Do Microsoft's Office UWP apps have a future on Windows Core OS?

Office UWP Windows 10
Office UWP Windows 10 (Image credit: Windows Central)

I really like Microsoft's universal, or Universal Windows Platform (UWP), Office apps for Windows 10. Sure, they're not as feature-packed or capable as the full Win32 versions of Office, but for me, and I'm betting a lot of people, the UWP apps are more than enough. I use them every day for looking at PowerPoint presentations, writing articles, and managing expenses. While there are some limitations, the overall experience is fine, and in some cases, great.

The state of Office UWP apps

Unfortunately, the universal Word, PowerPoint, and Excel apps Microsoft has built seem to be in a weird place. Last year, the company announced that those apps were no longer a focus, with the Win32 suite and web apps taking priority. Since then, Microsoft continued to update the Office UWP apps with new features and changes, the most recent of which introduced the new brand iconography.

Microsoft has gone so far as to hide the UWP apps in the Microsoft Store. You won't find them if you explicitly search for them, and the only way to download them today is via your previously installed list or if you look for them on the web. It's fair to say Microsoft doesn't want people using these UWP apps, even though the apps themselves continue to be updated. I believe there are two primary reasons for the continued updates. The first is that the UWP apps share a similar codebase to the Android and iOS apps. Microsoft is committed to the suite on Android and iOS, so by extension, the UWP apps get updates as well. The other reason is that the Office UWP apps are the primary Office experiences on devices like HoloLens and Surface Hub. Even with Windows 10 Mobile no longer a thing, these apps are still required for Microsoft's other hardware efforts that feature versions of Windows 10 that aren't the desktop OS.

A reignited focus with Windows Core OS?

With all that in mind, can we expect to see a reignited focus on the UWP versions of Office in the future?

I can't see Microsoft reprioritizing these apps for desktop, mainly because there are too many enterprises relying on Office extensions support and other capabilities specific to the Win32 versions. But I also don't see why Microsoft can't make the Office UWP apps the default experiences on Windows Core OS (WCOS), including Windows Lite.

Is there a future for true UWP apps on Windows 10?

Windows Lite is designed from the ground up as a lightweight, clean, and straightforward experience. Office Win32 isn't suited for that. If there's a version of Office that compliments Windows Lite, it's definitely the Office UWP apps, which are also lightweight, clean, and straightforward. I don't see why Microsoft can't just bundle these with every Windows Lite device, allowing any user that needs more advanced capabilities to go ahead and download the Win32 versions.

A lightweight Office experience really fits with what Windows Lite stands for.

This could give Office UWP the kick it needs to become the mainstream version of Office that's good enough for most people, with the older Win32 versions being optional for those that need them. This is similar to Microsoft's plan with Windows Lite and Windows 10. Windows 10 will always be around for the enterprises and professionals that need it, but Microsoft is hoping Windows Lite becomes the new mainstream version of Windows for the masses.

Will these apps be free if bundled with the OS? I'm not too sure about that. As of right now, the Office UWP apps are free on devices under 10.1 inches. Anything over that and you need an active Office subscription. Office Online, however, is free to use. In fact, Office Online and Office UWP are similar in a lot of ways.

The future of Office on Windows Core OS

While I personally hope Microsoft keeps the UWP apps "native" to the universal app platform, I wouldn't be surprised if Microsoft eventually turned the UWP apps into web apps, just like it did recently with OneDrive and the Office Hub app. Microsoft already has web apps for Office, and they're pretty good, in some areas even outshining the UWP apps with newer and more advanced features.

Why Microsoft's Office Mobile suite is much more than a simple set of mobile apps

I hope Microsoft repositions the Office UWP apps as the primary experiences on Windows Core OS devices. It makes sense to do so, considering what Windows Core OS stands for. This is a lightweight, modern OS experience, and I think it needs a lightweight, modern Office suite to match.

There is one thing Microsoft needs to change about the UWP apps if it wants to position them as the primary experiences on Window Core OS, however, and that's allowing the user to run multiple instances of the apps. Right now, the apps themselves can only run one instance at a time, meaning if you want to open two Word documents, you can't. This is an easy fix, but it's something Microsoft would have to do.

