Open source icon Miguel de Icaza says Microsoft's plan to build an App Store for Windows won't solve a larger problem faced by Microsoft: "Everyone is scared of installing applications on Windows."
In a new blog post titled "What I would do if I was in charge of Windows 8," de Icaza reacts to newly leaked details about Windows 8, which will apparently be released in 2012, and include an App Store as well as other features designed to improve Microsoft's standing against Apple.
De Icaza says Apple's App Store was a big success, giving software programmers a mechanism for making money, while lifting "a big weight from the shoulders of software developers by taking care of the distribution and billing system."
But de Icaza believes a Windows 8 App Store won't succeed unless Microsoft solves a more fundamental problem, that users are scared off by security holes and performance problems in Windows.
"The leaked mockups for the AppStore are creative, but the entire slide deck [in which Microsoft describes the concept] misses the fundamental point that people are scared of installing software on Windows," de Icaza writes. "Everyone is scared of installing applications on Windows either because they break the system or because you might be accidentally installing malware. In either case, the end result is countless wasted hours backing data up, reinstalling the operating system and all the applications."
"An AppStore won't fix this," de Icaza continues. "For a Windows App Store to work, they need to guarantee that installing software won't ever break the system. They need to produce an appliance that allows users to install and remove software in seconds, and yet, guarantee that installing and removing apps will never break the system."
De Icaza, founder of the Gnome and Mono projects, and vice president of Novell's developer platform, has won various awards in the open source community and was recently named one of the most powerful voices in open source.
While de Icaza may be right that developers and users harbour concerns about Windows, it's unlikely the developer community would reject the App Store concept entirely. Microsoft's .NET Framework is popular with developers, and Windows' mammoth market share will likely lure in developers, even those concerned about making applications run properly on Windows.
Microsoft's internal planning documents show that the company will attempt to sway developers by letting them build applications in whichever programming language they prefer, and by offering a simple way to upload applications to the App Store.
De Icaza offers several suggestions to Microsoft. One is to offer a "sandboxed execution system," which "would prevent applications from touching the registry, installing any drivers, any hooks, any visualisers or any other deep integration features that applications typically use to integrate with the OS."
Secondly, applications should be self-contained, fully embedded in a single directory, and have "absolutely no rights to modify anything outside their directory."
De Icaza also suggests offering limited APIs that "would have to be altered to give applications limited access to the host operating system, and to give them as little access to anything that most applications do not need."
"The above obviously does not apply to frameworks like the .NET framework, Java or Adobe's AIR," de Icaza concludes. "But beyond frameworks, there are very few cases where an application really should have legitimate access to all of the features in the OS. Video games certainly do not need it, and even applications like Visual Studio would not need it."