Is there a future for true Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps on Windows 10?

Microsoft Store
Microsoft Store (Image credit: Matt Brown | Windows Central)

Today, Microsoft's Universal Windows Platform (UWP) is about much more than truly modern universal applications. It's a platform that allows developers to take advantage of all the new Windows 10 features introduced over the last couple of years, regardless of whether your app is universal, a legacy Win32 program, or even a progressive web app. UWP in its current form welcomes many app types, and while that's great news today, it is a bit of a compromise when it comes to Microsoft's future ambitions for Windows.

The original plan for the Universal Windows Platform was this idea of truly modern universal apps that let developers build once and scale across many different device types and versions of Windows 10. These universal apps target common core UWP APIs, and as such can run on modern versions of Windows 10 such as Mobile, HoloLens, and Xbox. This was quickly pushed aside when it became apparent that developers were not adopting Microsoft's new universal platform, which led to Win32 programs being allowed into the Store.

Allowing Win32 programs to tap into the universal platform today is not a bad idea at all. In fact, it makes sense, because the most popular version of Windows 10 on the market right now is the one that supports these legacy programs. Because of this, it's fair to assume that the concept of true UWP apps is dead. Movement on the universal app front has been slow, with most developers opting to shove their old legacy programs into the Store instead now that this is an option.

Is there a future for true universal apps?

So does this mean that Microsoft's vision of truly modern universal apps is dead? I don't think so. It's true that right now, not many developers are building native UWP apps on Windows 10, but that doesn't mean it's going to go away. It will always remain an option for developers, because the future of Windows depends on it. The version of Windows 10 available today is an OS built on decades of legacy code, which makes competing with more modern platforms like iOS and Chrome OS incredibly tricky for Microsoft.

The Windows Core OS (WCOS) effort is attempting to build a new version of Windows 10 that scales across different device types and guts the OS of legacy components and features in favor of native UWP apps and experiences. It's a truly modern version of Windows that's primary app platform is universal Windows apps. Of course, it will still run Centennial Win32 programs in some form, but Win32 apps will no longer be the primary, native app platform on Windows Core OS. This doesn't mean full Windows 10 today is going to go away, but it does mean that Microsoft wants true UWP apps to be the main way developers build Windows apps in the future.

I think that over time, Win32 programs will slowly take a back seat when it comes to building and using apps on Windows 10, only existing for legacy applications or programs that require APIs or functionality that simply won't be coming to UWP. Windows Core OS can run Centennial Win32 programs, but this functionality is only really there to fill any gaps that true UWP can't or hasn't yet filled.

Now, this isn't going to happen overnight, but this is Microsoft's long-term goal for Windows. As such, I firmly believe that true UWP apps are here for the long haul. I imagine that over the next few years, Microsoft is going to continue building out the Universal Windows Platform with more features and capabilities for developers to take advantage of. The end goal is to make UWP a viable replacement for legacy Win32 programs, but that's going to take time. It will be a long while before we start to see developers building desktop-class applications (like Photoshop) as true UWP apps, but that is the future Microsoft is building towards.

A long-term goal

Just like Win32 programs, developers are welcome to build native UWP apps in a number of ways, using languages such as C#, JavaScript, XAML, HTML, React Native, and more. (opens in new tab) A true universal app is one that targets only core UWP APIs, allowing it to function on versions of Windows 10 that do not include legacy APIs like full Windows 10 does today. In this context, PWAs are native universal apps. Unsurprisingly, legacy Win32 programs aren't natively universal, as they use other APIs that are not part of the core UWP API framework, and as such can't run on "modern" versions of Windows like with WCOS.

It's also important to stress that Microsoft wants UWP to be more than just mobile and lightweight apps. It wants developers to choose UWP for desktop-class apps as well. One of the big reasons we're not really seeing that yet is because the platform isn't mature enough right now, and there's no real incentive to rewrite Win32 apps as native UWP. It takes time for an app platform to mature, but UWP is slowly getting there. Interestingly, Adobe is just coming around to the idea of a full Photoshop app on iPad. It's been eight years since the iPad launched, and Adobe is only now starting to think about building a desktop-class application for it. Developers should eventually begin to do the same on Windows with the Universal App Platform.

