Desktop vs. Microsoft Store Apps: Which Should You Download?

Ben Stegner Updated 30-08-2019

Historically, you downloaded Windows software through an EXE file from its official website or a third-party download site (called a desktop app). But starting in Windows 8 and today with Windows 10, you also have the option of downloading apps from the Microsoft Store (known as store apps).


Many apps are available as both traditional desktop apps and modern Store apps. Given the choice, which should you download? We’ll take a look and try to answer that question.

Why Does the Microsoft Store Exist?

Microsoft Store Home

Microsoft included its new app marketplace, called the Windows Store, with Windows 8. At the time, these “Metro apps” were only available in full-screen and many people ignored them.

This marketplace was carried into Windows 10 and eventually renamed the Microsoft Store (not to be confused with brick-and-mortar Microsoft stores). In addition to apps, the Microsoft Store carries games, movies, TV shows, and Edge extensions. Now, the lines between app types are blurred, as Store apps run in a window just like traditional desktop programs.

Check out our overview of the Microsoft Store What Is the Microsoft Store and How Do I Use It on Windows 10? Curious about the Microsoft Store in Windows 10? Here's what the Store offers, how to access it, and some tips for using it. Read More for more info, if you’re new to it.


For some time, Windows was the only major platform not to offer an official marketplace for apps. Android has Google Play, macOS and iOS have the App Store, and Linux has several storefront repositories. Longtime Windows users may wonder why Microsoft even bothered to release an app store like this.

From the company’s perspective, this was mainly for two reasons: uniformity across platforms, and security of the OS.

Universal Microsoft Store Apps

As you might remember, Microsoft pushed the new Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps (called Metro apps during Windows 8) pretty hard. The idea was to offer apps that worked on desktop Windows as well as Windows Phone.

Nowadays, even after the collapse of Windows 10 Mobile, apps on the Store often run across Windows 10, Xbox One, HoloLens, and other platforms. In theory, these let developers create an app once that’s usable across multiple devices.


Microsoft Store Platform Availability

Of course, having these apps on the Microsoft Store also provides an additional revenue stream for Microsoft.

Security Issues With Desktop Apps

Because desktop Windows programs are available all over the place, downloading them can lead to infection of your computer. If you don’t download from a trusted source The Safest Free Software Download Sites for Windows Many software download sites are loaded with malware. We compiled websites you can trust when you need a free software download. Read More , it’s often difficult to tell whether an app you find on a random website is a legitimate download or a dangerous fake. This leads to inexperienced users opening themselves up to malware just from downloading software.

Instead, the Microsoft Store gives Microsoft more control over what apps are available. The company does some level of vetting to weed out dangerous apps from the Store. For some time the Store had issues with fake and dead apps, but these are thankfully not as bad nowadays.


Desktop vs. Microsoft Store Apps: Security

As we’ve seen, Store apps have the advantage of living in a trusted environment. However, they’re also more secure at their core than desktop apps.

When you download a desktop app, it often requires permission to run as an administrator to install. While this is a normal part of installing software, providing admin rights to a program gives it permission to do whatever it wants to your computer.

Windows Account consent prompt

If you grant admin privileges to a malicious app, it has free reign to install malware, trash your data, record your keystrokes, or otherwise do harm to your PC. Most apps don’t do this, of course, but this is how infections often spread.


In contrast, Store apps have limited permissions. They run in a sandbox, meaning they’re confined to a certain part of Windows. Since these apps don’t ever run as an administrator, they don’t have nearly as much potential to damage your system.

This is great even for apps like iTunes. By downloading the Store version of iTunes, you won’t get extra junk like Bonjour and Apple Software Update included along with it.

Like Android and iPhone apps, Microsoft Store apps also list out all the permissions they use. This lets you see exactly what functions they utilize in the background. In addition, you can block apps from using individual permissions in the Privacy section of Settings.

