On the age-old principle of turning poachers into gamekeepers, Microsoft has recruited a jailbreaking team to create a legal unlocker. But this doesn’t really make much sense. It’s like locking your front door and then giving the keys away.
A while back ChevronWP7 Labs produced a small utility that would “unlock” a Windows phone. To be clear “unlock” in this context means being able to install any software you like rather than use any phone service, i.e. it doesn’t mean being able to use any SIM in an open phone. Other phone developers use the term “jailbreak” for this rather than “unlock”.
Microsoft charges $99 to let you join the App Hub so that you can load your apps onto your own phone and the only way you can get them on many phones is to get them into the app store. Not really a good way to get a private or enterprise app into the hands of a few users. Unlocking is one way to get any app on to a phone that you care to create.
Soon after the ChevronWP7 unlocking utility was created, Microsoft cracked down on it in a very unusual way – it persuaded its creators Rafael Rivera, Chris Walsh and Long Zheng to work with it to create a “legal” unlocker – on condition they withdrew their existing jailbeaking one.
Can you see why this is strange?
Why lock a phone only to permit someone else to unlock it?
Now they are making good on their promise. A blog post on the ChevronWP7 Labs site announces that:
As announced on the Windows Phone Dev Podcast, we will soon be launching an approved Windows Phone unlocking service as part of ChevronWP7 Labs. This will be available to developers across all skill levels and all regions.
It goes on to explain that a small fee will be payable for each phone unlocked but that this will be a one-time fee and according to the blog – a lot less that what Microsoft charges to let you use the App Hub.
The big worry at Microsoft has always been, superficially at least, that unlocked phones would lead to application piracy. So presumably this legal unlocking is going to be of a limited kind that will stop you from installing applications that you don’t own. Exactly how this will work isn’t clear.
Even if by working with the Chevron team Microsoft has managed to control the degree of unlocking allowed, it still not easy to see why they just don’t add a “allow from any source” check box. Unless of course the advantage is to keep control of what would otherwise be uncontrollable.
Microsoft must be hoping that there isn’t another team of programmers who can figure it out and create an open source unlocker.
It is an interesting way of controlling hacking but it is one that can only work once.