Understanding Windows Core OS

I mean, it's pretty laughable to assume that in 10 years time, Win32 will still be the primary platform for Windows apps. Once Windows 7 is long out of support, there's little incentive to build new Win32 programs as it would be more beneficial to build a native UWP app at that point. I imagine the only apps that will still be Win32 are ones that already exist today, assuming by then they haven't been rewritten as native UWP apps. Of course, there will always be people who need legacy Windows and legacy Win32 programs, and full Windows 10 will always exist for those people. But for the rest of the world, most people would be okay with a true UWP experience, assuming the universal apps are there.

So, yes, I think there is a future for true UWP apps on Windows 10. Microsoft's end goal is to make it the primary app platform for Windows, regardless of whether it's on Windows Core OS or versions of Windows 10 that natively support legacy programs. In fact, I think Microsoft's WCOS effort is proof that the company is committed to true UWP apps alone, it's just a really long-term goal that's going to take a lot of time to achieve. I'll be talking a bit more about the Windows Core OS project and the future of Windows, but in the meantime, what are your thoughts on the future of UWP apps? Let us know in the comments!

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

91 Comments
  • Can you please publish a subject about how to upgrade Lumia 1020 from win 8.1 to win 10 .. Insider app is not working anymore on win 8.1
  • Toss that phone. Any modern budget device will outperform it.
  • Again, there is some likelihood, but even remotely. that there is association with one of the extreme outlier, beyond medical definition, when presented with a red apple and an orange, unlike normal person, fail to tell the difference, even given the chance to physically touch the fruit, assuming there is a good evidence of color blind.... Under normal circumstances, normal person would adopt caution when unsure. As this is a special case, the more unsure, the more insecured.. the louder the unprocessed opinion..
  • He's not wrong though. The Lumia 1020 has already been surpassed by every modern phone and even if you wanted to put Windows 10 mobile on it, the performance would be very sluggish and you wouldn't be able to get the latest version of Windows 10 Mobile on it either.
  • I agree, we are all here to learn from each other.. the request demands more effort to reply..if one has no such time, for the sake of upholding good community spirit.. better not to answer...
  • Right on.
  • You can get the very latest W10M rather easily nowadays to be honest.
  • Budget phones have 40mp cameras now?
  • What good is a 40MP sensor if the phone is too slow to get the shot? Either way, even budget phones will get decent photos and be much faster with a far superior ecosystem compared to the L1020. The processor in that thing was outdated at launch, let alone several years later.
  • Still, my L820 (which had the same processor) is as performant as an Galaxy S7 (except gaming of cause) on the UI.
  • It's not just the faster processor that makes a difference. I upgraded to the S9+. It has been so nice not fighting with outdated apps, incompatible browser, etc. It will take me a while before I get used to going to the play store and not having to wonder if an app will be there. I installed the launcher SquareHome 2 to get the Windows Phone experience. Yeah, it's time that people moved on.
  • Yes avenger. The p20 pro has a 40mp camera. The only phone to come close to the 1020. To the person asking about getting 10m on the 1020, search it, it takes a bit of work, but it can be done. I found 10m worked great on mine.
  • so you found it but won't say where?
  • I did it 2 and a half years ago when nadulla cancelled w10m on my 1020. So, no, I don’t know where it is now. I know it’s possible with a quick search.
  • There is a possibility to upgrade from Windows 8. 1 phone to Windows 10 mobile... However, there are risks and it is assumed that the user is comfortable with some degree of hacking.. I see high risk for WC to suggest steps how to do it without taking some degree of responsibility if the process leads to complete loss of function.. I did it it once back in 2015 for a very old Windows 8. 1 phone... It upgraded to a very very early version of windows 10 mobile.. the performance was not great.. so I bought a used 950XL...
  • Do a few searches on the web, XDA forums will be a good source to get your started if you can't find other easier tricks. As for running WM10 - you might want to look to see if there are any limitations for your camera. I don't think there are, but make sure. If you can run WM10 without losing camera features, even on your 1020 WM10 is faster than 8 or 8.1 and has all the modern features/Apps. (I say this based on testing the 920, 925, 928. I also carried the 928 until last year as my main Verizon device, which I changed once I could find a fix for the screen color issue with the Icon, which is now my main Verizon device.) Good Luck.
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAWqMj4b53Y I think this might help. If it doesn't on the other hand, the youtuber actually replies to DMs and comments, so yeah, go strong.
  • They were dead on arrival. Too limited and no platform that caters to them exists. Only good for porting mobile apps to desktop form factor, or cross platform mobile development. Microsoft has yet to release a true UWP app that wasn’t worse than the Win32 app it replaced, on top of wasting a f**kton of screen real estate.
