Next week, Microsoft are promising to deliver the Consumer Preview of Windows 8. I will certainly download and install it, and I expect, for the most part, to like what I see. I’ve been following, with interest, the Building Windows 8 blog, in which the engineering team have been detailing the design and features of the new operating system. But there’s one aspect of Windows 8 that is worrying me, and I fear that, going on past performance, Microsoft will disappoint me yet again.
I’m referring to the backend infrastructure that Microsoft will use to support the Windows Store.
Windows Store is the upcoming digital distribution platform developed by Microsoft Corporation for software applications (“apps”) designed to run on Windows 8, and possibly also Windows Phone in the longer term.
At present, apps designed for Windows Phone are delivered via the Marketplace, which is accessible via the web, via the phones directly, or via the Zune application running on a Windows PC. These all use Windows Live ID. The Windows Live ID service manages your online identity, and your access to other services (for example, the Marketplace). And all of these access channels to the Marketplace, and the Xbox Live online service, share a common backend infrastructure for digital distribution.
And there’s an issue (read: problem) with this backend infrastructure: once you have registered a country of residence in it, you can neither change it nor even delete your account. In addition, if you register a credit card to pay for marketplace purchases, the card must have a country billing address that matches the one registered in the marketplace. In other words, this infrastructure refuses to recognise the simple fact that many people move around and relocate to different countries.
I first became aware of this issue back in December 2010, shortly after the Windows Phone was introduced. As I wrote at the time, the issue is recognised by Microsoft, there have been many threads about it in both the Zune and the Windows Phone 7 forums. Back then, Jessica Zahn, a Senior Program Manager for Zune, wrote in one of these threads:
I can tell you we’re working through those questions now and figuring out how to allow people to move countries, etc – but it’s not easy, and those of you who have said this has been a problem for Xbox for a long time are correct – and we use the same infrastructure as Xbox.
Fifteen months on and absolutely nothing has changed – the issue is still there, Microsoft still don’t appear to have figured out a way to deal with people who move between countries. Interestingly, for us EU citizens, it could be argued that this issue is infringing our rights to the free movement of goods and services within the EU.
The only workaround that Microsoft currently offer is to say that if you move countries, you have to set up another Windows Live ID for yourself in the new country. And that brings a whole other set of issues, which I’ll address shortly.
But first, what’s all this got to do with Windows 8? Well, the question is: what are Microsoft going to use as the backend infrastructure for Windows Store? If they are simply going to add Windows Store to the same infrastructure alongside Windows Phone, Zune and Xbox Live, then I think we have a problem, and that’s what worries me.
Windows 8 is going to make more use of the Windows Live ID service than any previous version of Windows. Today, when a home user signs on to a Windows PC, they do it with an account name and password that is tied to that particular PC. In Windows 8, they will have to sign on with a Windows Live ID. This will then give them access to Windows Store. It will also give them a means of transparently sharing their personal data (for example, documents, contacts and calendars) between multiple PCs and other devices (for example Windows Phones and Windows 8 tablets).
And here’s the rub. Ideally, I want to have one Windows Live ID to represent me and my online identity. All the information that’s important to me (documents, contacts, calendars, etc.) can then be brought under one umbrella – one Windows Live ID. But because of this issue with the backend infrastructure, I end up with multiple identities, and having to juggle information between them.
I have a Windows Live ID that I set up more than 10 years ago – in the days when it was called Microsoft Passport. It’s tied to my primary email address, which I’ve had since the early 1990s. It is the key to all my contacts, my calendar, and my online identity on dozens of web sites. My online identity is also, for good or ill, how I am known and judged by others – it defines my reputation, my trustworthiness, my views. In short, it is the online me.
Unfortunately (for me), a few years ago I made the mistake of downloading and playing with the Zune software. Along the way, I created a Zune account using my Windows Live ID, just to try out the experience, not realising that the country of residence would be hardwired to the US without any possibility of change or deletion. At the time, I just shrugged my shoulders and thought no more about it.
And because of that mistake, if Windows 8 uses the same backend infrastructure as Zune, I will not be able to use my trusty Windows Live ID. If I did, I will not be able to purchase anything in Windows Store, because I do not have a credit card with a US address. Because of a badly-thought-out design in a Microsoft infrastructure, I’m expected to throw all the history of what’s associated with my old Windows Live ID away, and start again with a new one. I’ve never been fond of the concept of being born again, and this merely confirms me in my view.
Update 25 February 2012: It looks as though Microsoft are revamping all their web sites that deal with the different service accounts, and bringing it all together under one umbrella: Microsoft Your Account.
Admittedly, the site is still under construction (it says), but on my profile page, I can change everything EXCEPT country of residence. And there is still no option to delete the account entirely.
So I think that Microsoft are still in contravention of European Directive 95/46/EC, Article 12(b), which states:
“Member States shall guarantee every data subject (that’s me) the right to obtain from the controller (that’s Microsoft): as appropriate the rectification, erasure or blocking of data the processing of which does not comply with the provisions of this Directive, in particular because of the incomplete or inaccurate nature of the data” (my emphasis)
My Zune/Xbox Live account has inaccurate data: the country of residence is shown as the US, instead of the NL.
If Microsoft cannot change this, then I want the entire Zune/Xbox account deleted, as per the EU directive, while keeping my Windows Live ID, which does contain accurate data..
Update: It took writing letters to Microsoft, but I finally managed to get my old Zune/Xbox account deleted, and used my existing Windows Live ID to create a new account.