Microsoft are in hot water again

JPCT 150713 Alan Stainer. Photo by Derek Martin
JPCT 150713 Alan Stainer. Photo by Derek Martin

It doesn’t seem to be a day goes by without hearing Microsoft’s name mentioned in the tech media. Half of the time it isn’t even related to technological innovation, but about trying to squeeze out the competition.

For instance, Microsoft has kicked up rather a stink with their latest move in the PC games market. With Windows 10 they are introducing the Universal Windows Platform, or UWP for short. Now at its heart UWP sounds good, because it means games developers can create software that runs on Windows 10 PCs, tablets and smartphones. They don’t need to write separate games for each one.

However, it comes at a price and that is giving Microsoft control of the entire distribution process in a locked down environment. Games developers will no longer be able to deal directly with customers and will instead be forced to deal with Microsoft and Microsoft alone. Microsoft of course will take a cut of any profits.

This is in complete contrast to the way things have always been done, whereby developers have creative and commercial freedom to create anything they want and distribute it however they like.

You can read a more in depth assessment of the situation by Epic Games’ co-founder Tim Sweeny here:
So how did we get into this mess in the first place? Could it possibly be that we are seeing yet another reason why a monopoly of any sort is a bad idea? Microsoft have approximately 90% of the PC market with different versions of Windows. That is a monopoly, but it is also a market that is slowly dwindling in favour of mobile technology. Yes there will always be a need for desktop and laptop PCs, but companies need to be focused on ways to maximise their profits in the long run. Sadly for the consumer and the developer, that is not always going to be a good thing.

Companies like Valve have taken a different approach and embraced Linux, which being Open Source is free from the constraints imposed by any one business. Previously when Microsoft put the cat amongst the pigeons with developers, Valve were openly critical and released Steam for Linux and their very own SteamOS. Back in January this year it was reported that there were now 1,800 titles available on Steam for Linux. As of this morning, there are now an impressive 1,933 games for Linux available on Steam. That suggests a vibrant and growing market for Linux gaming to me.

Given Microsoft’s unwelcome move in the gaming world, Valve’s commitment to Linux couldn’t come at a better time could it?

So will 2016 finally be the fabled year of the Linux desktop? I doubt that very much as it has a long way to go to catch up to Windows, but gamers and game developers alike may well be looking elsewhere for their fix and follow Valve’s lead if Microsoft carry through with their plans.

Alan Stainer