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Installing software on Windows can be such a pain. This is one area where other operating systems are objectively better thanks to options like Mac App Store installations and Linux package managers. Windows, at best, relies on bulk installation apps like Ninite. But that could change over the next few years.
If you’re a Windows user, now might be a good time to start installing apps through the Microsoft Store (formerly Windows Store) instead of the traditional method of downloading individual installers. You may feel an aversion to even the idea of this, but hear me out! There are several benefits that you should really consider.
Desktop Apps vs. UWP Apps
Desktop apps are standalone applications written and compiled specifically for the Windows PC platform. They rely on underlying Windows APIs that are only available on PC versions of the operating system (OS), which means greater control and flexibility but less portability and security. Even with UAC protections, desktop apps can sometimes perform shady or unwanted actions.
Because desktop apps are standalone, you have to install them with installer files. You can learn more about this in our comparison of desktop vs. UWP apps.
In Windows 8.1, Microsoft introduced Universal Windows Apps (UWA), colloquially known as “Metro apps” or “Modern apps.” UWAs were designed to address three main issues: consistency, portability, and security. UWAs all adhered to the same Metro/Modern aesthetic design, could run on desktop and mobile versions of Windows, and operated in a sandbox to limit potential damage from malware infections.
In Windows 10, Microsoft took the idea even further and ended up with the Universal Windows Platform (UWP). The UWP makes it possible for a developer to create one app that runs on multiple platforms — in this case, every device that can run Windows 10 also supports the Universal Windows Platform, meaning they can run UWP apps.
What’s the difference between UWAs and UWP apps?
From a developer’s perspective, a UWA requires separate projects per platform (e.g. Windows PC and Windows Mobile) with another “shared code” project that acts as the foundation for those platform-specific projects, whereas a UWP app is a single project that runs on any device that supports the Universal Windows Platform (e.g. Xbox One).
From an end user’s perspective, there’s no real difference. Both UWAs and UWP apps are only obtainable through the Microsoft Store. If you’re on Windows 10, only UWP apps are relevant.
One thing to note is that Microsoft introduced a tool called Desktop Bridge back in 2016. Desktop Bridge provides developers an easy way to convert existing desktop apps and desktop games into UWP apps. When converted, once-desktop-now-UWP apps run exactly as they did before, except they gain access to some UWP features (e.g. Live Tiles).
In most cases, the code barely needs to be touched in order for the conversion to work, which is why we’re seeing more and more desktop apps being made available as UWP apps. Notable example apps that have done this include iTunes, Spotify, WhatsApp, Krita, and Kodi.
So if converted desktop apps are pretty much the same as UWP apps, why should you switch over to the UWP versions? Here are three big reasons.
1. Installation Convenience
For many, being able to install apps through a central portal sounds like a minor benefit at best. But let me tell you, this is one of those things that seem mundane on paper but prove immeasurably useful on a day-to-day basis.
If you’ve ever used Mac or Linux, or even Android or iOS, then you know what I’m talking about. Need a new app for whatever reason? Load up the App Store, the Play Store, or your package manager of choice. Search for an app. Select and install. Done!
One could argue that it’s no different than searching on Google and downloading per normal, but it is. You no longer risk ending up at an impersonating site, nor do you have to worry about ending up at a wrong URL that hosts an outdated version of the app. Plus, there’s no more need to collect and store installer files, which helps free up disk space.
2. Automatic Updates
One of the nice perks of using a UWP app is that it’s tied to the Microsoft Store, and this means that whenever the Store’s app listing gets updated to a new version, your app automatically receives the update. The Store handles it for you.
To be fair, many standalone desktop apps have their own auto-updating features, so this isn’t a widespread issue. But many standalone desktops don’t have it, and those are the ones that can be problematic — especially when security holes get patched and you have no way of knowing unless you visit the app’s website.
3. Improved Security
Perhaps the most practical benefit is that UWP apps run in a sandbox environment. This means that each app has boundaries and can’t access system resources unless permissions are given. This prevents shady behavior, such as tampering with drivers, interacting with hardware, or modifying system-level files.
UWP apps also need approval from Microsoft. While this isn’t foolproof (remember when rogue apps ran rampant?), the situation has greatly improved and the Microsoft Store is a much cleaner place than it was back in 2014. You’re way less likely to come across dangerous apps now, which can’t be said if you use software download sites.
Why Aren’t You Using UWP Apps Yet?
There are two, possibly three, drawbacks to using UWP apps.
First, Microsoft takes a cut of any of that app’s Store revenue (for acting as the distributor). Second, UWP apps may have restricted functionality depending on how deeply into the system they need to interact. And third, you have to use the Microsoft Store, which is poorly designed and buggy.
If you’re still skeptical, check out these useful UWP apps worth trying. Even if you don’t switch over right away, keep UWP apps on your radar. This is one feature you should NOT ignore, especially since desktop apps will continue converting in the years to come.
Are you convinced? If not, what’s keeping you from using UWP apps? Are there any other benefits or drawbacks we missed? Let us know in the comments below!