Back in 2016 — well before “Fortnite: Battle Royale” hit the scene — Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney lambasted Microsoft in an op-ed in The Guardian, slamming the Windows 10 app store as “the most aggressive move Microsoft has ever made.”
“With its new Universal Windows Platform (UWP) initiative, Microsoft has built a closed platform-within-a-platform into Windows 10, as the first apparent step towards locking down the consumer PC ecosystem and monopolizing app distribution and commerce,” Sweeney wrote at the time.
Fast forward to today, and the two have mended bridges: Sweeney actually appeared on-stage at Microsoft’s keynote session at this year’s Mobile World Congress to pledge Epic’s support for the new HoloLens 2 augmented reality headset, and any Windows-powered headset like it.
Sweeney tells Business Insider that his about-face on Microsoft has everything to do with CEO Satya Nadella and his team, including Phil Spencer, Microsoft’s executive vice president of gaming, and Alex Kipman, who leads HoloLens development.
“The new leadership at Microsoft has been an incredibly good partner to the PC ecosystem,” says Sweeney. “Microsoft is a new company,” he also said.
His original skepticism is an “artifact” of the days of former CEO Steve Ballmer, which saw Microsoft undertake initiatives like Windows RT, which locked users into only installing apps from the Windows Store.
With Windows 10, Microsoft introduced the Universal Windows Platform — an ambitious initiative that let developers write an app once, and have it run across Windows PCs, Windows 10 Mobile phones, the Xbox One console, and even the HoloLens.
In Sweeney’s view, this was bad news for developers, and a way for Microsoft to force developers into the Windows Store, where the company got a 30% cut on most transactions. He renewed his criticism when news first broke about Windows 10 S, a version of the operating system that could similarly only run Windows apps.
“I was really worried about the Windows RT project and these other efforts where Microsoft was creating versions of Windows that would be locked down and could force you to only install software through the Microsoft store,” says Sweeney.
But he says that time proved him wrong, and “Windows has remained fully open.”
Indeed, Windows RT was something of a flop, Windows 10 S mutated into “S Mode,” a feature of Windows 10 aimed specifically at classroom and educational use, and the demise of Windows 10 Mobile poked a big hole in the UWP strategy. In general, Windows 10 has remained as open as previous versions of the operating system before it, and Microsoft has extended olive branches to Windows partners like Spotify and, more recently, Steam.
Which brings us to Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 announcement. Sweeney says he was impressed by Microsoft’s public, on-stage commitment to allowing anybody to operate an app store for the HoloLens 2 and headsets like it. To his mind, augmented reality — as exemplified by the HoloLens and similar headsets like the Magic Leap One — is the next major phase of computing, and Microsoft was committing early and loudly to keeping it an open platform.
“[Augmented reality] is going to have a major contender who’s already fully committed to being an open platform, meaning that every developer is going to be highly confident in Microsoft as a trusting and trustworthy partner in everything they do,” says Sweeney. “And it’s going to make it very hard for any closed platform to compete in the future.”
Ultimately, Sweeney says, he’s now a big believer in Microsoft, and believes that its current position of most-valuable company in the world is well-deserved, and a reflection of how far it’s come. He points out that Microsoft has open-sourced much of its software, and even owns the popular GitHub service for developers. Like Sweeney, Microsoft’s former archenemies at the Linux Foundation have changed their tune, as well.
“It’s a great time for the industry, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence it’s also seen Microsoft become the most valuable company in the world. It’s a deserved status, and the honor should only go to a company that’s completely trusted to be a partner to all its customer, and not try to, you know, impose your will on everybody,” says Sweeney.