Microsoft is Spoiling for a Fight Over Mobile App Guidelines

Microsoft has issued development guidelines (PDF) for its Windows MarketPlace for Mobile store, setting the company up for a showdown with developers and device owners who want free control over the handsets they purchase.

Among the applications forbidden under Microsoft’s guidelines are certain VoIP applications as well as programs larger than 10MB, and anything that would that change the default browser on a device.

Taking its cue from Apple, which in the past year has reordered the landscape for mobile device software distribution with its iTunes App Store, Microsoft is looking to appease wireless service providers and maintain a close lock on the revenue streams its new marketplace could generate.

To that end, applications that would route voice calls over a provider’s cell or data network are forbidden, as is anything that would give device owners access to marketplaces outside the Microsoft-approved store. The company has not specifically addressed VoIP software that could route voice traffic over a wifi network, a few of which have gained a foothold in Apple’s store.

MarketPlace for Mobile is due to launch in the second half of 2009, along with Windows Mobile 6.5, the next version of Microsoft’s mobile OS. Developers are keen to see whether opportunities there – along with others expected at competing stores from Google, RIM, Palm and Nokia – will match Apple’s offering, which produced more than 20,000 apps and over a billion downloads in its first nine months in business.

By following Apple’s lead and taking a strict gatekeeping role, however, Microsoft may well be setting itself up for battles with developers and device owners who desire more open access to the mobile platform.

Apple’s restrictive and inconsistently applied approval standards have given rise to a burgeoning ‘jailbreaking’ community and spawned a very public spat with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has asked the FCC to grant an exemption from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s provisions for developers who create and sell applications outside the Apple-approved marketplace.

While some consumers are looking forward to seeing what developers will produce for Microsoft’s mobile platform, copyright attorneys are undoubtedly pleased to see the company taking a restrictive position on the kinds of applications it will ‘permit’ to run on it.