What are your thoughts on Office UWP and Windows Core OS? Do you think these two experiences should go hand-in-hand? Let us know in the comments.

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Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

41 Comments
  • Just another maddeningly inconsistent, "cut off your nose to spite your face" move by Microsoft. It's almost like they hired a guy to execute a plan that puts the UWP apps front and center. He started with Onenote, and then got fired or quit. I can't think of any other reason why Microsoft would be trying so hard to hide the office UWP apps on desktop, while going all in on UWP with one app specifically (Onenote)
  • Agreed. The UWP OneNote app is great! Microsoft need to stick with one development paradigm.
    Winforms WPF UWP webapps. Even dotnet core behaves differently to the dotnet framework. So much inconsistent. No wonder they struggled with UWP app adoption on windows phone. Don’t get me started on xaml/mvvm/async. Crummy blend. Too hard. No certainty sticking with the pain will pay off. They need to simplify their stack. Still seems like too much internal wars.
  • I watched the Build keynote and was left with the impression Microsoft has no long-term roadmap for developing apps on Windows period. They’re putting XAML into Win32 with XAML Islands and they’re letting developers use UWP calls in Win32 apps, all of which is a giant mess and leads to more bloat with Windows when Microsoft updates their OS and has to maintain backwards compatibility. Microsoft is making the majority of their money with Azure, and the majority of Azure users are actually running Linux. Why should Microsoft care about app development anymore?
  • @DracheMitch, that is very short term thinking. They need native app experiences for foldable PCs, WoA, WMR and Hololens. Just because they are making money with Azure doesn't mean they should negate every other device platform that can showcase what Azure can do.
  • Yeah? Do IBM have native app platform? Seems to me they're doing just fine. Just afforded to buy RedHat for multi billions. Pinpoint me how is that bad?
  • @oraora, two points: 1) IBM left the consumer space years ago by doing so there is less competition. 2) Competition is good for innovation and an open web when it comes to standards. Just look at Intel, by being the dominant CPU OEM they have price gouged consumers and enterprise customers alike whilst hardly innovating. As a result AMD beat them to the punch with 7nm. Apple has been buying renewable energy companies which would have made vast difference in energy production. Therefore they have become the sole supplier and sole customer, therefore they are buying and selling energy to themselves. As a result they will pay tax, as the energy company can sell units of energy at "loss" and Apple can afford to "buy" more energy then they need therefore inflating their expenses. Google, on the other hand has now a monopoly on the browser space as a result many websites do not function correctly if ajax.google.apis.com is blocked or google.com is blocked. Such as travel planning websites such as tfl.gov.uk, if the UK was not subject to the stringent GDPR policy enacted by EU and had not have the Data Protection Act. You can bet all your dollars that Google would be using this consumer data to target location based adverts and selling that data to third parties without your consent. As consent on web is simply governed by the simple legal phrasing "by using this service, you consent to xyz". Because anything else is not enforceable, however the EU mandate of GDPR ensures that you can opt out of any such tracking cookies and you cannot be opted in by default. Furthermore by opting out, of tracking cookies / elements doesnot give the service automatic right to terminate your access of the service. Hence why if you opt out advertising cookies you can still access the website and they are only permitted to take data that does not contain any sort of personal information and only data that will facilate their ability to provide you access to the website. As websites do not require any personal data or usage data to process your request to access the website. This is a key mandate under EU GDPR, a company can only collect information that enables it to process it's functions and to provide a service - no more than that. It also mandates, that all individuals have a right to privacy on the internet. Google has proven time and time again that they will disregard any law or regulation when it comes to data collection and sale of it to third parties for advertising. The recent example, of Google being in breach of COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act which prevents tracking and targetting of users under the age of 13). So yes, given greater control to Google and Apple is terrible thing for everyone else.
