Something that has left me speechless just happened this past Friday. I have been at a loss for words about quite possibly the last (note the usage of “last” rather than “latest”) downfall for Windows Phone 7. In case you don’t have a Windows Phone 7 device or simply if you think I am mumbling nonsense (again), let me pull a little background for this so that you understand what is going on before I go into the article itself.
Sometime right around the launch of Windows Phone 7, many developers were concerned about the multiple layers of security that Microsoft had added to their new OS, the successor of the immensely popular (at the time) Windows Mobile platform. A few devs had tried to get old known methods such as HSPL to get the device to become more developer- and hacker-friendly, but the efforts were met with a brick wall, and that brick wall was WP7′s entire system.
The device was protected enough that you couldn’t install apps in the device in the way we were used to: download a .cab, click on it and let it run. First and foremost, applications no longer were in .cab format, but rather in XAP format. Second of all, WP7 lacks a file manager, so even if you somehow managed to make a cab to place it in the device so that you could run it, you simply would not be able to access it (same story for the XAP files).
Rafael Rivera, Chris Walsh and Long Zheng then released ChevronWP7, which essentially allowed anyone to unlock the device and side-load apps. In other words, users could now install apps by simply installing the XAP from their PCs, similar to what was possible in Windows Mobile with ActiveSync. This allowed for other “missing” things to be installed, such as a Registry Editor, and much more. The world was happy and seriously leaning towards the smooth UI, which had now been unlocked thanks to the efforts of these selfless devs. However, Microsoft, in their infinite wisdom, decided to do what any good company with a deemed “impossible to hack” OS would have done. They grabbed some lawyers and went straight into the dev’s house. Shortly after, (with a few letters for C&D), the unlocker utility simply stopped working.
A few months after that, the guys responsible for Chevron made an announcement that they were in fact in talks with Microsoft to bring the tool back under their command and control. They claimed that the tool would indeed get them closer to developers for whom they seemed to care for, considering the exploding popularity of Android. Fast forward to 2011 and sometime towards the end of the year, after a long period of silence, the Chevron team gets back in the spotlight announcing that the planning with Microsoft had gone great and that the unlock service would go back online. Now, mind you that by this time, Mango was already out with even stricter rules and protections such as INTEROPLOCK, which basically would shut down any attempt to install an app to do anything fun with the device, such as, again, a Registry Editor. The way the system was set up was as follows:
Anyone willing to make apps and who wanted to test them on the device rather than an emulator encountered a brick wall. So, Microsoft decided to release the “App Hub”, which is a per year service that allowed the devs to unlock the devices so that they could install their creations in the devices before they were uploaded into the Market. Chevron was set up in such a way that the economic barrier was not putting down potential developers, so the service was released for (a token that would allow the device to have apps side-loaded). The other alternative method was to actively be a student and you could register to App Hub for free, but lets face it, lots of us are way past that stage. In any case, Chevron was back!! And the best part is that there was light at the end of the tunnel in a world where WP may actually be an interesting contender for Android and Apple. After many glitches, Chevron service went live and shortly after that, about 10,000 tokens were sold.
So, here we are today with a set of news that was a complete shocker for all the people who had unlocked their device with Chevron. It turns out that, according to Chevron’s blog, this was never meant to be a final fix, but rather a “test or trial” to see how many people they could get unlocked and how many of these unlocked people would develop and publish something. Since the results were lower than expected, Microsoft decided to order Chevron to discontinue the “experiment” and as a result of that, every device unlocked with this method will revert back to normal in 120 days. This means that if you have any app that were side-loaded on the device, they will simply stop working.
Enraged enough yet? Wait, there’s more! It turns out that since they don’t want to be mean to people who innocently bit into their bait, devs will be given a “free” App Hub account… for one year. This means that at year 2, you have to fork out again. And yes, I said “again” purposely. This is because the App Hub account is not opened for free right away. If you want to take advantage of this, you must pay the up front and have it refunded afterwards. In my humble opinion, if the money comes back in a way other than a credit back to your bank/credit card—such as credit towards Microsoft products—as irate as I would be, I wouldn’t be surprised. Heck, it is bad enough that it will take them an entire 2 months to refund the money, with up to an additional 60 days for the card to process the credit.