  • Exactly! Microsoft lost all credibility. No developers are going to write any apps on UWP or PWA and author is talking about beauty of Windows S (with 3 apps in the store)
  • The biggest problem with UWP is people thinking it is 'limited' when it can do MORE things than Win32, and often run faster than Win32 software while using less RAM. There is a reason Win32 software 'gains' access to UWP features, as Win32 can't do these. Maybe you are still confusing it with WinRT, which was rather limited.
  • UWP is a way more limited than win32 (e.g. file system, networking, system info) and in most cases the only way to solve the problem is to use appservice which is win32 app within uwp envelope. Also don't forget about installation limits like you can't just install uwp app if sideloading is not enabled.
    Don't forget about debugguing. Currently there are not much services which can be used to debug client side errors. Even appcenter (which is microsoft service) can't do that.
  • Photos?
    MS Teams?
    MSN News?
  • Good article, but I feel like it's deja Vu, and I've read the same information a year ago and a year before that. This would have been the perfect article to mention any upcoming UWA platform changes, or if none are known, say that. Does MS have some big changes coming for it? They've been tight lipped as far as I know about UWA. I love the idea is UWA but aside from Groove, and the Mail app, I don't see much of real quality apps.
  • Can't see any future for UWP without mobile... Where is the incentive for developers without a mobile platform...? 😣
  • I don't see why the death of Windows 7 would necessarily increase the incentive for developers to build UWP apps instead. UWP still has its limitations compared to Win32 and developers are probably still going to stick to what they know and what works, even a decade from now. Without a mobile platform, UWP won't survive very long. Assuming Microsoft never gets back into mobile anytime soon, then 10 years later Win32 might very well still be the main development platform on Windows.
  • Lets imagine that the 43% of desktops on Windows 7 shrinks to 5%, allowing Windows 10 to grow from 32% to 70-ish%. There are very few companies that wouldn't place their app in the Microsoft Store, not just because of market demand, but also because the store is basically product placement for them. Getting people to leave Windows 7 is a very difficult task though.
  • Let me stop you at... "UWP still has its limitations compared to Win32" There are a few limitations/differences, but I would bet those are not what you would expect. Right now UWP has a majority of Win32 APIs directly available, and UWP also has features that cannot be done in Win32. Technically this makes Win32 limited in comparison to UWP. (I realize this is subjective, as new capabilities don't always make up for old capabilities.) UWP can deal with threading and handling content and data in ways that are foreign to Win32. UWP also has access to newer device interfaces that Win32 does not. If you are developing a really complex piece of software that is processing a large amount of data with a lot of threads, UWP will run circles around Win32 in performance and the coding with be a tiny fraction of the code required in Win32. The perceptions and nightmares of WinRT in Windows 8 still persist a bit too much today. There are differences between Win32 and UWP, but unless you are trying to hook into Windows or touch other software, you won't hit them. (And even then, there are tricks and ways around them most of the time.)
  • Thx
  • The only things UWPs are (and will be) limited is close-to-hardware stuff.
  • Where are all the great UWP apps to prove your point. Where are all the Microsoft UWP apps, not Centennial wrapped Win32 apps but real pure UWP apps? At this point, creating them now may be too late but if you want anyone to follow; lead. Enough of the do as I say not as I do approach, put you UWP where your mouth is or stick it and sit on it.
  • "I don't see why the death of Windows 7 would necessarily increase the incentive for developers to build UWP apps instead." It's not about increasing the incentive for UWP, but rather killing it for Win32, no one's gonna care about losing 8/8.1 users when weighting Win32 and UWP's pros and cons. The real incentive for UWP is Microsoft's increased telegraphing that Win32 is obsolete and will not be a core component of Windows in the long run, running on an emulation layer that'll likely not be installed by default after a transition period. "(...) developers are probably still going to stick to what they know and what works, even a decade from now." No, they won't, otherwise Apple would've had to still be producing PowerPC desktops and laptops powered by classic Mac OS to this day. Adapt or die, you know.
  • I wonder how great a todays PowerPC-powered colorful, halftransparent iPhone would look like.
  • Full photoshop coming to iOS is making me finicky. Is this the end of modern windows i-e UWP, WCOS and CShell as we know it? Is this where iOS and android/chrome OS complete their duopoly?
    Let's hope not. Three players are good for competition and consumers. I hope desktop grade application creators wouldn't ignore windows as modern apps and services developers did.
  • You know what's more interesting than full Photoshop for iPad after 9 years of iPad Launch? Chromebooks do support professional photo edition software like Gimp thanks to their ability to run Linux desktop apps.
