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Here's how Microsoft is making Edge PWAs feel more like native apps

Microsoft Edge
Microsoft Edge (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

What you need to know

  • Microsoft held a session discussing the future of Edge PWAs at Build 2020.
  • The session offers an overview of Microsoft's moves to make PWAs feel more like native apps on Windows.
  • The presenters outlined several new and existing features to make this possible.

In a session at its Build 2020 developer conference today, Microsoft offered a glimpse at the future of Edge progressive web apps (PWAs). The overall goal, presenters Sohum Chatterjee and Judah Himango explained, is to continue to make PWAs feel more like native app experiences on Windows. In Chatterjee and Himango's words, that involves taking the best of native and web apps to create something in the middle.

As part of the session, embedded above, Chatterjee and Himango laid out some of the features Microsoft has already implemented to create a more native-like experience, and those it has planned for the future. Some of the features the team has in the pipeline for Edge PWAs include:

  • Setting PWAs as defaults for file types, URLs, and protocols.
  • Native file system access.
  • The ability to run on OS login.
  • Setting PWAs as a share target.
  • App shortcuts.

These features are all part of Project Fugu, an open source project Microsoft is part of to make PWAs more capable.

With Project Fugu improvements, the gap between PWAs and native apps should narrow. Things like allowing PWAs to set themselves as the default app for certain file types will open up new experiences that you cant achieve today, lowering the barrier to entry. For example, Microsoft gives the example of a photo editing PWA setting itself as the default for opening .jpg files.

Improving Pwa Experience On Windows Build 2020 Session

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

Likewise, native file system access isn't currently available with the shipping version of Edge, but will replace the current system of having to download a file once you're done with it in the app. Instead, a PWA will be able to write directly to your file system for the specific file you're working on.

Microsoft says that file extension handling is expected to arrive in Edge version 86 later this year, while native file system access is available in the Canary channel today. The option to run a PWA on OS login is expected to hit Edge Canary this summer, while setting a PWA as a share target is expected in Canary in the coming weeks. App shortcuts, like jumplist actions, are already available to developers in Edge Canary.

Beyond these features, Microsoft says it's improving the native notification setup to allow apps to add badges to their icons. An app could, for example, display the number of unread messages on the taskbar icon much like native applications can do today. The team is also exploring other types of badges, like allowing a thunder cloud badge to show on a weather app icon to indicate the current weather.

Finally, Chatterjee and Himango said that the team is looking to shift PWAs listed in the Microsoft Store to run on a Chromium-based engine sometime later this year. Until then, apps listed in the store will continue to run on the legacy EdgeHTML engine.

For more, the whole session is worth a look if you want a peek at what's coming to PWAs on Windows 10 and other platforms, or if you're a developer looking to build a PWA.

Dan Thorp-Lancaster is the Editor in Chief for Windows Central. He began working with Windows Central as a news writer in 2014 and is obsessed with tech of all sorts. You can follow Dan on Twitter @DthorpL and Instagram @heyitsdtl. Got a hot tip? Send it to daniel.thorp-lancaster@futurenet.com.

