Microsoft recently introduced a set of tools that will let developers take existing Android, iOS, web, or classic Windows apps and turn them into Universal Windows Apps that can be distributed through the Windows Store.
It’ll be up to developers to decide whether to use those tools, but if they do it the Windows Store might start to look like less of a wasteland.
There are thousands of Android and iOS apps that aren’t yet available for Windows Phone. Microsoft is making it easy for developers to bring those apps to Windows.
As for existing Windows apps, Microsoft says there are already more than 16 million classic “Win32” apps available for desktop or notebook PCs. The new “Project Centennial” tools will let the developers of those apps bring them to the Windows Store… but that doesn’t mean that you’ll necessarily be able to run all of those apps on an Xbox, Windows Phone, or Hololens device… at least not right away. Developers may need to take a few extra steps.
That’s because while Microsoft has a converter that will analyze an existing app installer and spit out a Universal Windows App which is self-container, it may not be able to do everything the original app did.
Universal apps don’t have “full trust,” which means they can’t run as administrator with elevated privileges, can’t access the kernel, and can’t access some other system-level features. If you have an app that needs to do those things you can still use the converter and submit the app to the Windows Store — but it will only be able to run on the type of device it was originally designed for because it will still include some “full trust” code.
The idea is that developers can use Project Centennial to bring those classic apps to the new Windows App Model, but Win32 apps will still only be able to run on desktop or notebook-style computers with x86 processors until all the code is converted to Universal Windows App code.
This lets developers submit apps to the Store quickly, and then convert code one piece at a time until their apps become universal, at which point they’ll be available for phones and other devices. If they don’t want to go all the way, they can still submit the apps to the store… which will bring a few key benefits to both developers and users.
Developers can offer app updates through the Windows Store, collect money for paid apps, or offer subscriptions. They can also integrate features like support for Live Tiles or notifications.
Universal apps are handy for users because they essentially run in a sandbox: you can install and uninstall a Universal Windows App without writing anything to your registry. That means your system should operate exactly the same way before and after you install or uninstall an app.
That could be huge for folks who are used to just doing a clean install of Windows every year or two in order to clean up all the accumulated gunk that slows down a system over time.
The Windows Store can also handle incremental updates: if there’s an app or game with a 2GB installer, you may only need to download the whole thing once. After that, the Windows Store can send you just the new files you need when there’s an update available.
Don’t expect to be able to run all of your favorite Windows desktop apps on a smartphone running Windows 10. But if developers take advantage of Microsoft’s new tools you might see more and more of those apps become universal apps which are available for phones, PCs, game consoles, and other devices.