Microsoft will begin providing Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) via the Windows Store beginning in Windows 10 version 1803. Here’s how it will happen and what I think this will mean for Windows 10 users.
As you may know, I’ve become increasingly convinced that Progressive Web Apps, or PWAs as I’ll now call them, are a more viable apps platform that “pure” Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps, which tend to be lackluster and even unprofessional-looking. There are a lot of choices here on Thurrott.com for the PWA-curious, but Premium subscribers may want to check out Windows 10, PCs, and the Future of Apps again. For the non-Premium subscribers in the audience, here’s an excerpt.
Future new app development will almost certainly occur through a hybrid app type called Progressive Web Apps, or PWAs. Yes, PWAs are truly universal in that they will run on any OS with a web browser, including iOS and Android. But don’t worry that this makes Windows less valuable or necessary: As I noted last year, Microsoft is going to embrace and extend PWAs in Windows 10. They will become Store apps on Windows 10. They will look and work like native apps. Like Desktop Bridge apps, they will adopt key Windows 10 technologies, making them unique on the PC.
Since I deal with push back all the time on this kind of thing, I’ll also note that this transition is already happening. As Microsoft’s Brandon Heenan noted recently, “Windows users [already] spend more than half their time on the web.” And that usage is going up. This fact explains boththe strategy behind Windows 10 Cloud and that product’s name [now Windows 10 S]. Microsoft knows that the PWA platform—the cloud—is, in fact, the future of Windows.
I wrote that back in April. At the time—before Build 2017, where I had hoped/expected to hear more about Microsoft’s plans for PWAs, and did—it wasn’t clear when PWAs would come to the Windows Store. In May, the firm said that it would, in fact, bring PWAs to the Store in the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update. But like so many Fall Creators Update promises, that isn’t happening.
Now we have a new schedule: Microsoft will bring PWAs to the Windows Store with the next Windows 10 feature update, currently code-named Redstone 4. In other words, in time for Windows 10 version 1803.
We know this because Microsoft outlined this schedule at least twice during last week’s web developer-focused Microsoft Edge Web Summit 2017. I downloaded and watched all of the relevant PWA-based sessions, and while there are three of interest—the keynote, PWA, HWA, Electron, oh my! Making sense of the evolving web app landscape, and Service Worker: Going beyond the page—only that middle one will be of interest to end users/enthusiasts. (With regards to PWAs, that is. The keynote might be interesting to anyone.)
Here’s what I found out.
PWAs in Windows 10 will be native apps as far as end users are concerned. They will be provided via the Windows Store, just like pure UWP apps and other hybrid app types, like Desktop Bridge apps. To users, of course, the underlying technologies used to make an app don’t matter in the slightest. PWAs, in Windows 10, will simply be apps.
PWAs in Windows 10 will likewise have all of the advantages of pure UWPs. I’ve discussed this in the past, but that means they will provide notifications, both via banners an in the Action Center, will work offline, will be adaptive and responsive to different display sizes and form factors, and will even run across all Windows 10 platforms, including PCs, of course, but also Xbox One, HoloLens, and so on.
PWAs will appear in the Store via two mechanisms. Developers can of course manually submit their PWAs to Microsoft for availability in the Store, as they do with other app types. But Microsoft will also automatically add PWAs to the Store by crawling and indexing the web with Bing, finding PWAs that meet its technical requirements, wrapping those PWAs in AppX containers, and making them searchable and browsable in the Store. They are, in fact, secretly testing this functionality right now. Well, not so secretly anymore since they just revealed it.
Microsoft is pioneering the use of PWAs internally by creating many new first-party apps as web apps and then using a variety of platform-specific developer frameworks to add native features across platforms like Android, iOS, Mac, and PC. With Windows 10 in particular, it will convert these web apps to PWA so that they can be deployed through the Store. The biggest and best example? Microsoft Teams, which was developed this way from the ground up. By the time Windows 10 version 1803 ships next April or so, the Windows 10 version of Teams will be a PWA.
Today, developers who are interested in testing PWAs on Windows 10 can enable a secret feature in Microsoft Edge that enables the service worker technology that’s required by PWAs. You do so by opening Edge and navigating to about:flags. Then, scroll down to the Standards Preview area and enable the option “Enable service workers.”
Doing this will not suddenly make websites that fire notifications in Chrome or Firefox start doing so in Edge. Nor will it suddenly enable a green field of PWAs that we’re not currently enjoying. Instead, this is what’s needed for developers to make sure that their PWAs work now in Microsoft Edge so they can be ready for the availability of Store submissions in the spring.
The most interesting new bit here, for me at least, involves the form that these PWAs will take. For example, today with Google Chrome, you can already find PWAs, like Twitter Lite, and pin them to the Windows 10 taskbar. They don’t behave as true PWAs, in that they don’t integrate with native OS features; what you get is the web app.
But with native PWA support in Windows 10 next year, you won’t access these apps through a web browser. And that means you won’t need to deal with web browser UI (which you get today in Edge, but not in Chrome if you pin a site to the taskbar). Instead, you will access these apps from the Store, and you will install them, normally, like other apps. That means that the PWA app windows will be like any other app windows. They will be apps.
The PWA generation is coming, folks. This could be exactly the bump that the lackluster Windows Store needs.