Windows Phone 7 Hack Allows Unapproved Apps

Set Me Free

Photo: VanessaO via Flickr Creative Commons

Yesterday, a trio of developers released software that will let Windows Phone 7 users install unapproved apps directly from their PC rather than having to go through the officially sanctioned Marketplace.As first reported by Engadget, ChevronWP7 was designed to help developers get around Microsoft’s notoriously restrictive app development process for its new phone OS. In particular, Microsoft has blocked most application developers from accessing the phone’s native APIs–direct pathways into the phone’s hardware–because apps that misuse these APIs frequently cause performance problems with the entire phone.

Chevron lets application developers who don’t adhere to these restrictions get their apps onto the phone anyway. According Chevron’s creators, they did it to help amateur developers test apps that Microsoft wouldn’t approve for the Marketplace.

Some Windows Phone 7 application developers immediately accused the developers of trying to enable piracy. If users could somehow find binaries for Phone 7 apps on the Internet–say, through file-trading networks–they could now install those apps directly from their PCs using the Zune client, which today is used to transfer music, videos, and pictures, without having to pay for them through the Marketplace.

Chevron codeveloper Long Zheng responded by saying that Chevron simply unlocks a feature that’s already built into the Phone 7 OS.

That makes sense: one of the missing pieces in Phone 7 is an easy way for corporate customers to deploy custom apps to their employees. This is a step backward from Windows Mobile, which supported Microsoft’s System centre tools for app deployment. Enabling sideloading is a necessary piece of the puzzle, but Microsoft would probably have preferred to unlock this feature on its own time frame, and with ties to other Microsoft software.

Update: Microsoft has issued a statement that using Chevron could void the warranty or “render the phone permanently unusable.” This sounds like a blanket statement rather than a specific threat, but users who have jailbroken their phones should be careful before downloading and installing any software updates. 

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