  • I would think PWA would be the way forward for these apps.
  • Enterprise does not like web apps unless they’re built in-house. Microsoft makes all decisions based on enterprise customers because that’s basically their only real revenue stream.
  • Enterprise can use the Win32 version. Also with the advent of WebAssembly we will all moving to native performance and experiences that are distributed over the web, but function locally as a native app, basically eliminating the need for an app store.
  • Use Edgium's current "Install this site as an app" feature on Word, Excel or any online Office app and that will be your experience. It actually already "kinda" works. There's a lot of frustration with the "app" jumping outside itself and opening stuff in Edgium itself, instead of inside the app window or a new app window, for example when you try to open another document from the File menu. But once they get that worked out, I think that's when you'll see Windows "Lite" appear.
  • Didn't Microsoft stop development of these apps last year?!
  • Found the guy who didn't read the article.
  • I really doubt the "light" devices of 2020 will have a big problem running full Office apps (save for big, complicated Excel files). I suspect that's why the UWP versions aren't the focus anymore.
  • So this Microsoft WIndows 10 "Lite" is a shadow copy of Windows 10 Mobile? If it can't use win32 programs? :S
  • You can see it as Windows Mobile reborn more than a copy. I read somewhere that it will be able to emulate Win32 apps so all should be good if you're using an Intel or AMD processor.
  • > A lightweight OS experience complimented by a lightweight Office experience... It's "complemented", in this case, not "complimented"--although that would be interesting if the lightweight Office applications complimented the OS for being lightweight too.
  • This is just frustrating, the UWP apps and Office online apps are way better than crappy "productivity" suite that Google is pushing out to enterprise customers. One of the charities I was working at actually pay licenses for Gsuite! What a waste of money, they could have just used office online instead for free but they aren't because they are more familiar with Google's ecosystem and Apple's ecosystem due to lack of zero mobile presence from Microsoft. It makes zero sense to hide these UWP apps and gives out mixed messages to developers when they don't even push their own UWP apps. Also as rightly pointed out in the article, these apps make more sense on a o/s like Windows Lite, Windows Core O/S and don't forget Windows on ARM would also benefit. The latter would also enable smaller WoA devices from other OEMs because office is a major selling point when compared to Apple and Google's lacklustre productivity suites. If you add Mediatek into the mix, you've got a major advantage over the competition.
  • I think they might us it only cause Google docs doesn't take up any cloud storage. Your office docs do on the free one.
  • Microsoft aims to win by diversity.. Whatever most users want.. Which is no longer c#, UWP,.... There is a gap in the consistency of their communication... Most PM are not able to see the bigger picture and working in silo.... No synergy between different groups... Xamarin will be facing the survival of the fittest... As we move towards. NET 5 Development based on C++/CLI will be abandoned just like WebForm.... All 3D initiative.. Will be killed just like Remix3D. No commitment Just like Windows Mobile and Windows phone Developers of traditional Microsoft will face jump ship now or perish later... the same state when Window phone was 3 years behind but a clear commitment would have made a different. Microsoft should fire whoever is responsible for non Azure but Microsoft development ecosystem.. It is most blur than ever before... The PM responsible for github... Most do not even capable of articulating whar are the milestones Big mess... only few perhaps one exception... The one who communicate WinUI 3.0 The rest... worry who will survive... Talk less... perhaps... better chance to survive
  • I feel bad for Xamarin because that is a great implementation and it should get more developers to time to make it the default way to develop apps for all ecosystems.
  • Finally, there is someone who care about Xamarin.. It runs out of time... to mobilize developers to help... to speed up development process.... If lucky... IT WILL be rebranded... If not... Uno... more mature Web assembly to Web for c#
  • Windows Central needs to take some of the responsibilities.. If they do not feedback the desperation of developers Now... Within a few years... It is all about Javascript .. Python.. Everything else except c#, UWP, or even AspNet core....
  • "Microsoft eventually turned the UWP apps into web apps". These will be React.. and not AspNet Core... Good bye C# from desktop and Web...