Windows 10 Privacy Settings

By default, Store apps all receive automatic updates. This is much easier than the update prompts most desktop apps provide, as you don’t have to worry about visiting the site and downloading the newest version manually. Uninstalling a Store app is also much cleaner than a desktop app, as there are no Registry entries and other scattered data to remove.

Desktop vs. Microsoft Store Apps: Selection

While there’s a wealth of great software available for Windows, you won’t find it all on the Microsoft Store. Developers must pay a small fee to register and get their apps on the Microsoft Store, which might not be worth it to creators of small tools.

A lot of popular apps, such as Discord, Steam, Calibre, Snagit, and many more are not available on the Store. This means gamers and users of power applications will have to stick to desktop apps in many cases.

However, you can also find Store versions for a lot of common desktop software. Slack, Spotify, iTunes, Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, and Evernote are just a few examples.

Microsoft Store Top Free Apps

Many of the apps on the Microsoft store are mobile-style offerings like Netflix and Candy Crush Saga that are simple games or apps to access one website or service. However, even some small desktop utilities are available in a Store variant. This is the case with PureText, a great little app to paste text without formatting.

Fan-favorite image editing app Paint.NET is also available for a few dollars on the Store. It’s the same as the free version, but the developer offers it as an optional donation with more convenient updates.

Desktop vs. Microsoft Store Apps: Interface

The same app can vary quite a bit between versions. In general, desktop apps offer more features and navigation icons, while Store apps use larger, more spaced-out buttons. This makes Store apps more convenient for touchscreen use.

As an example, look at the version of OneNote included with Microsoft Office compared to the OneNote Store app. Below is the desktop version:

OneNote Desktop

You can see that like other Office apps, this has tabs along the Ribbon for all sorts of features. These include advanced tools like revision history, the ability to record video, and all sorts of tags, plus support for macros. The buttons are also close together, as you’d expect for something designed for a mouse.

In comparison, here’s what the Store version of OneNote looks like:

OneNote Store Version

You can see how simple the interface is here compared to the desktop version. It has fewer tabs and buttons with icons that are spread further apart. In addition, the Store version offers far fewer settings than its desktop counterpart.

As mentioned earlier, this feels more like an app you’d use on your phone than a desktop program. It’s perfectly suitable for quick use, but OneNote power users will find many features lacking.

Check out a closer look at OneNote’s version differences Why You Should Switch From OneNote 2016 to OneNote for Windows 10 OneNote 2016 is being phased out. We'll explain what's happening to OneNote 2016 and show you the great benefits of switching to OneNote for Windows 10. Read More if you’re interested in more.

Desktop vs. Microsoft Store Apps: VLC Example

Let’s quickly look at VLC, the popular media player, to see how its desktop and Store editions differ.

The desktop edition has a wealth of features you’ve come to expect from the program. Along the bottom bar, you can control the playback, including adjusting both audio and video effects. Desktop VLC supports subtitles, the ability to open media from sources like network streams, on-screen control customization, and a whole lot more.

VLC Desktop

In comparison, the Store edition of VLC is much more streamlined. You can change options, but only a handful compared to everything in the desktop version. It still offers support for subtitles and playback from network sources but doesn’t let you customize the interface, play from a DVD or Blu-ray disc, or use a lot of VLC’s other hidden tricks.

VLC Microsoft Store Version

You’ll also notice that the buttons in this version are much larger, making them easier for touchscreen users. As I was testing it, the Store version also froze up several times when trying to start a video.

The Store version is serviceable, but power users will find a lot lacking.

Microsoft Store Versions of Web Apps

Aside from desktop app replacements, the Store contains many apps for web services. These include Pandora, Amazon, Netflix, Instagram, and others.

In some cases, these “apps” are simply a wrapper on a website (such as Amazon). There’s little reason to use these when you can just bookmark the site in your favorite browser.

