I continue to think of my iPhone not as a phone but as a personal computer. Which is why I continue to be so nonplussed about Apple’s barring of some applications on the grounds that they compete with its own apps, and others at (reportedly) the behest of AT&T. The moves may well serve Apple’s short-term goals. Long term, though, I think they’ll make the iPhone a weaker, less useful platform. That’s not in the interest of iPhone owners, Apple, AT&T, or (come to think of it) anyone except Apple’s competitors.
All of which got me wondering: What if an Apple-like App Store had been the been the only sanctioned way to acquire software for other major computing platforms? Like, for instance, Microsoft Windows? And what if, in this alternative universe, Microsoft’s policies and actions had mirrored those of Apple today?
It would have changed everything–and not for the better. After the jump, a speculative FAQ about the Windows App Store.
Would Microsoft have distributed Microsoft Office rivals such as SmartSuite or WordPerfect Office via its app store?
Well, maybe, in theory at least–after all, it doesn’t sell Microsoft Office as part of Windows, so it couldn’t use the “it duplicates functionality that’s already in the product” excuse. Call me a cynic, though, but I suspect that competitive office suites would have run into trouble if Microsoft had controlled all Windows software distribution. And hey, didn’t WordPerfect duplicate features in Notepad?
How about Netscape Navigator?
When Netscape first appeared in 1994, the current version of Windows (3.11) didn’t have a browser. Even Windows 95 didn’t have one at first–Internet Explorer was part of the extra-cost Plus Pack. Then again, Windows 95 did ship with the dreadful client for the original version of MSN, a proprietary online service which definitely did compete with the Web. That might have been reason enough for Microsoft to nix Navigator for duplicating Windows functionality. And once IE was part of Windows, Microsoft could have given Navigator the boot retroactively.
Safari? Firefox? Chrome?
They all appeared long after Windows got a browser as standard equipment. No, no, and no.
Would browsers have continued to evolve and improve if IE was the only one that the majority of the world’s computer users were allowed to run?
Seems unlikely, doesn’t it?
Microsoft was found to have taken actions to discourage PC manufacturers from bundling Navigator–and it got in deep trouble with the feds for that. Wouldn’t making it impossible for Windows users to get Navigator on the grounds that it was competitive have been a far bigger deal?
Would Microsoft have distributed Apple’s Windows version of iTunes?
Almost certainly not–it unquestionably duplicates features in Windows Media Player. I’m not sure what this would have meant for the existence of iPods as Windows peripherals…
What about Photoshop?
Hmmm. It does duplicate functionality in Paint, but maybe it does enough other things that it would have had a shot. Although it’s possible that Microsoft might have rejected it on the grounds that it could confuse people.
Would Microsoft block Amazon.com from appearing in IE? I mean, Amazon competes with Best Buy far more directly than Google Voice competes with AT&T, and Microsoft sells a lot of copies of Windows through Best Buy.
Yes, but it also sells a lot through Amazon–one of the virtues of partnering with everybody rather than one company is that you’re less likely to play favorites. Also, even Apple doesn’t block sites from appearing in Safari.
Okay, but shouldn’t the version of IE bundled with copies of Windows on HP computers prevent users from going to Dell’s Web site, and vice versa?
Interesting idea, but it sounds kind of complicated.
Apple seems to have prevented Sling from releasing a SlingPlayer app that could stream over AT&T’s network because it would have hogged bandwidth. Back in the day, PointCast was an infamous hogger of dial-up bandwidth, and Microsoft was a partner of many ISPs. Would it have banned PointCast from its App Store?
I would hope not. But then, I’m naive about these things–I also thought Apple would give SlingPlayer the go-ahead.
Would Microsoft have slapped scary warnings on apps and prevented anyone under 17 from acquiring them purely because they could download content from the Internet which might be offensive?
Yes–if it were following Apple’s approach:
Even if Microsoft banned a tiny percentage of applications, wouldn’t Windows have wound up with thousands and thousands of applications that users would have downloaded billions of times? Windows still could have been really successful, right?
Yup–and I’m sure that Microsoft would have issued press releases quoting all kinds of impressive numbers.
Banning applications that Windows users wanted from the App Store might have helped Microsoft sell applications, please its partners, and hobble its rivals. But it also sounds like it would have made Windows less useful and appealing. Over time, people might have been less likely to buy Windows PCs and more likely to buy machines that ran other OSes. Wouldn’t it have been in Microsoft’s interest to err on the side of encouraging competition–even competition with itself?
My point exactly!