Today as I was checking my Twitter Timeline in the morning (as usual), I read about something that we all knew it was coming sooner or later but I was surprised that it was that early.
What is it? Windows Phone 7 has been Jail-broken, and a website was made for the tool used to Jail-break it !
Later today, I read a blog post containing a very harsh response to that tool, and explaining how guilty it’s developers are, I wrote a comment on that post trying to calm down the guy a bit and defending that tool, but the comment didn’t get posted yet (as of the time of writing this) and it was a very long comment, so I decided to explain my opinion in more detail here on my Blog
So what’s that jail-breaking tool ?
So, first of all the tool is called “ChevronWP7” and you can download it from the links in this page, it’s not actually a jail-breaker, it’s just a simple unlocker (not sure if there’s a difference), all it does is that it “allows the sideloading of experimental applications that would otherwise can’t be published to the Marketplace”.
From what I understand, if I unlock a Windows Phone 7 device using this tool, I get the ability to copy XAP files (which is the package for WP7 games and apps) to the phone and run the game/app from it without having to get all my stuff from the App Hub (or Marketplace).
The guy who wrote the post against ChevronWP7 is called “Michael B McLaughlin” (@mikebmcl), he’s an indie game developer and he thinks that what the developers of ChevronWP7 did is a horrible mistake because he thinks that they broke one of the security layers that Microsoft put in the phone and thus made Software Piracy easier.
I looked at the bright side and planning to use it once a I get a Windows Phone 7 device (I hope I’ll find and HTC Surround here in Egypt), so here’s why I think these guys aren’t evil.
From a User’s perspective
First of all I’d like to mention that my experience with mobile phones consists of a bunch of Nokia phones (3510i, 6610i and 3230) followed by a bunch of Sony Ericsson phones (W660, K850i and C902), and since I got my Nokia 3230 (which ran on Symbian S60) I’m used to going online download a JAR (or SIS in Symbian) file, copy it to the phone, run them to install the game/app that I wanted, then I have fun with it whenever I want, which is what we’re all used to do to put apps on our PCs, so the concept of having only one way to get your games/apps which is through a Marketplace (that’s controlled by whoever made the OS) is something new to me.
I know that this Marketplace approach makes life easier for some (simple) people who want a fast an easy way to get some cool games and apps on their phones, but for a geek like me, I find this VERY Restricting, specially when there are a lot of rules that every 3rd party developer should follow in order to publish his game/app to the Marketplace, I want to be able to get and game or app I want from wherever I want and put it on my phone, I like the feeling that I get when I go hunting for that special app that does that really cool thing that I want to do.
From a Developer’s perspective
Now let’s look at this from a developer’s perspective, I’m (almost) a developer and to the most important thing to me is to get people to use the games and apps that I develop, and since I’m still a student and not working in some large company yet, the things I develop will be relatively simple so my aim will be to easily share the things I do with my friends, and to publish games/apps to a Marketplace (whether it’s Apple’s, Microsoft’s or Android’s) I need to pass a certain quality threshold, follow certain guidelines and I need to have a license for that Marketplace (although Microsoft gives them for free to students through DreamSpark), so it’s hard for me to do all that and after all it’s not worth it because most probably all I want to do is to share a simple game with some friends (remember when I re-created Asteroids using XNA ? ).
So many people having unlocked Windows Phone 7 devices is a good thing for me, because I just compile and build the Windows Phone game/app and take the output XAP file and directly share it with my friends or put it here on my blog for anybody to check out and have fun messing with it, that’s why I really liked Windows Phone 7 in the first place
I know that if I want to share a simple game I might just share the source code on my blog so anybody can compile it and deploy it onto his phone through Visual Studio 2010, but not everybody has Visual Studio and probably wont go through that hassle just to try out that simple game I made !
What does this have to do with Software Piracy ?
Ok let’s talk about Software Piracy and whether this unlocker has anything to do with it, the fact is that Piracy will always exists even if you make most annoying security and verification system to prevent it, so whether a certain software will get pirated or not is just a matter of time and it’s popularity.
Actually, from any Hacker’s point of view, a security system is like a challenge or a puzzle waiting to be solved, and if he’s a black hat hacker, he’ll find an exploit and abuse it to bypass the security system and maybe steal or damage the files on the victim’s computer, and if he’s a white hat hacker, he’ll try to find an exploit then analyses it then report it to whoever put that security system so they can fix it.
So if a certain Windows Phone Game gets very popular, you wont have to wait for long until you find some group of black hat Hackers that find a way to put that game on a WP7 device (illegally) for free ! (ever heard about 0-day cracks ?)
Michael B McLaughlin (the angry guy who wrote the harsh post) mentioned:
I really don’t care what your motives are. The fact remains that you have created a tool, the sole purpose of which is to circumvent the security restrictions of the phone. Anyone who thinks that doesn’t hasten the arrival of pirated apps is deluding themselves. You’ve moved the ball forward on that. You. Not someone else. The fact that someone else might have done it eventually anyway doesn’t make it any less harmful and doesn’t make it “OK” that you did it.
He’s partially right, yes this Unlocker makes us one step closer to installing pirated games/apps on the Windows Phone 7, basically because if some Hacker was able to get the XAP file of some game that he purchased (or somehow stole from the App Hub’s servers) he could then crack it in some way so it could be deployed onto an unlocked WP7 device, but that doesn’t mean that the developers of ChevronWP7 are criminals !
I think that Mr. McLaughlin was wrong about the first part, we SHOULD care about the motives, and this tool does nothing illegal so it’s developers are not criminals, but the hackers who’ll get the XAP and crack it are the criminals and whoever downloads the cracked XAP file and installs it onto his unlocked WP7 device is a thief.
Simple example, If you invented a very sharp knife that cut through anything even human bones, are you a criminal? NO! If you hold that knife in your hand, are you a criminal? NO! If you used that knife to kill someone, are you a criminal? YES, you’d be a Murderer!
So in conclusion, I think this unlocker has a nice bright side that I think a lot of people like me will like to have, and I think Microsoft should not restrict Users by making the App Hub the only way to install games and apps onto Windows Phone 7 devices (restriction is what Apple usually does, not Microsoft ).
I don’t want a future where the only way to put an app on a device is through it’s respective Marketplace Service, to me that’s a nightmare, it’ll destroy a huge part of what makes geeks crazy about computers and gadgets, yeah Marketplace Services are cool, they make it easy to install apps on devices, but there should be alternative ways to do that
I’d also like to note that I don’t mean to offend Michael B McLaughlin in any way, I just didn’t like the way he approached the situation, the way he kept pointing fingers at the developers of ChevronWP7 and the way he went from unlocking to hacking to piracy to developers losing money and not being able to pay for their family, yes he actually mentioned that in the 7th paragraph! maybe he just had a rough day
So here is another lengthy blog post from me where I describe my opinion about something, I hope it’s easier to read than the Silverlight one
Update 1: after posting this, I found out that one of the ChevronWP7 developers (@longzheng) has already posted a reply to Michael B McLaughlin’s post on iStartedSomething.com
Anyways, I wasn’t posting this just to defend him, I also wanted to express my opinion about phone unlocking and Software Marketplaces in general.
Update 2: Corrected some grammatical mistakes and added one more point under “From a Developer’s perspective”.
Update 3: Microsoft’s Director of Developer Experience for Windows Phone 7 “Brandon Watson” (@BrandonWatson) contacted the developers of ChevronWP7, and they had a discussion about officially facilitating homebrew development on Windows Phone 7
The bad news ? They discontinued their unlocking tool, let’s hope we don’t have to wait long to see WP7 devices unlocked by default :(
Read more about this here.