However, others offer unique features or better layouts. For example, while you can scroll through Instagram in a browser, you need to use the Instagram Store app to access your DMs. You may also prefer to keep a desktop app for video services like Netflix and Hulu installed for easy access, especially if you often use your laptop in tablet mode.

Whether you should use a Store app or web app depends on your needs. Some people like having dedicated app s for services that they have open all the time, like Pandora, to cut down on browser tabs. Give both a try and see which you prefer.

Microsoft Store Apps and Desktop Apps

After looking at both kinds of apps, there’s no clear winner between them. Most people will probably use a combination of both.

Desktop apps offer superior functionality, but can have more confusing layouts. Conversely, while Store apps are fairly stripped-down experiences, they update automatically and come from a trusted source.

If the apps you use offer both options, give them a try and see which fits your needs better. Need some ideas? Explore our roundup of the best apps in the Microsoft Store The Best Microsoft Store Apps for Windows 10 Microsoft Store apps for Windows 10 have come a long way. Here's our selection of the best Windows 10 apps, both free and paid. Read More . And if you download any desktop app, be sure to check the integrity of the installer with one of these free hash checkers 6 Free Hash Checkers to Check the Integrity of Any File Do you ignore file hash verification at your own peril? Use these tools to verify the file you're downloading is safe. Read More .

Related topics: Microsoft OneNote, VLC Media Player, Windows Apps, Windows Store.

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    September 3, 2019 at 3:21 am

    The apps auto-updating is not an advantage these days. Even Microsoft recognizes it in the caption next to the button to turn off Office updates.

    The UI of the apps is terrible for desktop users, just a waste of space and throwing out UI usability standards that made sense and still do. The human brain still expects interactions points to be the high-contrast areas of the UI, but unfortunately also in apps aesthetics comes first.

    The store apps are a decent idea in concept but the implementation so far is really bad. I've once uninstalled them all and it broke my Windows. Brilliant.

  2. Roke Beedell
    September 1, 2019 at 7:25 pm

    Perfect comparison. It's difficult to listen to many others' coverages of this topic, seeing they're so biased. This literally the first I've come across that simply weighs the negatives and positives without any personal preferences added to the mix.

    Great work, and please never change how you report!

  3. Bobbired
    September 1, 2019 at 3:43 pm

    Thank you so much! You're a big help.

  4. Bobbired
    September 1, 2019 at 3:42 pm

    Thank youo muchh you're a big help.

  5. Zag
    February 19, 2019 at 5:51 am

    A good example of the difference between apps and programs (desktop) is not how cute the buttons are or how they respond to finger taps. It's fundamentally in the utility of programs (another old school name for Desktop Apps) which have vastly superior options. Apps do one thing usually. Programs can do many things. For instance, a simple browser - which does work on both app and desktop versions - can access many websites using a single app, the browser itself. The Browser allows you to access Amazon video, Netflix, and any other site you want all while using one app. Apps that are designed to access only ONE website or location, such as Netflix app or your bank app, can only access one location. And, that's usually how "apps" work. They are a very dumbed down version of a full program. The same thing is true for phone or Android games vs. Desktop Windows games. Power gamers use desktop games almost exclusively, because they give you a better ability to adjust everything you might want to adjust, offer greater depth (MUCH greater), and are more like living in virtual reality than a phone type game or desktop app game that is more 2 dimensional.

    The second annoying thing about apps is their look. They are big, clunky, and have much less information in a single window. I personally hate them. I refuse to work with them unless I have to. A good example is the network and internet app vs the desktop version, called Control Panel>Network Connections. The thing is,MS has integrated desktop and apptop into each other forcing you to use both. For instance, i can;t get a list of "known wifi connection" unless I use the app version, and I cannot make complex network changes unless I am in Network Connections program.

    Basically, MS Windows is a schizophrenic OS and doesn't know what it is, apptop or desktop. MS needs to retain all the old program features in Windows, and just use a simplified version with only apps, and then offer a simple way to turn it off or on.

