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Marketplace - a pain of epic proportions [rant]

The Windows Mobile Marketplace (or rather Windows Marketplace for Mobile) has finally been opened up for developers. Having attempted several times to sign-up, I can tell you about some of my experiences (pains). I finally succeeded somewhat in signing up today (but not completely).

A lot of my pains in the past were due to Microsoft not supporting non-US sign-ups yet. That's fine, but they could have added a note about it instead of letting you try to sign-up but simply failing repeatedly. That specific issue has been solved, though it hardly makes things better. Let's keep my past experience out of the equation. Let us focus on the now.

Imagine you are a developer with no prior Marketplace sign-up experience. If you look closely during the sign-up process, you may notice that you are presented with a lot of questions and explanations about these questions. That's fine. You may however also notice that the information you are given to complete this questionnaire is often either unclear, incomplete, completely wrong, contains dead links (404's), or all of the above in one case.

Getting your info in there even if you know what to enter is not easily done either. For example, try inputting your actual phone number including international dialing code (for you US folk, it's the "+" part of a phone number you often see around the globe) - fail! That's fine though, we'll just imagine for now that phone numbers are actually either located in the US or the country which coincides with the business address you entered (which especially in the smaller countries in Europe is often not actually the case). This is just one example of many.

Now imagine you actually succeeded in getting the sign-up part done, and you have said your prayers hoping you actually filled in what was asked of you (especially the VAT part, which seems to be impossible if you are not a US resident, let's hope your letter accompanying the W8 form will allow some MS employee to set things right). Next, you will have to pay up (this will be one of several times). The form actually had the nerve to complain about my ZIP code - which, incidentally, was entered 100% correct - which I then had to proceed to input in a wrong format to get it accepted.

Note that the exact details of most of the problems mentioned above this post have been e-mailed to people at Microsoft as far back as mid-May and are still not resolved.

But at least I can say that now, months after my first attempt and some severe hair loss later, I am signed up at the Marketplace. But you didn't think that was it, did you?

Nope, now it is time to bring the real pain. First up, the code certificate that will be generated for you. You are part of a corporation you say? You have limited liability you say? Not so. Microsoft will faithfully relay the information to the SSL vendor that you are personally responsible and the author of everything that will be published on the Marketplace. That's great if you're a grunt inside the company who drew the short straw for the Marketplace sign-up job and are looking for a quick buck, but for everybody else in the real world this is a royal PITA. [EDIT: I have just received note from the SSL vendor assuring me the actual certificate will be correct, just that the information in the e-mail sent back to the subscriber is not clear/incorrect]

This is also the reason I have so far not submitted any applications, so let's skip that entirely for now (though you can find many problems with that outlined in the support forum which will be linked later on) and focus on researching what you need to do to get your app approved.

At this stage, you will be presented with several documents containing requirements and recommendations. Requirements and recommendations you say? This must be a good thing! Yes, it must be. But then you read them! I'll just skip the part where pretty much half of the links inside the PDF's to other interesting (and must-) reads result in 404's, and head right to the reqs themselves. Or actually, I won't. I suggest you read them yourself, and if you pay enough attention, you will notice that pretty much all the interesting apps on XDA will have exactly zero chance making it on the Marketplace.

Of course, you can get waivers for things your app really has to do but do not correspond to the reqs. However, this waiver system looks clear at first glance but isn't if you get deeper into it. There's a lot of talk about standing waivers and things you can easily get exemption from. Actually locating those is another matter entirely (I have not succeeded so far, and every link I've seen refers to the forum, which makes no mention of them).

It this point it also seems like you need to have the waivers before actual testing/certification of your apps commences. At first glance you may think "so what?", but then you notice that every attempt at getting certified will cost you $99. Please note that at this time it also seems that a TRIAL and FULL version are treated as two separate applications, both of which will need separate certification. Unfortunately, no support is offered for single apps that can be both TRIAL and FULL at the same time, working with license codes. A feat that is available in every other mature appstore for WM I have ever heard of or used.

Another thing about those license codes or whatever you use as copy protection. As they are not supported, you are leaving your entire anti-piracy measures up to MS. In other words, if they screw up, fat chance ever selling anything ever again. Somehow, I suspect they will [screw up]. One MS'r has been quoted to say the CAB's cannot be copied from the device - if that's all the protection, we are all royally screwed. Aside from that, there seem to be no further details available about the copy protection offered by the appstore other than that the program is somehow tied to your Live ID. Disturbing?

