relation to the features and functionality provided by your product.”

The policy change comes amid criticism from Microsoft over the commercial availability of GitHub Copilot, a subscription-based AI code suggestion tool trained on open-source code. The Software Freedom Conservancy, an open source advocacy group, last week accused Microsoft of profiting from open source without specifying whether Copilot meets licensing terms and urges open source developers to abandon GitHub.

Hayden Barnes, senior director of engineering at SUSE Rancher, expressed concern that the new rules unreasonably limit the financial options available to open source developers.

“I am disappointed with the Microsoft Store policy change that prohibits the sale of open source software,” he said earlier this week in a Twitter post. “The Store offers independent open source developers the opportunity to create sustainable projects by charging a reasonable amount there.”

Barnes said several open source projects have benefited from selling in the Store, such as WinSCP and Krita. “In addition to hurting them, it could also encourage more Store apps to become proprietary,” he said.

In response, Sardo, who oversees the Microsoft Store, insisted that Microsoft was simply trying to prevent abusive store listings, such as app clones.

“We absolutely want to support developers who distribute high-performance OSS applications,” he said. said. “In fact, there are already some great OSS apps in the Store! The purpose of this policy is to protect customers from misleading listings.”

The purpose of this policy is to protect customers from misleading advertisements

Sardo said Microsoft would revise the language of the policy to make sure its intent was clear.

Denver Gingerich, SFC FOSS License Compliance Engineer, and Bradley M. Kuhn, SFC Policy Officer – who assigned to Microsoft for Copilot – say the Microsoft Store policy change shows the hypocrisy of Microsoft’s assertion that which he loves open source.

“It is above all an affront to all efforts to make a living writing open source software,” they wrote in a blog post on Thursday. “This is not just a hypothetical consideration. Many developers are already supporting their FOSS development (legitimately, at least under the FOSS licenses themselves) through App Store deployments that Microsoft recently banned from their Store.”

Gingerich and Kuhn named paint program Krita and video editing software ShotCut as two open-source apps that will soon violate Microsoft Store terms. They also pointed to SFC’s own Inkscape project, which in the Microsoft Store had previously opted to ask for donations rather than charge a fee, and must now do so for compliance reasons.

They say Microsoft has done it before – rolling out unreasonable policies and then “magnanimously” retracting them.

“Selling open source software has been a cornerstone of open source sustainability since its inception,” Gingerich and Kuhn said. “Precisely because you can sell it, open source projects like Linux (which Microsoft claims to love) have been valued at billions of dollars. Microsoft apparently doesn’t want FOSS developers to be able to write open source sustainably.”

Selling open source software has been a cornerstone of open source sustainability since its inception

They conclude by demanding that Microsoft repudiate its anti-FOSS Microsoft Store policies and clarify that the sale of open source software is not only permitted but encouraged.

The register asked Microsoft to explain why open-source apps can’t be sold through the Store and why WebKit and alternative engines are banned. A company spokesperson responded with a statement that did not explicitly address our request.

“Microsoft Store supports and encourages OSS developers to publish free and paid apps, including browsers using other engines,” the spokesperson said via email and highlighted a follow-up comment Sardo posted on Friday. .

“On June 16, we shared a policy to protect customers from misleading listings, effective July 16,” Sardo said. by Twitter. ” Listening [the] development community, we have received feedback, it might be perceived differently than expected. We will delay enforcing this policy until we have clarified the intent. Stay tuned.”

We asked Microsoft if WebKit-based browsers will still be banned. A spokesperson told us, “We have nothing more to share. ®

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