    Developers didn't have to work for 9 years to port Gimp to ChromeOS, since ChromeOS already runs Linux apps.
    Perhaps Apple and Microsoft should see the advantages of open source and embrace it as the future.
    Adobe can still compete with Gimp by making their software free and open source and get income from school and government donations to their company for massive installations.
  • Gimp is not a professional photo software. I use it, but only because I am developer and paying for Photoshop to use it very rarely makes no sense. However if a professional doesn't have money for Photoshop, he should be doing something else, as simple as that. And if he doesn't see any difference between Gimp and Photoshop then he is definitely not a professional.
  • The problem with removing traditional apps is that modern apps, whilst I love them, cannot cope with low level stuff. The best example is drivers. Going the RT route and restricting users to drivers handed out through Windows Update is awful because Windows Update usually lags well behind the latest drivers, it will not be possible to use old versions to avoid bugs and Windows Update is awful at installing complex drivers and often makes a big mess of them. Windows needs to retain the capability to allow low level access for apps that need it. It also needs to allow apps to talk to each other so that apps don't need to run as administrator to affect other universal apps. The struggle getting them to work with Steam and Steam Controllers/Steam Link is obvious, but this issue comes up in many little ways. The struggle to get Edge plug-ins to talk to UWPs is another example. Hiding away the executable so you have to work even harder to get things talking is just one of those spiteful little moves that really pushes average users away and annoys advanced users greatly. It's not like you can't access the executable, MS just gets off on making the process as labyrinthine as they can I guess. I get that these restrictions are all about security, but if you only prevent others impacting your system by preventing yourself from being able to achieve necessary and common goals, you've gone too far. Welding the doors to your house shut is definitely a security plus, but remains an unpopular move.
  • Thx, we need more inputs along this feedback...
  • I developed a Xamarin form running Skiasharp 3D graphic engine.. for UWP desktop. Without much modification, the app runs in W10 IoT Smart watch, so as 950XL smartphone. the versatility of UWP...
  • You realize there are no Windows smart watches or phones, right? It is pointless to target them. You could have done the same thing on Android or iOS. The difference is the billions of smart watches, phones, tablets, TVs, and autos that actually use those platforms. Instead, you only have a possible user base of Windows 10 PCs. A user base that doesn't frequent the store and will rarely leave the browser. Realistically, you are looking at a very small population of users, probably less than 100 million. No reason to target Windows at all unless you have a resource intensive program that is too complicated to make a PWA for.
  • It is a cross platform 2D vector graphics library that comes from Google but ported to .NET. The same Xamarin Form code can be compiled with over 90 to 95% share code to iOS, Android, Linux, Samsung Tizen.. in addition to WPF, UWP, Webassembly and soon PWA... One GUI to rule all platforms... There is a much bigger world out there for c# developers.
  • If one GUI across all platforms you are better off making webapps. I think it is terrible if an app uses the design language of a competing platform. It always feels weird to use Google apps inside of iOS because they look, feel and work differently from all iOS apps.
  • And here you go ... Xamarin uses the design language of the OS it's running on (except you mess up big time as a dev).
  • Don't get me wrong, I earn most of my money from Xamarin.Forms, but Xamarin.Forms cover like 5% of UI capabilities of respective platforms. Yes for many apps that can be enough especially if you are tight on the budget, but claiming that it is some magic technology is like claiming you don't know anything...
  • UWP will come, "but": If you are a developer, and only 32% of people use Windows 10 as their desktop OS in 2018 (43% for Windows 7, 5% for Windows 8, rest split between MacOS and Linux)... Why on Earth would you make a UWP app!?! It's more work and only targets 1/3rd of your customers. If you write a win32 app, you target 75% of your customers. As long as Win32 is more economical, that's what developers will develop. The only thing that will drive UWP apps to success will be the death of Windows 7 marketshare.
  • UWP (or whatever it's renamed) and it's dev toolkits will be ready for primetime closer to when windows7 use hits 10% or less. I know MS miscalculated many things including UWP but lets get real, no dev is going - or should be expected - to spend $ to migrate a Win32 desktop app to UWP when they must also do these two things:
    1. lock out customers (not using Win10)
    2. offer less functionality (immature API set or UWP)
  • We need a projection when Win7 reaches < 10% perhaps more Win7 specific virus attack
  • UWP has no future without true mobile(not ultramobile).i don't understand why its so hard to digest.i am still a great fan of windows 10 mobile but microsoft ruined it badly.