Now let's talk regions. According to a developer on the forum associated with Marketplace, you actually have to re-input all the information for an app for all the localities you want to support (thank god they don't cost another $99 each). And yes, en-en / en-us / en-ca are actually different localities (hurrah! ;'(). If you want to support - for example - France, you will also have to have your descriptions in French. How great is that for customers who know English perfectly well but live in France (well OK, that is a stretch) ? They will seemingly be excluded from your app (what an awesome idea).

Now, let's talk about money. Other mobile platforms support appstores with only a sign-up fee, and after that the rest is free (though you may of course not always be accepted). Even completely free tools are available for development. Contrast this to Microsoft: there is no Visual Studio available for free that can compile native code for Windows Mobile [$$$]. Signing up for the Marketplace costs $99. Every certification attempt will cost an additional $99. And right now it seems most apps will have to go through several of these attempts due to lack of proper information. Having a trial version available as well as a full version will double your costs. One developer on the forum said to get his full catalog online he will have to spend at least $4000 dollars! Now of course I cannot speak for his sales volume and if this will still be a profit for him, but doesn't that seem like a ridiculous amount to you? It does to me - especially if you consider all of the things mentioned earlier. Now keep in mind that compared to this, other platforms are pretty much free.

I could go on and on [and on and on] about issues such as these. They may very well be worked out by Microsoft soon, or they may not. Proper information is very scarce. Official information is even scarcer. There is not even official support, you can just ask things on a forum and hope someone from MS will answer (or simply delete your post).

I've even heard from some people with access to the test versions of Marketplace that the actual client isn't any good either. This does not bode well.

Now let's get one thing straight. I'm not hating on MS. In fact I'm one of those people you could consider a WM fanboy. iPhone, Android, they are too limited for me (as a developer). They have other merits, and I'm sure people will argue about whether those limitations are actually there, but this is just how it is [for me]. webOS is not available here yet, and we're still looking at BlackBerry. I simply love WM, and what it can do (but usually doesn't).

Keeping many recent developments in mind (including but certainly not limited to the delay of WM7, and the minor adjustments they call 6.5), I have often pondered switching to one of the other platforms though, and taking the company with it. There is more money to be made than on WM on all of them, and the manufacturers seem to actually support their platforms. The only thing keeping me here is the potential and the community. The community, well either you know what's been cooking there lately or you don't, I won't further comment on it. The potential? WM remains to have a lot of potential. However, if you look at what both Microsoft and HTC (probably the biggest WM hardware manufacturer - if you don't get why they are listed here, do some research on HTC and performance) have been doing the past 2-3 years, it almost seems they don't even actually want WM to succeed. The only big corporation I actually see trying to make something good out of it is Samsung.

From a company as big as Microsoft, the current state of the "Marketplace" is completely unacceptable. It has the feel of being built by interns, and nobody actually tried going through the whole process. These days, a mobile OS can make or break by it's appstore, and so far it doesn't seem very promising. While I definitely hope things will improve before *final*, I shouldn't have to. Microsoft is certainly big enough to be able to allocate some resources to get this right - yet they don't. I'm not sure what that says, but positive it surely isn't. If you take that and consider that the apps truly taking advantage of the (now) special things you can do on WM that you cannot do on any other platform will probably never even get accepted for the appstore, you are left with a platform that is reduced to predominantly crapplications (see dictionary under iPhone), but without the speed and finesse the other platforms have to offer. Does it make any economic sense to be developing for WM, especially if you like edgy stuff? I'm not so sure anymore.

And then there's the freebies. Rumor has it you get 5 free submissions if you signed up before the 27th of this month when it all opened up. People who did seem to have not gotten them, as for non-US devs, it wasn't actually possible to sign up a few weeks ago, so that's completely unfair. But hey, IMHO.

Please keep in mind most of the things stated here are either my own personal opinion, the opinion of others relayed to me by way of the Internets, and/or assumptions based on lack of proper information.

In final, I would offer you the following score chart. It's supposed to be a funny, but it does have an undertone of reality.

Idea: 4/5 (hey, its not very original)
Effort: 0/5
Implementation (developer side): 0/5
Implementation (user side): ?/5
Alienating developers: 5/5
Alienating users: 3/5
Developer support: 0/5
Cost-effectiveness: 0/5
Innovation: 0/5
Listening to what people want: 0/5
Anti-piracy: ?/5
Competing with other platforms' appstores: 1/5 (well at least they try)

Total score: -10/5

Marketplace "forum":