Bundled Mobile Apps are a Bright Spot for Windows 10

Posted on November 20, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 20 Comments

Bundled Mobile Apps are a Bright Spot for Windows 10

While one could argue that the Universal Windows Platform is off to a slow start, the quality of the apps that Microsoft bundles with Windows 10, and the speed at which they are improved, are good signs for the future.

These apps also offer a healthy counter to my worries that Microsoft’s Windows as a service (e.g. “rapid release”) strategy isn’t working. Yes, I feel that there are important and serious reliability issues to work out with the underlying Windows 10 platform. But so far, the process of constantly updating the apps that ship with Windows 10 has worked out wonderfully, just as it does on mobile platforms like Android and iOS.

Which means that Windows 10 users can enjoy the best of both worlds: A productive and mature desktop computing platform that also happens to have a mobile apps platform built into. It’s a unique advantage that both Linux and macOS basically lack, though both have their own store (or store-like) experiences. And while macOS has long offered packaged apps that are easily installed and removed, the experience is inconsistent: Some third-party apps use this system and some do not.

Further, the Windows Store has far more apps than are available in Apple’s Mac App Store, and more apps than are available, period, on Linux. When you compare this availability with the tens of millions of available Win32/desktop applications, you can see Windows’s real advantage. We at least have an amazing library of legacy applications to fall back on while we wait for developers to more fully embrace UWP.

What’s most interesting to me about this is that the mobile app story on Windows 10 works for exactly the same reason that Windows as a service isn’t working. That is, UWP was designed specifically for this world, and app updates can happen in the background, and then provide users with new features on a regular basis. But the underlying operating system is old, complex, and full of intertwining parts, and it can only be updated using old fashioned methods, often while the OS is “offline” and the PC is rebooting. Mobile apps updates, for the most part, are not disruptive. OS updates, for the most part, are quite disruptive.

This topic comes to mind because of a Thurrott.com forum post in which POLLOLOCO51 noted that the Photos app in Windows 10 had just been updated with some great new features. But if you’re ignoring Windows 10’s in-box apps, you might not realize that this kind of thing happens all the time. Best of all it happens on a very predictable schedule: New app features are rolled out, in turn, to Windows Insiders on the Fast, Slow, and then Release Preview rings before they are given to the general populace. And this means that these new features are heavily tested—there are several million active Insiders around the world—before they go “live.”

Further interesting, if you’re just interested in getting mobile app updates more quickly, you can sign-up for the Insider program and then enroll your PC in the Release Preview ring. It’s like the Insider program for apps only.

For me, this process gives me an early peek at the updates I’ll need to make to my Windows 10 Field Guide e-book. And now that our Anniversary Update/version 1607 updates for the book are winding down, that is what we can focus on in the time before the next major update hits in the spring.

Hopefully, Microsoft can rein in its OS update quality issues and, with the ongoing rollout of its new Unified Update Platform (UUP) technologies, make their delivery more efficient as well. But in the meantime, the in-box apps that Microsoft provides with Windows 10 are a nice reminder that the future doesn’t have to be bleak. The present isn’t too shabby either.

Oh, and by the way: I realize this post will trigger a pedantic listing of every grievance that some people have with whatever apps in Windows 10 that they have. But that’s the point: These apps can and will be updated regularly. If you don’t like how they work now, make a difference and use the Feedback Hub app that’s also built into Windows 10 and let Microsoft and the broader community know what you’re looking for. You may be surprised the reaction.

 

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