Microsoft Store policies will forbid sketchy developers from charging for free apps [Update: Not so soon]
Microsoft is making some changes to the Microsoft Store policies for developers starting next week. The updated Microsoft Store policies will forbid developers from charging fees for open-source apps, or other apps that are generally available for free elsewhere on the internet. The goal is to prevent specific individuals from profiting off of these apps, which are sometimes not available on the Microsoft Store, potentially leading consumers to believe that those apps are only available in paid versions.
An example of an app that’s usually free but costs money on the Microsoft Store is Paint.NET, which is actually published by the original developer. The fee is charged as a way to support development, while those who download from the developer’s website are asked (but not required) to make a donation. The wording in this new policy would suggest that it will no longer be possible to do this, but that’s not the case. Microsoft’s Giorgio Sardio clarified in a tweet that the focus is on protecting users from misleading listings, where someone might make use of open-source software developed by others to make money by misleading customers. Microsoft has already committed to updating the wording to make this intent clear.
Additionally, Microsoft wants to restrict developers from charging “irrationally high” prices relative to the features offered by their apps. Microsoft doesn’t specify what constitutes an irrationally high price, but if you search for something as simple as a media player on the Microsoft Store today, you’ll find options that go as high as $16.99, and that’s based on a quick search.
Another potentially big update is that app installers distributed via direct links outside the Microsoft Store (in .exe or .msi formats) will need to be digitally signed with a code signing certificate that belongs to a Certificate Authority included in the Microsoft Trusted Root Program. This appears to be a way to ensure security for apps that aren’t directly available in the Microsoft Store. This was one of the concerns some users may have has when Microsoft announced it was making external apps available in the Store, so this change should help alleviate those concerns.
On the other hand, you could argue that this undermines the openness of the Microsoft Store since it’s limiting what apps can be published. It’s a balancing act, though, and having some kind of security check is always going to have implications on freedom in some way.
There are a few other changes in the latest revision to the Microsoft Store policies, which includes prohibiting apps that provide news and information from spreading disinformation. Other changes are slightly less impactful and mostly add clearer language and smaller tweaks. All of these changes come into effect on July 16th, one month from their original announcement date.
Update: Microsoft is removing controversial policy
In light of concerns raised about the policy that would prevent open-source apps from being sold on the Microsoft Store, the company is removing it from the revision until the language can be clarified. While the remaining policies on this version of the document will go into effect, developers will continue to be able to sell their open-source apps without concern for the foreseeable future.
On June 16, we shared a policy aimed to protect customers from misleading listings,in effect from July 16. In listening to dev community,we got feedback it could be perceived differently than intended.We’ll delay enforcement of that policy until we clarify the intent. Stay tuned.
— Giorgio Sardo (@gisardo) July 8, 2022
A revised version of the policy with more accurate language should show up in a new update to the Microsoft Store policies at some point in the future.