    Fundamentally, apps are basic versions of how to interface with your computer or phone, tab, whatever; whereas programs (desktop) are much more robust and thus offer many more ways to tweak the program itself, and in many cases, do more than one or two things.

    • kusolotaret
      August 31, 2019 at 12:14 pm

      seems like

      • Roke Beedell
        September 1, 2019 at 7:26 pm what?

  6. JMC
    January 6, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    Microsoft seems to have become the ultimate follower instead of the leader that made them the largest software company in the world. Instead of trying to be "me three" with Apple and Google, I wish that they would focus on Windows, Office and third-party desktop apps and help third-party desktop app developers create mobile extensions of their Windows desktop and web-based apps to provide complete, integrated solutions for business. Being deluged with one-trick mobile apps that don't integrate with common business applications is frustrating for the users, IT and management.

  7. Jude Eylander
    September 9, 2018 at 8:36 pm

    I have a 17" laptop. I do not own a mobile device. I prefer the Desktop apps. Store apps often look funny and don't have access to functions I need. Thank you for the explanation that Store apps are designed for mobile devices. That makes my frustration with them understandable.

  8. Y
    July 27, 2018 at 7:21 am

    You didn't mention how frustrating it is downloading from the Windows store. Progress is super slow compared to direct .exe downloads, to the point where I avoid that Windows store as far as possible.

    Others have had the same problem, so it's not unique.

    Why waste time with a setup that is so clunky and far behind Google, Apple, etc, when you can just use direct downloads?

  9. Rich S
    April 16, 2018 at 4:51 pm

    It's April 2018 and Windows 10 is much improved. The Store isn't.
    Things aren't much better than 2015 and now MS forces you to get a MS ID to use the store.
    Time to get a throwaway email address and figure out how to block the apps reporting back to Microsoft.
    MS is becoming as untrustworthy and invasive as Apple or Google.
    I use Linux on all my PCs except my hybrids where Linux doesn't have a release that works.

    Desktop apps are stuck with ugly small icons against a plain-colored square?
    WRONG. You can adjust the icons to 128X128 and and make every pixel a different color if you wish.
    In fact the article just below this comment is: 3 Great Ways to Customize Desktop Icons on Windows.

    I find the vast majority of Store app tiles to be UGLY, HUGE, clunky looking and you can't adjust the color.
    Being able to put a preview in them is sometimes useful I will admit.
    8" HD tablets works fine with a desktop interface when using a stylus.

    The vast majority of Store apps don't do enough to be useful. Even the calculators are useless.
    Want a good app? Be prepared to pay for it unlike a desktop app with the same or better functionality.
    The weather app is the only useful one I've found on the Store so far but I don't use social media.

    All my Windows machines have Classic Shell installed immediately so I have a useful start menu.
    Want the metro interface? Click, you've got it or simply launch any universal app you want from the desktop.
    Click on the desktop tile in the Metro interface and you're back to the desktop with the menu of whatever version of Windows you like.

    Surface Pros are fine for business where you can write off the cost. Not a good value for home users.
    PotPlayer with LAV and a large button skin like Blackspace or Metro X for a media player works great on my Yoga 2 10" and Yoga 500 14" hybrids in Windows 8.1 and 10 and MX Player is my choice in AMIDuos Android on the same machines. Touch screen Android and desktop Windows equals the best of both worlds.

    Yes that is a valid email address.

  10. Toine
    January 4, 2018 at 5:39 pm

    I tried to use the windows app. Some of those apps are so terrible I just ended up using the web version. (outlook mail for example). The designs are really ugly for starters and one day the actual store app just wouldn't open anymore.

    I thought it was a sign and never used it again. Microsoft did such a terrible job on that, no wonder it's dying.

  11. A Beautiful Mind
    November 1, 2017 at 8:51 am

    Recently the windows store apps have got a lot better than they used to be. I think Microsoft took the right direction introducing store but the only issue is the developer support. There are still lots of desktop apps that don't have the windows store version, let alone the windows store apps that haven't been updated for a long time. If the developers will increase their support for windows store apps it will help making windows a safer and better operating system than what it is now.

