Yesterday, we reported on Windows Cloud — a new version of Microsoft’s Windows 10 that’s supposedly in the works. Windows Cloud would be limited to applications that are available through the Windows Store and is widely believed to be a play for the education market, where Chromebooks are currently popular.
Tim Sweeney, the founder of Epic and lead developer on the Unreal Engine, has been a harsh critic of Microsoft and its Windows Store before. He wasted no time launching a blistering tirade against this new variant of the operating system, before Microsoft has even had a chance to launch the thing.
With all respect to Tim, I think he’s wrong on this for several reasons. First, the idea that the Windows Store is going to crush Steam is simply farcical. There is no way for Microsoft to simply disallow Steam or other applications from running in mainstream Windows without completely breaking Win32 compatibility in its own operating system. Smartphone manufacturers were able to introduce the concept of app stores and walled gardens early on. Fortune 500 companies, gamers, enthusiasts, and computer users in general would never accept an OS that refused to run Win32 applications.
The second reason the Windows Store is never going to crush Steam is that the Windows Store is, generally speaking, a wasteland where software goes to die. The mainstream games that have debuted on that platform have generally been poor deals compared with what’s available on other platforms (like Steam). There’s little sign Microsoft is going to change this anytime soon, and until it does, Steam’s near-monopoly on PC game distribution is safe.
Third, if Microsoft is positioning this as a play against Chrome OS, Windows Cloud isn’t going to debut on high-end systems that are gaming-capable in the first place. This is a play aimed at low-end ARM or x86 machines with minimum graphics and CPU performance. In that space, a locked-down system is a more secure system. That’s a feature, not a bug, if your goal is to build systems that won’t need constant IT service from trojans, malware, and bugs.
Like Sweeney, I value the openness and capability of the PC ecosystem — but I also recognize that there are environments and situations where that openness is a risk with substantial downside and little benefit. Specialized educational systems for low-end markets are not a beachhead aimed at destroying Steam. They’re a rear-guard action aimed at protecting Microsoft’s educational market share from an encroaching Google.