  • C# developer here for more than 10 years. C# was a dead cause from the very beginning. Conceptually (altho very simillar regarding execution) Java was meant to dominate and live on diversity. Kotlin won't kill Java. It will only make a fraction in the foreseeable future. Java and JavaScript are the future like it or not. It's too late for C# to go open. Python, Rust etc. are just exotics being there for "why not" reasons. Don't really matter. C++ will forever have its rightful place. No new kid programmer should start with Microsoft-centric development technology (or any particular ecosystem locked one (Java is different beast)). Windows development in general is doomed. The app development belongs to openess and WEB technology stacks. Microsoft should focus only on dev tools like VS Code, whatever abomination and b*stardization of VS they have on Mac, however they want to call it and platforms like Azure that are diverse underneath e.g. Linux why not. The only thing that keeps Windows from leaving every single person's private life is DirectX and gaming. In 2019 there is not a single reason for anyone to not use Linux, MacOS, ChromeOS, Windows or whatever to accomplish personal tasks. All it matters are the apps - the tools, the enablers. OSes don't need to matter anymore. Paradigms are washed out. Life is mobile and on the go. People no longer live in their livingrooms and basements anymore. Every business is fully capable to operate without Windows, using Microsoft programs like Office, just go web or Mac or whatever. The argument with the corporate domains don't matter anymore. It's easier than ever to create a Linux/MacOS-powered domains. Locked down technologies and platforms like UWP, Win32, Cocoa, C#, Obj-C, WPF etc. are doomed. I believe Microsoft clearly sees this and knows this. Apple is still kind of blind, although they made the clever move to open Swift. Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, etc should act as a translator between the machine and the task enablers and that's literally all they should do in order to exist. The foundations of human computing have been layed. These companies belong to operational models. Apple knows this and are moving to services and subscriptions, Microsoft has done it. etc. We are entering a whole new concept of life and computing. Therefore investments like Quantum and the thing that will power it - the Cloud are essential for the future of computing and human life. (I'm note sure about the AI/ML b*llshit talks these days in the form they are promoted to us. Maybe after the technology behind it is democratized enough to be stripped down to what's essential, probably. Assistants etc. are plain b*llshit). Microsoft IS MOBILE. They have a giant IoT store and are pushing in this direction to back up every small and portable mini computer on the planet with Cloud and Azure. They realized they don't need Windows when they were promoting Windows 10 IoT, which was absolute joke. They created Azure Sphere, but powered by Azure with runtimes and connectors. That's what it is. Are people that retarded to understand?
  • C# developer here for more than 10 years (I must know something great too, right!?). So basically after 20-30 years where each year was the year of the Linux on the desktop and of web apps, this or next year will be the one? Oh, we are retarted to understand your points.
  • Thx for offering an elaborate personal view... Keep the discussion going...
  • Again, your information, like his, is out of date.
    ASP.NET Core is server-side. In recent versions it is going to get the ability to create WinForms and WPF as well, but mostly it is a web backend platform. So that's his first mistake.
    Second, C# is THE language for everything Microsoft. As long as there is a flavor of .NET, there is C# (.NET developers salary is a bit above those who work with Java by the way). With the elimination of the disease that is JavaScript, we are going to have better languages like C# take over. JavaScript is horribly out of date and its surge is only due to the fact that it is the only language supported on the web. That is about to change, and the efforts started back in 2015 when Firefox created their own system of native performance in the browser. 4 years later, all major browsers support WebAssembly both on mobile and desktop. I am creating my next project using Blazor and I expect WILD performance compared to the legacy JavaScript. https://www.techrepublic.com/article/replacing-javascript-with-webassemb... So you know I'm not talking out of my a s s.
  • I was referring to Razor components.. Aka blazor.. C# with Aspnetcore replaced by React
  • Most Web based examples provided by Microsoft on e.g. Xamarin with Web UI, IoT are written in React, not blazor c# with ASP.NET core
