Living with Windows 10 S: Store Apps or Web Apps?

Posted on August 4, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 47 Comments

Living with Windows 10 S: Store Apps or Web Apps?

The issue of Store app quality and selection will be a problem for all Windows 10 S users, just as it was for Windows phone users. But Windows 10 S users face a slightly less uncertain future thanks to the availability of high-quality web apps.

Regardless, the future is just as uncertain for Windows 10 S today as it was for Windows phone. As fans and supporters, we can see a future in which this system survives and maybe even thrives. But the reality, today, is painful and even ridiculous.

I write and speak about the need for a compromise when it comes to Windows 10 S and apps. The issue is that Windows 10 S is not a “mode” of Windows 10 Pro, as Microsoft claims. Instead, it is simply a curated version of Windows 10 Pro in which certain features and capabilities have been manually blocked for what are often nebulous and unclear reasons.

In that sense, you might argue that Windows 10 Pro is, in fact, a mode of Windows 10 S, and not the reverse. It’s a mode in which the blocked behaviors are unblocked, where those things that might be dangerous, unreliable, or performance-averse are simply allowed.

But semantics aside, the real world implications of Windows 10 S’s limitations are very real, and they are something you will feel regularly as you use this system.

Looking at the apps situation specifically, the poor Windows 10 S user faces an obvious challenge: None are new to Windows with this version, and they have a history, in most cases a long history, of habit and expectation. And that includes access to a set of whatever desktop applications that fulfill whatever needs.

And those desktop applications are not available in Windows 10 S. So you will need to seek alternatives.

This situation, again, will be familiar to those who struggled with Windows phone for years, as I did, before throwing in the towel and succumbing to superior mobile platforms like iPhone or Android. And part of that struggle involves, now, as it did then, finding workarounds to the missing apps and services that we could enjoy elsewhere.

In the Windows phone ecosystem, users were forced to download unprofessional apps that emulated the apps they really wanted to use. Apps that brought Google services to a platform that Google would never support, for example.

This situation continues in Windows 10 S though, again, we have slightly better choices now, thanks to two factors: The Store is more of a concern to Microsoft and developers now, because this is “big” Windows, and Windows 10 S can run full-featured web apps that were never really available on phone.

So you’re going to have to do some research. This research will involve cataloging the applications you rely on, seeing which are available on Windows 10 S—it will be a short list—and then finding alternatives. Those alternatives might be Store apps that perform tasks similar to those applications you used to use. But they might also include web apps, which, to my mind, are often superior.

But things are never simple with Windows 10 S.

Consider the native app situation.

Yes, the Store’s app selection is bigger, overall, for Windows 10 S than it ever was for Windows phone. But quality remains an issue. And this is especially true for those apps that are made by individuals or very small companies, apps that are often meant to overcome the fact that popular, professional apps are just not available in the Store today.

Windows 10 S, like other Windows 10 versions, includes very basic apps for email, calendar, photo viewing and light editing, and so on. And you may be OK with those apps, though I find them to be too simplistic and almost child-like.

Some of the apps I do use are, in fact, available in the Store. For example, Microsoft Office is happening, and I’ve been using the Store version of Adobe Photoshop 15 since it first became available, on all of my PCs. (Yes, there is a temporary compatibility issue there with Windows 10 S, but Adobe is working on it.) Your mileage will vary, as they say.

I’ve found a few decent Store apps. For example, Appy Text is a reasonable alternative to MarkdownPad, the Markdown editor I usually use, especially if you upgrade to Premium, which is inexpensive and provides the side-by-side (live preview) view I prefer, plus multiple document support.

Appy Text with side-by-side live preview of a Markdown file

On the normal versions of Windows 10, I make heavy use of web apps, including those for email (Google Inbox), calendar (Google Calendar), and Twitter (Twitter Lite). These web apps are better and more sophisticated than the native app equivalents on Windows 10 S. But, again, things are never simple with Windows 10 S.

I run these web apps on Google Chrome on the normal versions of Windows 10. With Windows 10 S, Chrome is not available. So I’m forced to use Microsoft Edge, which is improving yet again in the Fall Creators Update (which I have already upgraded Window 10 S to), but it still falls short of Chrome in too many ways. This is especially true of web apps. Even with the Fall Creators Update.

The issue is that web apps are not all that sophisticated when used with Edge. And Chrome is better for this for now.

Let me show you what I mean.

Let’s say I want to use the web app version of for email, contacts, and calendar management. In Chrome, I can navigate to that site, open the Chrome menu (“…”) and choose More Tools > Add to Desktop. Then, I’m prompted to provide a name for the shortcut that it will create. And I can optionally enable the option “Open as a window,” which removes all the browser UI and lets this thing look and work more like a native app.

The resulting shortcut, which is saved to the desktop, can likewise be pinned to the taskbar, enhancing its app-like nature. This thing is, for all intents and purposes, just another app I would use every day. In short, it’s wonderful.

With Microsoft Edge, things aren’t so good. You can’t save shortcuts to web apps and websites to the desktop in any version of Windows 10. But if you’re on the Fall Creators Update, you can at least pin web apps and websites to the taskbar.

You do this in a way that is similar to Chrome, but is dissimilar to other Edge tab actions: Open Settings and more (“…”) and choose “Pin this page to the taskbar.” When you do so, a shortcut appears in the taskbar, as expected.

But this shortcut doesn’t work like the ones you create with Edge. For starters, it’s not tied to the site you’re view in the Edge browser. And when you select it, it just opens the underlying site in a new tab in the current Edge browser window. It’s not a standalone window. It is not devoid of browser UI, so it doesn’t feel like an app at all. And notice that the taskbar icon does’t “activate” *(it’s not selected) when you “run” the “app.” Blah.

This is disappointing. But it also undercuts our ability to overcome Windows 10 S’s app problem by using web apps. If these things just worked like apps, Windows 10 S would be a lot more usable.

Understand that this isn’t just about “UI.” It’s about using your well-worn multitasking skills to switch between open windows/apps. It’s about not isolating some “apps” inside of browser tabs while others are in their own windows. It’s about usability. And this means that you, as the user, needs to change. I think Windows 10 S needs to change. That’s the point of technology, isn’t it?

Regardless of your needs, you’re going to find the Windows 10 S app situation to be the single biggest barrier to using this new system. And it’s something I’ll continue to struggle with as a keep trying to use it.


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