With the understanding that few professional developers will ever re-create their apps for the UWP platform, Microsoft is trying a different tack. Again.
That tact, of course, is Project Centennial, or the Desktop Bridge as it’s now called. The idea here is a good one: Provide developers with existing desktop applications with a half-step into the UWP world by letting them add more modern features to those apps without starting over from scratch.
“In addition to Windows Store distribution and modern deployment technology, the Desktop Bridge enables you to use exciting Universal Windows Platform (UWP) features and capabilities that were previously unavailable to existing PC software,” the Windows Apps Team notes in a new post to the Windows Developer Blog.
The post cited above provides a few specific examples of what developers can do to modernize (or perhaps “UWPize”) their apps by utilizing the Desktop Bridge. For those who go back a ways, it may be helpful to know that Desktop Bridge is based on the App-V app packaging technology that Microsoft first provided to enterprises a decade ago. It is a way to sandbox applications and shield them from the rest of the system. And vice versa.
Among the capabilities described are:
Windows Store distribution. Desktop Bridge apps can be distributed through the Windows Store, unlike native desktop applications.
Modern user interfaces. Using Desktop Bridge, it’s possible to add new UWP user interfaces to legacy applications. These interfaces will look more modern and help applications blend in better on Windows 10.
UWP services. Applications packaged with Desktop Bridge can access UWP app services that would otherwise by limited to true UWP apps.
UWP background tasks. True UWP apps are modern mobile apps that are managed by the system automatically. But Desktop Bridge apps can access a key part of that functionality by enabling UWP background tasks like push notifications. That way, even if your legacy application isn’t running, it can still take advantage of this key feature.
Share support. Desktop Bridge apps can become a Share target, meaning that they can appear in the Share list that appears when you attempt to share content from other UWP apps. For example, a desktop photo editing application could become a target whenever the user wants to share a photo.
As Microsoft notes, the Desktop Bridge is applicable to all PC software. Meaning, any developer can easily package their app and then start adding UWP features.
As I noted earlier today in UWP is Key to the Long-Term Success of Windows 10, however, the benefits of UWP are largely unknown to both users and developers. And in this case specifically—the Desktop Bridge, that is—there are only a few high-profile examples of developers taking on this half-step approach.
One, of course, is Evernote. Late last year, Evernote dropped its full-on UWP app, which was a toy, and instead packaged its full-featured desktop application with Desktop Bridge and made it available via the Store. My understanding is that it is adding UWP features as well.
The other big example is Adobe Photoshop Elements, which I use and recommend. Adobe isn’t supporting any additional UWP features to my knowledge, but because of its Store distribution, it supports up to 10 PC installs. When you buy this product directly from Adobe, you get just two, and you must remember to activate and deactivate it as you move from PC-to-PC. Desktop Bridge for the win.
The issue, of course, is that Microsoft has been pushing Desktop Bridge for quite some time. This technology was announced at Build 2015 and was made publicly available with the Windows 10 Anniversary Update in August 2016. And like UWP itself, it’s seen little uptick. Which I think explains the regular drumbeat of reminders from Microsoft, like this week’s post.
Which makes me wonder about the viability of an end user tool to package third party applications in a Desktop Bridge distributable. Such a tool couldn’t add more UWP features to legacy applications, but it would make them more manageable—with one-click install and uninstall—and safer to use. I would be all over such a thing.