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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Comments (47)

47 responses to “Living with Windows 10 S: Store Apps or Web Apps?”

  1. adamcorbally

    Isnt there a UWP that does this? Chromeless" web apps should be a thing in edge - hopefully they will arrive in the next update

    • Paul Thurrott

      In reply to adamcorbally:

      I'm not sure what you mean, but supposedly more sophisticated web app support is coming to Edge in a future Windows 10 version, yes.

    • adamcorbally

      In reply to adamcorbally: Hi paul there are two apps in the store one called web apps - that doesn't work and one called app it! that does work - sort of. App it allows you to pin sites to the start menu, pick your own image from the start menu and run them in a "chromeless" window - you cant pin those sites to the desktop or the task bar though or run multiple apps - so not great.

  2. legend

    Paul, don't you think it would be more useful for the average user if those web apps were in the store? I don't think that the average Joe would find this feature, even if it were in Edge... Don't get me wrong, I would also like to have it right now (and I don't use Windows 10 S), but I understand that it is not a top priority of the Edge team.

    Devs should start using Project Westminster, which is actually really nice. I just created an app from our corporate website in 15 minutes!

    • Paul Thurrott

      In reply to legend:

      Yes, totally. But I believe that is coming to the store, not via the current Hosted Web App technology per se but with Progressive Web Apps. I assume this will be in the first update post-Fall Creators Update.

      • legend

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        Thanks Paul!

        I also think that PWAs are a much better solution than UWP apps for most scenarios. It would also be really nice if we could choose to either install PWAs through the Windows Store or just pin them in Edge, as you do in Chrome. Either way, I think PWAs are the way forward for Microsoft and they should fully implement it as soon as possible!

      • jimchamplin

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        And there’s the problem. With Windows 10 it’s always “coming later” as if they can’t be bothered with getting the important things needed to compete done.

        If they’d stop wasting time on crap like Story Remix (which they’re incapable of delivering) and pie-in-the-sky mess like the Timeline (again, incapable of delivering), they could have proper support for these things. It’s to the point where it feels like they have five people working on Windows, and three of those people are probably managers who contribute nothing.

  3. S100

    Is there a difference in performance or features between the desktop version of Photoshop Elements 15 and the Store app (leaving aside the current compatibility issue Paul mentions)?

    I know the licensing is different (2 vs 10 installs); I am only asking here about performance and features.

    I ask because I need to buy a simple photo editing programme.

  4. F4IL

    It just isn't worth it.

    With W10S being a different - store only - mode instead of a legacy free, thin and lightweight OS, i could see the point in trying to commit, even though it ships with a lesser browser / search engine combo.

    I seriously think there's zero demand for this.

  5. josephgerth

    I can see why this is a major issue for most folks, myself included. I would not personally want to buy a laptop with Windows 10 S on it. But, from a teacher's perspective, there's a major advantage to the lack of apps: There will be far fewer distractions. Ask any teacher in a school that allows (or even provides) iPads; kids waste copious amounts of time on them, to say nothing of the few that will outright abuse the iPads by playing games (or worse). Theoretically, with fewer apps, this would be less of an issue. That was my initial draw to Windows RT - it was a perfect platform for students because it was limited. I realize that most folks here don't have a need for such a platform, but you should nevertheless consider this advantage before completely writing off W10S as pointless.

  6. hrlngrv

    Re light editing, that'd be Notepad and Wordpad. Are either packaged? Or are they just digitally signed by MSFT similar to how they were in Windows RT? Raising the question that if Windows 10 S can accept and run non-packaged but digitally signed desktop software, would be an insurmountable task to allow users or MSFT itself to add other vendors' digital signatures? It's possible to add other OSes digital signatures to Secure Boot, which is arguably more important that single apps, so to my simplistic mind it should be possible to handle more than just MSFT's own digital signatures.

    That is if the primary goal of herding Windows users to the Windows Store isn't extracting 30% of revenues from every software sale through the Windows Store. I just can't help being cynical and believing MSFT has decided it deserves a lot more money from ISVs and Windows users.

