Why Desktop Apps Aren’t Available in the Windows Store (Yet)

Why Desktop Apps Aren’t Available in the Windows Store (Yet)

The Windows Store included with Windows 10 could be a one-stop place to find all the software you’re looking for. But it isn’t. Search for common desktop applications–even the Microsoft Office desktop apps–and you won’t just won’t find them.

The Store will allow you to install mobile-style apps like Candy Crush Saga and TripAdvisor apps–two applications that Microsoft is now bundling with Windows 10–but not the more powerful desktop apps many Windows users depend on. At least the Store isn’t full of fake desktop apps anymore.

The Store Only Offers Universal Apps

Microsoft decided to only sell universal apps, and not desktop applications. The Windows Store only includes apps written for Microsoft’s new “Universal Windows Platform,” or UWP. It’s also sometimes called the “universal application platform,” or UAP.

Back in the Windows 8 and 8.1 days, the Store only included those new “Metro apps” or “Modern apps”–which Microsoft actually called “Store apps” in Windows 8.1. Those apps weremore limited than desktop apps, only running in the full-screen Metro interface, and never truly “closing”. It was simple: If you wanted applications for the new interface, you used the Store. If you wanted desktop applications, you got them the old-fashioned way.

However, in Windows 10, Microsoft has begun blurring the lines. Those Store apps run in their own windows on the desktop, alongside other desktop applications. However, they’re still not the same.

With the release of Windows 8, Microsoft made it possible for developers to add their desktop applications to the Windows Store. However, these were just Store pages that provided links to websites where you could download desktop apps. These no longer appear to be present in Windows 10.

Universal Apps Are More Limited, and That’s the Point

But Microsoft’s new universal application platform is more limited. Even in cases where powerful desktop-style applications have been brought to the Windows Store, the Store version is hamstrung compared to its desktop counterpart. Just take a look at Rise of the Tomb Raider, which is available both from Steam as a desktop app and the Windows Store as a universal app. The universal version is much more limited. There’s a Dropbox app in the Windows Store, but it can’t sync your files to your computer like the Dropbox desktop application–it’s more similar to Dropbox’s smartphone apps.

That’s because Microsoft’s new application platform is designed to be more limited. Apps are run in a sandbox, limiting the files they can access on your system. They can’t interfere with other apps and snoop on you. They can’t launch themselves at startup or constantly run in the background. Universal apps are designed to be portable and run on Windows Phone, Xbox, and other platforms. These new universal apps have more in common with mobile apps on iPhone, iPad, or Android than they do with traditional desktop apps.

In contrast, traditional Windows desktop apps can do practically anything they want with your computer. UAC now prevents them from mucking with your system files without your permission, but they can still tamper with your personal files, function as keyloggers, or make your system unstable. The power is a double-edged sword.

Microsoft would like to only distribute safe apps that aren’t a security, privacy, or performance risk. That’s why it excludes desktop apps, which it can’t guarantee won’t cause problems. Microsoft would prefer if people created universal apps and distributed them through the Store, as the system can manage these apps and ensure a better experience.

That’s the idea, at least. In reality, universal apps still haven’t really taken off and most Windows users need desktop applications. But, three and a half years after the Windows Store was first released with Windows 8, Microsoft is still trying to change that.

Macs actually have a similar problem. While Apple’s Mac App Store includes traditional Mac desktop apps, the Mac App Store enforces sandboxing to prevent these apps from causing trouble on Macs. This means that more powerful Mac applications can’t be provided through the Mac App Store and have to be downloaded from websites like you’d download a Windows desktop program, and that the applications in the Mac App Store are often more limited versions. Many Mac developers have abandoned the Mac App Store. Mac users can’t find all the desktop programs they want in the Mac App Store, either.

Project Centennial Will Bring Desktop Apps to the Windows Store

If you were keeping track of the rumors before Windows 10’s release, you’ll know that Microsoft reportedly planned to offer desktop applications through the Windows Store. But, six months and one major update in, the Windows Store still doesn’t contain any desktop apps. What gives? Did Microsoft give up on this plan, or was it an incorrect rumor? Not quite. It just hasn’t happened yet.

Microsoft still plans to allow those traditional Windows desktop apps to be placed in the Windows Store. It will enable this through “Project Centennial,” a “bridge” technology Microsoft is currently working on. Project Centennial is designed to make it possible to convert traditional Windows desktop applications (in other words, Win32 and .NET apps) into universal Windows applications that can be properly sandboxed and managed by the system. We’re not really sure how well this will work–some applications may work the same, but other applications will be crippled by the sandbox. it’s possible Microsoft could improve the universal application platform to be more powerful and make the sandbox less restrictive, of course. We’ll have to see what Microsoft does going forward, as it hasn’t released much more details yet.

In the long run, Microsoft’s goal is for Windows desktop applications to be packed up as universal apps with Project Centennial and then placed in the Windows Store.

On February 25, 2016, Microsoft announced Project Centennial was currently being tested by a small number of developers, and will soon be expanded and offered to more developers.

Project Centennial is actually one of four different bridge technologies. “Project Westminster” makes it possible to package web applications as universal apps, and was ready with the release of Windows 10. “Project Islandwood” makes it possible to package iPhone and iPad apps as universal apps.

Microsoft also announced “Project Astoria,” which was designed for packaging Android apps as universal apps–but Microsoft has abandoned that project.

So, hang in there–you may someday be able to install traditional desktop apps that have been packed up as universal apps from the Windows Store. But, until then–and maybe even after that, if this results in the applications being too limited by the sandbox–you’ll still need to install lots of desktop applications the old-fashioned way, by downloading them from the web.
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