This week, Microsoft expanded on its plans to improve Edge web apps by both modernizing them and supporting open web standards. It doesn’t address my core issue with Edge web apps—the inability to pin web apps to the Windows 10 taskbar—but it looks like a big step forward.
I want to use Microsoft Edge. Really. I do. And as the browser has improved over the past many months, especially in the Anniversary update, which adds support for extensions and other useful improvements, I find that Edge is finally starting to meet my needs.
There are just two major issues.
The first, mobile sync, will require Microsoft to port Edge to Android and iOS—which is very unlikely and perhaps pointless—or for the firm or some third party to provide a way to sync Favorites, settings, and stored passwords to other browsers on those platforms.
The second is, for me at least, an even bigger deal. It’s Edge’s inability to pin web apps—Gmail, Google Calendar, whatever—to the Windows 10 taskbar and let me access them “outside the browser” (at least visually), like native applications.
Consider the taskbar on my desktop PC. The highlighted icons represent web apps, which in this case I’ve pinned using Google Chrome.
Internet Explorer can also be used to pin web apps to the taskbar, of course, but I prefer Chrome because the resulting app windows are clean, and don’t look like a browser. For example, here’s what Google Photos looks like when accessed this way.
Clean, right? It looks like a regular Windows 10 app.
Anyway, as I noted in Living on the (Microsoft) Edge, if I could just do this one thing—I could live without the mobile sync stuff—I would almost certainly just use Microsoft Edge. As it is, even when I do use Edge regularly, I still want to access several web apps using these pinned shortcuts. So I’m still using Chrome.
But that could change. In a new post to the Microsoft Edge Developer blog, it appears that Microsoft is moving towards really making web apps first class citizens in Windows. What they’ll need to do next is let end users harness this capability.
“Perhaps the earliest incarnation of web apps on Windows was Pinned Sites, introduced in IE9, where sites could be pinned to the Windows 7 taskbar with custom icons, badges, and menus,” the post explains. “At the time, I wouldn’t have really considered this part of our web apps story, but in hindsight it was our first endeavor towards “stickier” web experiences. Later iterations of the feature even had a manifest-like thing to give the platform a hint that it can run ‘like an app’ and provide details on how to integrate into the home screen / Start menu.”
“In Windows 8 … the web got a chance to truly run outside of the browser on Windows with no native code needed.”
In Windows 10, developers can “package” a web app to build what Microsoft calls “offline-first experiences” that are distributed through Windows Store and look and feel like native apps. Yahoo Mail, Shazam, and Pandora are examples of this kind of app.
That’s nice, but this scheme requires the web app’s developer to be on board, and to do the work to publish their wares to Windows Store. Most of the web apps I use today are from Google, and I think we know how that story ends.
But that could change. Looking forward, Microsoft is improving web app support in Windows 10 in important ways. It is implementing recent web app standards like Fetch, Service Worker, Cache API, and Push API. And it is building support for the W3C Web App Manifest into Windows Store.
“We see the W3C Web App Manifest as the future for web apps on Windows,” Microsoft’s Jacob Rossi explains. So developers will be able to take modern, progressive web apps that already work on Chrome and Opera and run them in Edge’s layout engine. Then they can be listed in Windows Store and run, like apps, outside of the browser.
Progressive web apps won’t just look like apps, they’ll behave like apps. They will appear in the apps list, report storage/data/battery usage to Windows 10, and can be configured/managed/uninstalled … just like native apps can. They will essentially be native apps. They will, in other words, work even better than the web apps I’m using today with Chrome.
But the Google part of this equation is the sticking point. I’m hoping that some combination of supporting web standards and improved relations between the two companies can make this happen. But regardless, Microsoft’s continued embrace of the web and web standards will benefit all Windows users.
Come on, guys. Make this happen.