Microsoft tries to appease critics with a plan to bring 16 million new apps to its app store

Phil spencer microsoft xbox
Microsoft Xbox head Phil Spencer Getty Images/Kevork Djansezian

Windows 10 app strategy has taken some flak from critics, who worry that the company is trying to lock down app distribution and commerce.
On Wednesday, Microsoft executives took the stage at the company’s Build conference to respond to the concerns and to show that the company is committed to openness and fair play.

With the Windows Universal Platform, Microsoft’s aim is to give developers a way to write an app once and have it run on every single Windows 10 device out there — from PCs and tablets to the Xbox One and HoloLens holographic goggles. It’s a huge part of Microsoft’s Windows 10 strategy.

First off, Microsoft’s Kevin Gallo announced a new desktop app converter that will make it super-simple for developers of old-school Windows apps to modernise their software with UWP so they can be listed in the Windows Store app market. Gallo says that there are over 16 million pieces of Windows software that are eligible to work with the tool.

To more directly counter concerns aired earlier this month by the CEO of Epic Games, Xbox boss Phil Spencer took the stage. Spencer stressed that Microsoft UWP is an open platform, where developers can build and sell their Windows UWP apps and games on any store they want, including the mega-popular Steam digital games store and social network.

Quantum break windows 10
‘Quantum Break,’ a Universal Windows Platform app. Microsoft

Furthermore, Spencer said that this year, games and apps on the Windows Store will get the ability to run fan-made modifications and overlays, which is a huge piece of the PC gaming scene and one of the platform’s biggest shortcomings. They will also get advanced graphics options like G-Sync and Freesync, loved by hardcore PC gamers.

To demonstrate where the two dovetail, Spencer showed off Microsoft classic strategy game Age of Empires II, originally published in 1999, run through the desktop app converter. On the other side, it was able to sit in the Windows 10 start menu like any other app, while still integrating with Steam.

The big concern aired by Epic CEO Tim Sweeney and echoed by developers in the Windows ecosystem, was that Microsoft was using UWP as a lever to take control of how apps are made and sold. The first wave of UWP apps could only be sold on the Windows Store, giving it an unreasonable amount of control over how apps are made and sold.

These announcements should go a long way towards calming those concerns — though the company still has a tough fight ahead if it wants to get all of those 16 million classic desktop apps onboard.

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