Controversy erupts over possible MS mobile app fee

Microsoft may charge developers if they submit within a year more than five applications or application updates to the Windows Mobile Marketplace, a move that has some developers concerned that the store won't be able to compete with the iPhone App Store or the Android Market.

On Friday, a member of Microsoft's Windows Mobile team posted a Twitter note about a promotion that will let initial Marketplace developers get five free application submissions. The note describes upgrades and updates to applications as new application submissions.

Microsoft first publicly unveiled the Marketplace concept in February and has only slowly released details about how the store will work. While the company has already said that developers will be allowed to submit five applications for an annual US$99 fee, this is the first hint that application updates will count as additional applications.

The implication has set off a debate among developers.

Some believe that the move will help improve the overall quality of applications in the store, discouraging people from submitting low-quality or useless applications. But others say that the move will drive developers toward the iPhone and Android platforms, where they don't have to pay for application updates.

"The 99 USD fee for updates could actually lead to higher quality software. Instead of emphasizing speed to market, some developers will be better off ensuring that their programs work properly before submitting them; there's a tangible cost for not doing so," wrote one developer going by the name Alcedes on the MSMobiles forum.

But others expect that the fee will drive developers away and potentially result in lower-quality applications. "If developers have to pay to apply bug fixes (which in themselves are unlikely to attract additional customers), the chances of even recovering expenses diminish with each fix or enhancement. This is brainless," wrote Kevin Daly, a .Net developer who lives in New Zealand, in response to a blog post about the issue.

Microsoft did not reply to a request for comment and clarification about the charge or about the size of the fee. On his blog, one Microsoft technical product manager, Loke Uei Tan, said he'd update his blog with additional details about why the company is charging for updates once he "gets the official word."

Microsoft's Marketplace store will launch this year, a year after Apple introduced its iPhone App Store, which popularized the notion of buying applications for mobile phones. It also follows the mobile application store opened by Google for its Android phone last year. Google developers pay US$25 and iPhone developers pay $99 to join the respective developer programs.

Research In Motion, Palm and Nokia also are planning new application stores for their devices.

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