34 Comments
  • I love using the PWA's on my Surface Go, it has significantly improved my experience on the device.
  • Same here for Surface Pro X. Using Chromium was a good move by Microsoft
  • Very much agree. It has really changed the functionality of the windows platform.
  • Please add the link of the session in the article
  • Now I see that the picture is actually a video. Overlooked it. Thanks
  • So can you pin icons of PWAs to the Start Menu?
  • Yes - you've been able to do that for a while now, even with Chrome PWA's.
  • This has been always possible for a while now. Only thing, they don't support Live Tiles or even Notification Number Badge.
  • Very cool. I am excited to see how this will turn out.
  • The oxymoron "Edge PWAs" insults and perverts the perception of PWA technology. PWAs are inherently independent of operating system and Web browser. PWA technology is open for any platform to enable. And nearly all have done so. No doubt, the framing of this oxymoron is a very deliberate ploy to associate the many advantages of using PWAs with having to run Edge browser on Windows OS. In fact, until ultimately acquiescing and recently embracing PWAs, Microsoft spent millions to fight the concept tooth and nail. Beware of the coming proprietary Windows APIs for extended and enhanced PWAs.
  • Nice conspiracy theory but whatevs. How exactly is "Edge PWAs" an oxymoron though? Even if everything else you say is true and that expression is wholly inaccurate, it's still not a combination of contradictory terms.
  • He's an MS hater. Very similar to a troll. Don't get me wrong MS has historically deserved it, but recent evidence would indicate his theory is not as valid as he thinks
  • "The oxymoron "Edge PWAs" insults and perverts the perception of PWA technology."
    Dumbest comment of the month. PWA is an open browser technology that currently has a lot of limits. Microsoft is simply taking what exists and augmenting it, so it works better with its own operating system. Anyone else can do this whether it is Google or Apple. The idea that a company optimizing a technology to better work with its products is bad is the height of hilarity and hyperbole. Do you feel the same about Swift Pair, or a notification popping in Windows when you insert and SD card? Of course not, because that'd be ridiculous, just like your maundering comment.
  • As stated in numerous sessions this week, we’re committed to the principle that PWAs should be cross-platform, cross-browser, and standards-based. That’s why all the capabilities discussed here are working through public proposals and experimentation in places like our explainers repo (https://github.com/MicrosoftEdge/MSEdgeExplainers) and Project Fugu, and are either already standardized or being brought to standards forums. Of course we believe we can innovate in places like the browser UI, the Windows shell, and discovery to provide the best experience in Edge - but that’s just us trying to build the best expression of standardized capabilities that we can.
  • Yes, PWA is universal and OS independent, but it doesn't mean all PWA behaves exactly the same on all OSes. PWA on Linux for example (i'm using Ubuntu, Deepin) is feels less native than PWA on Windows, on Linux the taskbar (or dock) not showing the PWA icons, its show the browser icons instead, so when i'm creating whatsapp PWA from Chrome on Linux, the taskbar (or dock) doesn't show WhatsApp icon, but showing a chrome icon. it's just feels less native than PWA on Windows.
  • "Beware of the coming proprietary Windows APIs for extended and enhanced PWAs." No, that won't happen. This is not 2005, where developers automatically follow wherever MS leads them. MS did that with IE, and they did it with Java. If you read the article (and not just the headline, which I agree is misleading) you will see that this is being done with open standards. Everyone is free to do this. "These features are all part of Project Fugu, an open source project Microsoft is part of to make PWAs more capable." Thus, these are NOT "proprietary Windows APIs for extended and enhanced PWAs". Because no developers would do this. They would then need 2 versions of their PWAs. One for MS and one for everyone else. Not gonna happen. Reading is SO important.
  • I think very few people will bother with them to be honest.
  • Fifty percent of Windows usage is in the browser. It doesn't take a leap of faith to see how "browser apps", especially in a world of increasingly common high band internet, is not a future platform itself.
  • Agreed Dan. I mean let's be honest for a minute.... I can't remember the last time I used a computer/tablet/phone/Xbox/ect that WAS NOT CONNECTED TO THE INTERNET. If I'm using the Go outside the house I'm hot spoting my 4G phone. PWA is a brilliant solution to the main stream consumers app problems. Nobody is expecting PWA CAD solutions though I'm sure that's very possible.
  • Not sure about that, at the very least it makes sense for Surface users (which absolutely speaking is still quite a big amount of users).
  • -Setting PWAs as defaults for file types, URLs, and protocols.
    -Setting PWAs as a share target. These two are big for me. PWA's have been surprisingly useful for me but I think default-app settings are really fundamental. The timeline mentioned sounds good - this stuff can't come too soon for me.
  • Brilliant! Shows Microsoft is all in on PWAs.
  • Do PWA's support browser addons?
  • Yes. The PWA's I have use my mouse gesture addon and my anti-tracking addon. But you can choose to disable the addon per PWA. Cool, no?
  • Ah nice :) . That is different than on my android phone where I tried some pwa's on firefox.
  • I've taken so many websites and PWA'd them up. It would be good if you could natively remove certain elements from the website once a PWA - do it using the AdGuard extension, means i can streamline the usability of the app without unnecessary parts getting in the way.
  • PWA = windows finally gets the same apps as android...
  • Naw. Not even close. Maybe in several years everything will be PWA, but it will be a long time before they are comparable. At that point, your operating system doesn't matter.
  • Not every app needs to have a PWA in order for it to be useful. If ~10% of the apps has a PWA (e.g. banking apps, social media, travel apps, smart home etc) and combine that with the current apps on Windows (everything Office/MS related, drawing/inking/notes, xcloud & games etc.) you have I would say about ~95% of phone/tablet app usage of people. Only some local apps still lacking, but if PWA really takes off I think local vendors / enthousiasts will find PWA favourable since it is 1 app to support all platforms (even if they don't even think of Windows it is still interesting for them to support both Android and iOS and browsers with the same app). Also OS's can still differentiate in other unique selling points, like better privacy settings, legacy compatibility (e.g. required for the bulk of existing games) etc.
  • But better since this would also allow addons if I am understanding it correctly.
  • @Daniel Is there a plugin that makes it easier to create PWA's. I feel the current process is clunky compared to adding collections and favorites. (I would love to have a paw or something next to my icon name). I feel if it was presented better more people would just try it and realize how better the experience is. I love my Netflix pea better than the one in the app store.
  • You can essentially install any website as an app on Windows, but true PWA are the ones that show the "install+" in the address bar, like Spotify's web player, Pinterest and Twitter. Not all websites are PWA, that's why you have to go in the menu to add them as apps.
  • How can I get square reader work on surface. I would like to use this for my shop. I know I can use my phone but what about pc?
  • I just got surface go 2 LTE, I install these PWA thru edge. Using PWA made it power efficient. Keep making improvement MS