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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Comments (20)

20 responses to “Bundled Mobile Apps are a Bright Spot for Windows 10”

  1. 7309

    "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."

    You ask and you shall receive: the Mail & Calendar app is a big pile of shit. I'm not gonna list all that's wrong with but I'll just say this: if you rely on this thing to reliable show you the content of your mailbox or new mails on the live tile or lock screen, it will drive you nuts.

    "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."

    I have, and so have multiple others which is immediately obvious when you browse the feedback hub.

    "You may be surprised the reaction."

    Yes, I've been surprised, in a negative way. This app was working mostly fine when I started using it back in June. But over time this app has just kept getting more and more unreliable with each update. I have also found Microsoft's response to requests for new features to be overall lackluster. Once in while some app will receive a highly requested feature. And when they do, everybody is surprised because this request was made so long ago they had already forgotten about it.

    Sorry, but I'm not impressed at all with what MS is doing here. Just as the updates to the OS themselves, these app updates are unreliable, introduce more bugs than they fix and are very slow to get meaningful updates (whereas MS seems to be more focused on fluffy stuff such as pen support in the Maps app)

    I have to wonder what triggered this article, Paul. Because I wonder which of these apps you actually use on daily basis. My guess: almost none. And you certainly don't use any of them on mobile, which is another important part of this story.


    • 2371

      In reply to timo47:

      I have to disagree, the Mail and Calendar app is working great for me.  I use it and my family uses it on W10M and W10 everyday.  It could have more features, but Microsoft has been adding features.  Microsoft just needs to speed it up.

  2. 5456

    Bundled Mobile Apps are a Bright Spot for Windows 10? Really? More like a pain in the ass. Because as a normale user you cant uninstall them when you dont want them. I am tempted to call them "crapware".

    • 1377

      In reply to SherlockHolmes:

      Picky: most do have Uninstall entries in the right-click menus, and those that don't can still be unstalled using Powershell.

      Yes, Windows has reached the point where it's necessary to use a command line to change some of its configuration. Windows just keeps getting more *nix-like all the time.

      • 5456

        In reply to hrlngrv:

        The problem is: most normal users dont know how to use Powershell. I know how to use it. But those UWP Apps are a pain in the ass after all. Because for the most tasks, you need to do more Clicks then with the win32 counterparts.

        • 1377

          In reply to SherlockHolmes:

          Agreed most users shouldn't be expected to use Powershell. ALL bundled apps except the very basics (IMO, Notepad, Calculator, Char Map, Task Scheduler, Setting/Control Panel, and Store) should be uninstallable. Yes, users should be able to get rid of all the phone-related apps, the People app, Voice Recorder, etc. [If a system lacks a mic, what purpose does Voice Recorder serve?] Ideally this would be handled through the Windows Components applet in which users could check/uncheck which bundled apps are installed/not installed.

          My problem with UWP is that it doesn't provide all the automation functionality Win32 does. Yes, that can be misused, but it does make for much greater functionality when used as intended.

  3. 3216

    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.

  4. 457

    In a different article, someone mentioned that there have been less "public" comments since premium started.  And the Public comments attached to this article, are part of the reason I don't read the public comments very often now.


  5. 5530

    mmm, nah. Right now, the Google Play store is the design bar to meet. It really lets apps and developers shine. Windows 10's store comes nowhere close. And the apps? Part of me thinks that the current Mail app is the best out-of-box mail app Windows has ever had. Before this it was stuff like Outlook Express and Windows Mail. But we also had Windows Live Mail, which was excellent, but like all Win32 apps, they need to be constantly running in the background to fetch mail, and that isn't smart, especially on laptops. The current Mail app isn't as good but it comes pretty close. The sad thing is that app developers aren't stepping up to the plate to create their own Mail app like they do on Android. On Android we get plenty of options, many of them high-quality. On Windows there is just one, and it's questionable. My guess is that there are flaws in the UWP platform itself that have yet to be addressed, which is why both Microsoft's apps have holes and third-parties are not responding to the opportunity.

    I'd extend this to all of the Windows 10 UWP apps, there are still things that Windows Media Player does that can't be replaced by the new apps. And I still think Windows Live Photo Gallery had more functionality than the Photos app. The problem is, the former is a Win32 app that doesn't scale and i'm now on a HiDPI screen so I can't use it anymore.

    I just can't figure out, for the life of me, why push notifications from it and other apps in Windows 10 are so inconsistent. Even Windows 8 wasn't as bad.

  6. 8444

    This is all great. But they really should improve the Edge UI with more features through the store.

    Now we have to wait for a new general built. Meanwhile IE and Edge market share are crashing and burning because the UI lacks basic features and stability.

    They really should have made their browser totally separate from the OS and provide a separate component for OS integration. Just like android ships chrome, chrome beta and chrome canary on Android. And apps use the OS integrated System WebView which can be updated seperatly.

  7. 2175

    Thanks for the Photos update tip. I hadn't used it for a while. It really is a lot nicer now. 

  8. 8182

    Paul, I agree with you that the speed with which the apps are updated is a good and promising thing. I also have the same feeling as you regarding the state of the underlying platform: it still needs serious work.

    The UWP needs to get to a point where it becomes 100% obvious that it is the platform for the future on which all new apps are developed. And the UWP versions of apps (along with the underlying platform) need to mature to the point where they are the preferred versions to their legacy counterparts in most or all cases. The best examples of this, in my mind, being Skype/Skype for Business and Office.

    I think the last time I said something like this, we were still on the old version of "modern" Skype, but since then the new UWP version has been released and while it is not ready for primetime, it is actually quite decent and a big step up from the old one - and I am finding that I am using it more and more as opposed to the normal desktop application. Back in the day, Microsoft was even more heavily criticized for the quality and quantity of their own Windows Store apps. Mostly people were knocking them for not putting enough effort into developing the apps. And while there may have been some truth to that, I think the bigger issue was that the platform before UWP was the issue. It simply wasn't good enough. And I think that the improved situation we're in now, although still not quite there, is also a testament to how the UWP has been improved.

    So Microsoft, keep working on both the apps and the platform, the building blocks of Windows if you will. You know, just like Redstone is a kind of building block in Minecraft, which my guess is why they have been referring to the builds with that code name. Could you ask them about that, Paul? Or leave it to Mary Jo, perhaps, since code names is kind of her thing :)

  9. 2233

    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.

    • 1377

      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.

  10. 5554

    Ms sponsored article? Only possible explanation. The Metro 10 appstore is abysmal. 

  11. 268

    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.

    • 2

      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.

      • 1377

        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.

  12. Rares Macovei

    Personally, I love all Microsoft made UWP apps. They've really came a long way since the bare bones Windows 8.0 apps. Edge is still too barren to actually be used as a main browser though.