  12. Eileen Souza
    July 3, 2016 at 12:37 am

    The majority of software I use on my desktop are those I purchase and download from the developing company. In other words, desktop applications. I decided to try a couple of store apps on my new Windows 10 desktop. The problem I ran into is that when I did not like them and wanted to uninstall them, they wouldn't. First of all, they do not show up in programs and features. I did find out that when I right-clicked on the apps in the start menu, they offered an uninstall option. Only problem is the uninstall did not do anything. So how do you get these "apps" off your desktop?

    • Riley J. Dennis
      July 9, 2016 at 11:31 pm

      weird, it uninstalls fine for me. try finding them in the start menu under All Programs and uninstalling from there, maybe?

    • Anonymous
      July 14, 2016 at 11:03 am

      Iobit Uninstaller was a godsent for this situation. If by chance you already uninstalled it, I recommend installing it again and then use Iobit to uninstall it. I can't recall the last time I used programs and features to remove things. Honestly the amount of remnants left behind by programs is a pain, and its pretty handy for those programs that just refuse to uninstall so you can force it to uninstall.

      Just grab it from its website. Best of luck!

      • Eileen Souza
        July 14, 2016 at 1:43 pm

        Thank you for your suggestion. I used to use Revo Uninstaller but forgot to install it on my new Windows 10 desktop. I think it is time to install it again.

  13. Richard
    July 2, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    There are a lot of positives in concern to store apps, but personally I absolutely hate them. It's not just that they aren't mouse-friendly, it's also the fundamental shift from an open platform to a closed one.

    Bill Gates once said that the Microsoft strategy was to build a platform and let third parties develop for that platform. This meant Windows ran on every personal computer, and in turn provided a way for software to run on Windows. They didn't have an app store because they didn't want an app store; they wanted third party developers to define how that platform would look like.

    That's the fundamental difference, at least it had been, between Microsoft and Apple. Apple, who wanted to control exactly what their customers were able to have, had a rigorously controlled app store. They bundled most of their apps with the operating system so the amount of third part applications you downloaded were minimal. And then, of course, they locked their own OS to run on only their hardware, an antiqued tactic used in the early days of computing to sell hardware using software.

    Under the "new" Microsoft, we've seen a lot of really great changes; more focus on consumers, mobile, cloud, and innovative technologies like the Hololens. But we've also lost a lot of Microsoft from previous years when it embraced that open platform strategy.

    • Riley J. Dennis
      July 9, 2016 at 11:31 pm

      yeah true, definitely a shift in the way that apps are distributed. i guess we'll see what the future holds

  14. Anonymous
    June 30, 2016 at 1:57 pm

    It's becoming painfully obvious that no one really wants Windows Phone, and that the "Universal Windows" framework is bloated, memory-hungry, and painfully flawed. Fewer developers are creating Windows Phone apps (which use the same framework), even canceling the ones they've already made.
    With so many people rolling back to Windows 7, Microsoft's got to do *something* to fix the problem. UWP is the solution to a problem that doesn't exist yet. With a little tweaking, Windows desktop apps *can* be made to run on XBox One, no matter how much Microsoft wants to push its UWP platform on *everybody*.

    • Riley J. Dennis
      July 9, 2016 at 11:31 pm

      yeah the Windows Store app situation is really pitiful, and i dont see it getting better anytime soon

  15. Andrius
    June 30, 2016 at 11:27 am

    My own experience: i really wanted to use only store apps, but they often crashes, are bulky and uncomfortable, and even more, somehow my both PCs have problem with not working windows store apps after a while. Sorry. But windows have a lot to improve

    • Riley J. Dennis
      July 9, 2016 at 11:32 pm

      that's unfortunate, but yeah, windows still has some work to do