Posey's Tips & Tricks

What's Up with Windows Apps?

With its efforts around ARM, the Universal Windows Platform and progressive Web apps, Microsoft is exploring different ways to keep Windows relevant in a new era.

I recently wrote a column discussing the possibility that Microsoft may be working on a Surface Phone device. Regardless of whether such a device ever sees the light of day, Microsoft clearly has something planned for devices with ARM processors.

Not only are there reports that the company is revamping Windows 10 to run on devices with ARM processors, but supposedly it will even be possible to run Win32 applications on such devices.

After reading about Microsoft's development efforts around the ARM processor, my initial thoughts were that even though Microsoft would probably prefer that all of its customers stop using Win32 applications in favor of Windows Store applications, the company accepts the idea that most of the key applications that its customer run are Win32-based. As such, Microsoft is coming up with a way of allowing these applications to continue to be used, even as device technology evolves.

Although I still think that my logic is sound, there are a couple of developments coming out of Redmond that would seem to indicate that Microsoft is pushing its customers toward the adoption of Windows Store apps.

One such development is the announcement that Microsoft is abandoning the Win32 version of OneNote in favor of the Windows Store version -- or Universal Windows Platform (UWP) version, as Microsoft is calling it these days.

In some ways, I am not surprised by this move. Microsoft has been working hard to gain market share in schools. Right now, many schools favor the Chromebook, and Microsoft is trying to position Windows 10 S to compete with the Chromebook. Because PCs running in Windows 10 S mode can only run Windows Store apps, it makes sense that Microsoft would begin transitioning its own applications to the UWP. UWP apps are, well, universal. They can run in both Windows 10 and in Windows 10 S Mode, so transitioning to the UWP platform is kind of a no-brainer for Microsoft.

I do find it interesting, however, that Microsoft chose OneNote as the first Office application to be transitioned to the UWP platform. OneNote may be the least-used Office 2016 application, and so making the transition would cause less friction with customers than if Microsoft started out by transitioning a more heavily used Office application such as Word or Excel. It's also possible that OneNote was the application that could be transitioned with the least amount of recoding.

Whatever the reason, I think that it is safe to say that Microsoft is testing the waters with OneNote to see if it can get away with transitioning the other Office applications to the UWP platform.

So in summary, Microsoft is taking steps to ensure the future of Win32 apps while at the same time trying to drive customers toward UWP applications. But as they say in those bad late-night infomercials: "But wait, there's more."

Microsoft also recently announced that it is bringing progressive Web apps (PWAs) to the Windows Store. PWAs are essentially just cloud applications that are run through a Web browser. Starting with the just-released Windows 10 April 2018 Update, it will become possible to acquire PWAs through the Windows Store.

By making PWAs available in the Windows Store, Microsoft is doing two things. In the shorter term, Microsoft is beefing up its Windows Store inventory with additional applications. The Windows Store has occasionally been criticized by tech pundits for not having enough applications, so allowing PWAs is an easy way for Microsoft to increase the number of applications that are available in the Windows Store.

In the longer term, Microsoft is acknowledging the future. Although I'm personally not a fan of this idea, I think it's safe to say that the day is coming when nearly all applications will be Web applications. Running applications through a browser gives application vendors the ability to more easily maintain the applications, while also preventing software piracy. It also allows applications to be run on a variety of platforms (such as PC and Mac) without making software vendors bear the expense of developing for multiple platforms.

By allowing Web applications to be acquired through the Windows Store, Microsoft is clearly making an effort to ensure that Windows remains relevant in an era in which the browser will reign supreme.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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