Why Microsoft Should Allow Third Parties to Sell WinPhone Apps

Microsoft (s msft) has said that it will require applications developers for its upcoming Windows Phone OS to sell their apps exclusively through the company’s official storefront, reversing a long-held strategy of allowing a host of third-party retailers to sell Windows Mobile offerings. It’s a move that’s sure to destroy some of the developer goodwill Microsoft has worked so hard to build up in recent weeks.

WinMo users have long been able to download apps from distributors such as GetJar, and Handango in addition to Microsoft’s Windows Marketplace for Mobile. But the new policy will force developers to comply with Microsoft’s content and technical regulations to bring their Windows Phone wares to market. (Microsoft said business customers will be allowed to distribute apps outside Windows Phone Marketplace.) Astoundingly, the news came just hours after Microsoft showcased its Silverlight technology and released developer tools for Windows Phone to make the OS more attractive and sway developers into its camp.

Microsoft is following the lead of Apple (s aapl), of course, which has consistently angered developers by refusing to allow third-party distribution of iPhone apps and by employing inconsistent approval policies for its App Store. Apple can continue to employ such a strategy thanks to the overwhelming popularity of the iPhone, but Microsoft obviously doesn’t have that luxury. Supporting third-party retailers would surely hurt Microsoft’s overall revenue, but the overwhelming majority of users will take the path of least resistance and shop at the source rather than seek out smaller vendors. So the company would do well to immediately issue some clear-cut approval policies for its upcoming app store — or, better yet, to rethink the strategy entirely.

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Image courtesy Flickr user Corey Templeton.