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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  1. 1 | Reply
    gsmith-plm Alpha Member #1599 - 1 month ago

    There was a time, long ago, when Microsoft told developers that they should make their apps as self contained as possible.  DLL's (other than the Windows common ones) should go in the program directory and INI files should be used for program settings rather than the registry).  This kept things cleaner and helped prevent "DLL Hell".  Many developers did and things were good and clean and all was right in the land...  Of course, that didn't last and today it's a mess. 

    UWA promises to simplify and unclutter things but many of the programs offered are nearly brain-dead versions of real desktop apps.  Hopefully that will change.  What would be nice is if someone came up with a way of merging Portable Apps and UWA.  Perhaps they have or are working on it, but that could prove to be a very helpful feature.

  2. 0 | Reply
    JerryH Alpha Member #248 - 2 months ago

    I wouldn't say that mobile app updates are not disruptive and leave it at that. For example if the store app updates while you are updating the other apps the store app just disappears off of your screen making you wonder "where the hell did the store go?". Really not any more disruptive than a well written installer / updater for a Win32 app - say for the Chrome browser. Comparing updates to apps to updates for the whole OS is a bit of a stretch anyway.

    1. Paul Thurrott
      2 | Reply
      Paul Thurrott Alpha Member #1 - 2 months ago
      In reply to JerryH:

      It doesn't matter how well-written a Win32 installer is. It's still going to litter your hard drive with files, etc.

    2. 0 | Reply
      hrlngrv Alpha Member #100 - 1 month ago

      In reply to Paul Thurrott:

      litter your hard drive with files

      The way MSFT Office does? Isn't that according to design instructions MSFT itself provided/still provides?

      Don't like where typically installed programs put their files, see how portable software works. Portable programs install everything other than per-user files into single directory hierarchies of the user's choice. Most (though unfortunately not all) put nothing into the registry. Uninstalling requires nothing more than deleting their top-level directory and everything in it.

  3. 0 | Reply
    ChristopherCollins Alpha Member #2122 - 1 month ago

    That's the one thing I really like about Chromebooks... The dual OS partition, so it updates in the background and you do a quick reboot.  I may be mistaken, but I think they did that on the Pixel phones too.

    I really wish Universal apps had taken off.  I agree with Paul in his post about legacy code holding Windows back.  Microsoft has to work in the opposite direction of everyone else.  While iOS, Android, & Chrome OS are slowly adding in 'Windows like' features on cleaner base code, Microsoft is having to basically maintain two OS versions in one.  I wonder if they could rip all the Win32 stuff out and build in some sort of emulator to run those apps.  Then they could basically leave the Win32 code at a standstill and focus on updating the features of the 'other' Windows 10.

    1. 1 | Reply
      hrlngrv Alpha Member #100 - 1 month ago

      In reply to ChristopherCollins:

      Chrome OS uses reboots to install updates because Linux machines go into single user mode when shutting down and starting up. Single user means root. Downloads may happen in the background, but replacing updated system files happens during shutdown and restart.

    2. 0 | Reply
      ChristopherCollins Alpha Member #2122 - 1 month ago
      In reply to hrlngrv: Thank you for that.  Totally bad information I read, then.  The reboots were so quick, I just took for granted that it was true.