  • Blazor left "experimental" status a few months ago and entered "preview". How is it "done" when it was JUST released, and it's not even fully released yet? The bottom line is JavaScript will be gone and replaced by WebAssembly, ASP.NET Core is mostly backend and has nothing to do with mobile development and enjoys proper support and attention especially after Microsoft moved towards open source, and Blazor is C# compiled into WebAssembly which is going to replace JavaScript as I said. There is not a single reason to support the idea that C# is going away. P.S. the other guy is like "C# was dead cause from the beginning". I guess that's why C# developers earn more than Java developers.
  • No, this will be WebAssembly. React, Angular...and everyone who has been forced to work with JavaScript is going to fade into nothingness. Since you will be able to run natively using WebAssembly, you will have compilers - like C# - building native web apps.
    Basically you've gotten it backwards, because your information is out of date. Go look up Blazor which allows you to write C#, compiling into WASM, rendering JavaScript - and all other platforms based on it - obsolete.
  • dotnet core and React are two different things that has nothing to do with each other. Dotnet core will not die just because React is getting popularity
  • Comparing UI of Aspnetcore and React.... Try Canvas for UI using Blazor on top of AspNetCore.. U cry...
  • thanks for the heads up I just looked in previous download list and installed these apps again on my new computer. I hadn't needed them figured ide download them if I ever did.
  • It's either Win32 or PWAs (with WebAssembly) from this point on. There is no need to work on an immature platform when there is another one gaining traction (since it can be developed once and run literally everywhere) distributed on the web.
  • I believe UWP will eventually replace Win32. So all the Windows desktop program like Adobe Photoshop will be written in UWP, and PWA will be for the Web..
  • I don't really think that will happen. UWP was weak from the beginning, and even today it barely has the power to compare to Win32. Developers see no value in it: the Store is an afterthought on the desktop, and there is no mobile to push UWP with.
    I personally don't feel at home with any UWP apps on the desktop. They all feel like they are not polished for the desktop. Groove, Mail, Photos, Calendar...they still feel clunky and incomplete and Microsoft has dialed down pushing them so I don't think UWP will have a future. Since power-wise it's more primitive than Win32, I feel like it's close to web platforms. And because web platforms are making significant gain in performance - close to native - UWP loses its small value in being "modern" entirely.
  • It's a mystery why the Office UWP apps are essentially deprecated with the exception of OneNote. You would think they would be good for WCOS. This tells me that they will have variants of WCOS that will run Win32 fine. Running Win32 Office on WCOS though loses the form factor agility. I used Office UWP a lot with W10M. I use the full Win32 Office on Surface Go. Web apps seem too slow. Web apps won't really work offline (like on a plane).
  • Why microsoft UWP ulimately fails...because, HTML web components and javascript are slowly evolving into an extract clone of C#/XML/UWP and its better because there are 20 to 1 times more developers of HTML/javascript than c#. Just ask netflix, amazon, twitter, and others why they won't develop native UWP apps for windows devices instead prefering javascript and HTML apps.. let's see... javascript vitrual machine.... yup... exactly the same as c#, actually, faster than c#'s virtual machine... advanced language...yup...that's called typescript and its going to eventuall replace javascript... XAML...yup...that's call an HTML webcomponent... it almost doesn't suck... they still need to fix it to get it to be an exact clone of XAML... but that's where its going eventually... on a positive side, all of UWP/XAML is not lost.... you can lways map XAML into HTML webcomponents that behave exactly like the UWP components... and typescript is almost exactly the same as c#...
  • Any leak that WinCoreOs will run on Snapdragon 8cX?
  • I know there is a place for uwp office in windows, be it light (lite?) or regular windows 10. I use it every day for work and personal use n multiple windows 10 pcs. It is more than enough for daily use. It is integrated well with the the OS.
    Zac hit it right on the nose that the biggest missing feature is multiple instances.
    There are also a few minor bugs that need fixing bit is other wise great to use.
    Iwould choose uwo over web app any day. Reality is that internet connectivity is symtoll far from ideal in everyday usecase. I still trust local storage over connected cloud storage to get things done. Its awful when connectivity is lost and you can not access or save a document. In everyday use local storage has still been the more reliable, smooth and productive use of the apps.