  7. hrlngrv

    My writing needs are different. I use a lot more mathematical notation, and markdown often doesn't cut it (though it's a helluva lot better than the Equation Editor bundled with Office). OTOH, there are some interesting markdown editing web apps. For Office, Zoho Office is the best I've used. For structured charts, Gliffy is a pretty good alternative to Visio.

    Chrome has an advantage over other browsers -- it's the core of Chrome OS's UI. Web apps in their own windows is a main feature of Chrome OS. Other than Chrome's pure FOSS cousin Chromium, no other browser serves a comparable role.

  8. skane2600

    No need to do a lot of research about apps or other time-consuming activities. If you need Windows, you just use regular Windows. The time you didn't waste trying to make Windows 10S work for you, can be used for more productive activities. Except for special environments like elementary schools where limitations in capability might be considered an advantage, Windows 10S doesn't really offer any advantages over full Windows.

    BTW, The Verge has a laughable article today stating that the Surface Laptop is the best laptop.

  9. Leon Ioannides

    I really wanted the Windows Store to succeed but the longer time goes on, the less likely I see it getting quality apps that are on par with what's available elsewhere.

    Re this comment: If these things just worked like apps, Windows 10 S would be a lot more usable.

    Yes, but then to a regular consumer - what's the advantage of Windows S over say something like a Chromebook (not that they're that successful, but they cost less).

    I think Centennial apps will be a welcome addition, but then again we're trying to convince developers to support a store. But the latest apps are written for tablet/phone and Microsoft unfortunately doesn't have the offerings it would like in those areas. While people can write WinRT apps that would look great on a Windows powered tablet/phone, I fear reality is that they're going to be used by people on a full PC, and for app writers that's not as appealing as writing for a phone.

    • markatcristorey

      In reply to parheric:

      Yes . . . this is actually an awesome point. If the Windows App Store doesn't take off, there ends up being more or less no reason to purchase a much costlier Windows computer over a Chromebook if all you're doing is web apps. As the variety of Chromebooks grow (some with very great screens, keyboards, etc. rather than JUST cheap), buying a Windows computer becomes less compelling.

      • Paul Thurrott

        In reply to markatcristorey:

        I don't think this is in the article, but one thing I was thinking was: What's more valuable to most people? A Chromebook, which can run Chrome web apps/sites and Android apps, or a Windows 10 S laptop that can run Store apps and, poorly via a browser, web apps? If we're being honest here, it's the Chromebook. Right?

        • Waethorn

          In reply to paul-thurrott:

          Considering all new Chromebooks are getting Android apps, and they're adding more old models all the time (a bunch of models were added to Chrome OS 60 stable), I'd say a Chromebook is looking like a better option at this point.

          Either machine is going to have "limitations" over a full Win32 system, but when you look at the relative performance and maintenance requirements of either system, and then the number of apps on each mobile app store as well as the relationship to consumers' mobile platform, a Chromebook makes for a better value proposition.

      • Tony Barrett

        In reply to markatcristorey:

        This is part of what MS are desperately trying to do - keep Windows compelling. There are so many alternatives nowadays, and mobile is just killing Windows. Nadella said he wants people to 'love' Windows again. Did anyone actually love Windows though? It did a job, but was really just a glorified app launcher. Now it's just irritating and in your face all the time.

        • hrlngrv

          In reply to ghostrider:

          Not outside the realm of possibility that many MSFT people believe Windows is so successful because of Windows itself rather than all the 3rd party application software available for Windows. Live tiles are fine for phones and maybe tablets, but no so much for PCs with lots of applications running.

          OTOH, maybe Nadella means what the Windows 95 launch was like. Yes, there were people lined up outside software retailers back then just before Windows 95 went on sale. Was it because those people loved Windows so much, or was it because most of them were looking forward to escaping the 8-dot-3 filename straightjacket which earlier MSFT OSes imposed? [OK, excepting Xenix.]