Dear, dear Microsoft. What, just what in the name of technology were you thinking? Are you that eager to lose your entire user base (or what’s left of it)? Your numbers compared to Android and iOS are non-existent and getting worse by the quarter. Locking out developers is likely NOT the way to make your OS flourish. We understand that you are not Android, and that you indeed are making a closed source OS. Fine, we can live with that and in fact—we have done so since early the 2000s. But, what you did here by offering an olive branch and taking it away is revolting. On top of all this, you decide to do it right upon the launch of a few more WP7 devices into the market (HTC Titan 2, and a couple of Lumias. I am sure that HTC will thank you for crippling their sales efforts with this). The only ways I can read this move are:
- You are trying to get more App Hub memberships. It is easier to get someone to renew a service than it is to get them to sign up for it.
- You truly don’t think that people are skilled enough to work with your OS, so you take the only tools you have provided for development away as they are not “good enough” in your view. The demand for WP7 apps did increase and so did the production post the Chevron experiment. You obviously wanted more or better quality. In either case, you still think that it was not worth the effort with Chevron.
- You realized that in order to properly develop on this platform, you need to relax a TON of restrictions in the OS as the apps that can possibly take advantage of the OS and hardware require more permissions to actually do anything remotely useful.
I am not going to blame the people at Chevron, because this is obviously your doing and not theirs. If it was up to them, the original Chevron unlock would have never been stopped and people would be gladly developing applications for your OS in an attempt to make it into something more appealing for the masses. I mean, seriously, your entire market is flooded with “fart noise makers”, flash light, and sound board apps (I don’t mean to disrespect anyone with this). The ones that are remotely useful are paid apps, generally from rather large software developers trying to bridge the gap between Android and WP7. Want to know why? Because you are not letting devs do anything. For the love of everything holy, you cannot even change the color of the live tiles or the background without being at least interopunlocked. My old EVO 4G loaded with Launcher7 gave me a much richer WP7-like experience than my Titan did. Do you honestly think that this is right?
Finally, I sincerely hope that your lawyers are on their A-game. I have a very strong feeling that you will get sued left and right for this. I purchased a token myself for my Titan. At no point in time did either Chevron or Microsoft tell me anything remotely related to a ToS disclosure, nor that this is a test. All in all, if your numbers are right, you essentially just cheated approximately 10,000 people out of a piece, which, if I still remember my math, basically you just made US,000 out of virtual sugar pill placebos. Want proof of what I am saying? The token is meant to give you unlimited uses for the device it is purchased for. Unlimited as in: “as long as I need to use it, I will be able.” This post in particular tells me right away that you just monumentally shot yourself in the foot:
After registering, users will have the ability to purchase and manage what we’re calling “unlock tokens”. One token equals one unique Windows Phone device registration. (You get unlimited re-registrations of that device should the need arise.)
Congratulations. If anyone can point me to a EULA, ToS, or anything in written from when the program came out stating that this was indeed a timed trial, I would appreciate it because to be perfectly honest, I do not recall seeing anything at all regarding this, and I would have not spent the money if I knew that this was going to expire. Oh, and since you are willingly giving away “free” licenses for the App Hub, you are actually admitting guilt, congratulations. You are not doing this out of good will, but rather to try and cover your posterior from the hordes of developers that will come after you for lying. One last thing, do not try to blame it on Chevron as you will likely try to do because it was YOU who took over the project, almost taking them to court for cracking open your OS.
All in all, you just loaded yourself with a monumental amount of bad PR and a potential class action lawsuit as you have about 10,000 angry devs (professional and aspiring) cursing your existence right about now. Sit back and enjoy the ride.
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[Thanks andyharney for the tip!]