Tim ‘I’m Epic, me’ Sweeney has been on the Microsoft attack calling the unreleased, unannounced Windows 10 Cloud OS "ransomware" for only allowing Universal Windows Platform apps to run on it.
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To be clear Microsoft haven’t announced anything about Windows 10 Cloud, all we’ve seen about the unreleased OS are a few hands-on impressions from techies who have had a play with a leaked build (one that’s still called Windows 10 Pro) and some further speculation.
And yet that has been enough for Sweeney to throw a Twitter wobbly claiming “Windows Cloud will steal your Steam PC game library and ransom it back to you… for a price.” His source for that was a Neowin post which explains that you’ll be able to upgrade the Windows 10 Cloud OS to a full version of Windows 10 if you pay for an extra license.
Doesn’t sound like anyone’s stealing your Steam library to me, but I’m not Juliet Bravo, so what would I know?
The expectation for Windows 10 Cloud is that it will work exactly like a traditional version of Windows 10 except you’ll only be able to run UWP programs, purportedly blocking Win32 applications in the name of security. It seems like it's essentially Microsoft’s response to Chrome OS and the rise of the cut-price Chromebook market. They’re creating a cheaper - potentially license-free - version of their operating system to drop onto budget systems or to be used in institutions, like schools, hence the notion of restricting apps to make things easier to manage for security reasons.
These Windows 10 Cloud devices aren’t going to be the ones designed to run most of the games in your Steam library - this isn’t an OS for your powerful gaming rig after all. And Microsoft aren’t going to be forcing you into installing Windows 10 Cloud either.
I could understand Sweeney’s consternation if Windows 10 Cloud was being designed to replace Windows 10 Home edition, the current cheapest version of Windows 10. But to us it looks more likely to be set a tier lower than that and for a completely different audience. We don’t even know whether Microsoft will be releasing Windows 10 Cloud as an OS consumers will be able to buy themselves or whether it will be an OEM product, baked into low-end systems.
Microsoft have been a victim of this sort of scaremongering for a while, with most of it centreing around the concern they’re desperate to squeeze Steam out of the PC game, and that restricted operating systems like this are a slippery slope towards completely 'walled gardens' of software compatibility. That worry was one of the key reasons for Steam OS to exist, though all Valve's restricted, free operating system did was make people miss gaming on Windows.
I’m sure Microsoft would love to be able to replace Steam, and I’m sure they’ve got plans to improve their own game download store. Hell, they need to. With the current state of Windows Store for games it doesn’t look like Steam has anything to worry about. I mean, have you tried buying, installing and managing games on that thing? The hoopy jumps just to play Forza Horizon 3…
While Microsoft’s attempts to make it look like they care for PC gamers seem a bit half-arsed (*cough*Game Mode*cough*) if Windows suddenly turned around and stopped you accessing your Steam account there’d be a whole load of new command-line junkies jumping into Ubuntu. It would also mean the vast back catalogue of PC games suddenly becomes inaccessible, which would cause some serious retro rioting. And Microsoft know that.
And quite aside from gaming there are many businesses out there which operate Windows as standard, and run Win32 applications, coded by their own teams, which are vital to their own company’s operation. That Microsoft would sacrifice such a lucrative market by restricting all versions of Windows to UWP apps just to get one over on Steam is sheer madness.
Sure, you will have to pay for your unrestricted copy of Windows when the Cloud version does appear, but there’s no change there. Complaining that a free version of something is more restricted than the traditional paid-for option seems pretty redundant, doesn’t it?
But what do you think? Is this Microsoft paving the way to stop people from accessing the vast back catalogue of PC games which makes it the richest gaming platform ever created? Or a lot of conspiracy fuss over nothing?