          • skane2600

            In reply to hrlngrv:

            Not sure of the exact reason but I can't see the 8-dot-3 filename restriction being much of a factor. Personally, I think of Windows 3.1 being more significant with the addition of TrueType fonts. When combined with a HP DeskJet printer you could perform desktop publishing for hundreds of dollars less than alternative methods without the drama of loading fonts and running out of memory using laser printers.

        • A_lurker

          In reply to ghostrider:

          My observation is very few Windows users ever loved it, tolerated it yes. The primary reason they still use Windows it not Windows but the software they use that runs on Windows. Some users do not need to run Windows specific software and thus can use Apple, Linux, or a Chromebook. This is particularly true with home and SOHO users.

          The fact users are familiar with other OSes due to their phones and tablets means they are more aware they may not need Windows at all. This does not translate to a mass migration away but it means MS needs to be more aware that users have options and act accordingly. Also, it is common for most to have a phone and computer with different OSes on them. Users do not seem to mind this as long as the devices do what the users want.

          • skane2600

            In reply to A_lurker:

            Windows was a way to enjoy a Xerox/Mac-like experience without having to pay a high price. That was the attraction of it. I'm not sure it was "loved" because Windows users tended to be more pragmatic and less inclined to adoration of any technology than their Apple counterparts, IMO.

            The fact that many people have both a phone and a computer (most running Windows) is evidence that people do need Windows rather than evidence of the opposite.

            MS started out trying too hard to make a mobile experience like the desktop experience (Pocket PC) and then years later tried too hard to make the desktop experience like the mobile experience (Windows 8). IMO both strategies were a mistake. They should have made the best possible mobile OS, completely independent of Windows and called something different. They might have lost anyway but at least they wouldn't have compromised the desktop experience.

            • hrlngrv

              In reply to skane2600:

              . . . IMO both strategies were a mistake. . .

              I don't disagree, but I wonder whether anyone working for MSFT has any idea how to handle the possibility that mobile devices (phones and tablets) need different OS UI features than PCs. I figure Apple got it right with different OSes for each side of that divide while MSFT is way too invested in finding a one-size-fits-all approach.

    • SvenJ

      In reply to parheric: Come on. Chromebooks are not cheaper than Windows laptops, 10S or otherwise. All we can really point to is the Surface Laptop right now. Remember Googles original Chromebook Pixel? $1000. You can buy a Windows tablet for $99, with an active stylus. Throw a BT keyboard an mouse on there and you have it all. OK, not a great laptop, but the majority of Chromebooks have a sibling that runs Windows 10 at about the same price. A $250 Chromebook and a $250 Windows laptop are pretty comparable. EOMs just haven't released them with 10S on them. They come with Win 10 Home. Maybe the OEMs don't see the point either.
      Not an argument of Win 10 whatever over Chomebook, just that price isn't the issue.

  10. Jeff Hanna

    I'm curious, couldn't someone grab the Chromium source, compile it for Windows w/ the Win32 store bridge, submit it to the store, and get it on a Windows 10S machine?

  11. anchovylover

    This isn't rocket science. Without Chrome and Google Search W10 S will have limited appeal. Bing has lost 3% world market share in the past year while Chrome has only increased its audience as Edge continues to be rejected. The MS evangelicals will claim otherwise and down votes are incoming however you all know it's true.

  12. adamcorbally

    The problem with edge is why would anybody bother moving from chrome if it makes life more difficult, it needs to cover the basics before it can be treated seriously

  13. dvdwnd

    Just as was the case with WP, 10S (and consumer Windows in general) will suffer until we can run Android apps on it. There, I said it again. Astoria was the only of the "bridges" that had a chance of closing any "app gap", but noooo. Rather kill WP and, soon enough, desktop Windows too. Somehow the related WSL "bridge" got the green light, managed to make a real desktop OS out of Linux and is winning developers' hearts left and right right now. But it's a niche thing, although it hints at what we could have had for consumer apps today.

    I'd love to see the vast majority of apps being PWAs, but the reality is that too many devs choose to build their apps in a way that leaves Windows out. How the tables have turned.