In Windows 8, Microsoft looks to join Apple as the world's biggest app censor

Microsoft has long followed the "let a thousand flowers bloom" approach towards applications running on Windows, letting anyone download and run any application they want. All that will change with Windows 8, as Microsoft will join Apple and become one of the biggest tech censors in the world.

If you want to download an app onto your iPhone or iPad, the only way to do it is through Apple's App Store. Apple has frequently used its heavy hand of censorship to ban apps from the App Store it doesn't want people to use. Just recently, Apple banned an app called Phone Story that shows the potentially negative impacts of the manufacture of smartphones such as iPhone and Android phones.

In the past, it's banned plenty of other apps, often for political reasons. At the behest of Chinese censors, for example, it has banned Chinese users from downloading apps that mention the Dalai Lama and Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer, an especially hypocritical move because it prominently featured the Dalai Lama in its "Think Different" ad campaign. It also removed a WikiLeaks app from the Apple store. And it banned an app from political cartoonist Mark Fiore until it realized he had won a Pulitzer Prize, and then let the app back in.

The list of apps banned by Apple is long; there's no space to list them all here.

Microsoft, by way of contrast, has always allowed anyone to download any app they want and run it. But all that will change when Windows 8 ships. Microsoft has said that the only Metro apps allowed to run in Windows 8 will have to be downloaded from Microsoft's own app store, called the Windows Store.

Microsoft claims it's doing this to make sure that all Metro apps are safe to run. But that's clearly not the real reason. In Windows 8, you'll be able to download and use any app for the Desktop that you want. Why would Microsoft want to keep only one part of its operating system safe and not the other?

Not surprisingly, the reason has to do with money. According to Computerworld, Microsoft documents show that developers will have to pay in order to upload apps to the Windows Store, and Microsoft will receive 30 percent of their revenue. That was revealed in "Primer for current Windows developers." Microsoft later killed references to revenue sharing in the document.

The very act of vetting apps for download in a central store necessarily means that Microsoft will be involved in censorship. When you buy a piece of hardware, you should be allowed to run any software on it you want. Limiting that in any way amounts to censorship. Microsoft should follow Google's model, in which anyone can download and run any app they want on Android. True, there's an Android Market run by Google, but you can also download and run Android apps outside of the Market. That's the way it should be in Windows 8 as well.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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