Microsoft Windows is a mess and needs to be fixed, but Universal Apps isn't the way to do it

There's been quite a hue and cry over Microsoft's decision to force developers and users to use the Windows Store and Universal Windows Platform (UWP). Tim Sweeney of Epic Games (the creators of Unreal Engine) went off on a tangent, decrying the fate of developers and the monopoly that Microsoft is apparently trying to enforce. Personally, I believe that the problem lies somewhere in-between.

There's been quite a hue and cry over Microsoft's decision to force developers and users to use the Windows Store and Universal Windows Platform (UWP). Tim Sweeney of Epic Games (the creators of Unreal Engine) went off on a tangent, decrying the fate of developers and the monopoly that Microsoft is apparently trying to enforce. Personally, I believe that the problem lies somewhere in-between.

The problem with Windows is the design of the platform itself. It's open, flexible and very powerful if you're a geek. If you're a regular user, it's a confusing mess. How many of you have TeamViewer and the like running on your parents', grandparents' or other technologically challenged person's PC just so you can access it remotely?

App hell

Installing any program is fraught with consequence. You first have to find a "safe" website to download the program from and even then, you're not safe. Since most programs started bundling malware and crapware on their installers, you can't even safely hit Next without worrying about installing the dreaded Ask toolbar and other nefarious programs. Updating and uninstalling is another messy process that involves hundreds of unnecessary files, registry entries and more, all of which add up over time and bring your PC grinding to a halt. As ArsTechnica points out, there is no need for games to be given admin privileges and worse still, access to system files. Sure, some apps might need that much access, but they're few and far between.

App heaven

Contrast this with iOS, Android, OS X and even Ubuntu, all of which have app stores of some sort or the other. You want an app, you look for it on the store and install it. All your purchases fall under one roof and restoring all those apps is easy. You get a consistent platform for reviews and ratings and you can be reasonably sure of being safe.

There are no fake download links, no misleading ads and usually, the installation process is as simple as a click-to-install. I'm not saying that these stores are without issues or that the apps are a 100 per-cent secure. The average user is, however, more secure installing an app from an app store rather than from a random website.

I can't tell you the number of times I've had to rummage through my mail to find installation codes, usernames and passwords and more for the innumerable apps I've purchased in the past. The concept of the Windows Store, the one that Microsoft envisions, is one that I'm very much in favour of. The Universal Windows Platform on the other hand, is not so appealing.

Unfit for duty

The Windows Store in its present state is just not fit for PCs and neither is the Universal Windows Platform (UWP). Both the Store and UWP have been designed with mobile apps in mind and are more suited to something like Windows RT on an ARM powered tablet than a full-fledged PC.

The Store isn't ready for traditional desktop apps yet and I feel that Microsoft is being just that little bit obtuse by forcing it on users. They first need to build a platform that the users appreciate and then they can think about forcing it on everyone.

There will be many here who'll remember the horrors of Vista and Games For Windows Live (GFWL). The latter was supposed to be a universal gaming platform that synced purchases and save games across devices, in theory that is. In practice, it was such a convoluted mess of a service that gamers and developers hated it with something of a passion. Even now, years after its death, we're still suffering from its after-effects.

With the Windows Store and UWP, Microsoft seems to be repeating the same mistake. Long before  the platform is even ready, they're already pushing to get everyone to adopt it. Offering games like Gears of War Ultimate, Forza Motorsport 6 and Quantum Break might tempt a few gamers for sure. That said, the issues that the Store and UWP still have to resolve are numerous and contribute, in part, to Tim Sweeney's angst as far as Microsoft is concerned.

Full Steam ahead

Steam is a platform that struggled for years, but finally succeeded in bringing virtually every PC game under its umbrella. They built a model that gamers and developers fell in love with because it did exactly what PC users wanted it to, and that's why they succeeded. Your library is in one place, you have the flexibility to mod the games, updates are handled under one roof and you get to use the full power of your PC as you like. It's simple and functional.

One day, the UWP and Windows Store might be that good, but that day isn't today. Forcing it on users at such a stage will do more harm than good. Give us a compelling platform and we'll be on it in no time. Give us an incomplete, restricted mess of a platform and you're going to face a lot of flak, if not outright rejection.

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