One Windows? How does that work... and WTF is a Universal App?

Microsoft's strategy is to make Store apps popular. Good luck with that

One app, many targets... what could go wrong?

The universal app concept is a good one, but unfortunately it still takes effort to support multiple targets. The idea is to move as much code as possible into the shared area, but with platforms as different as Windows Phone versus a full size Windows tablet, there will be both user interface code and device-specific code that cannot be shared.

Another issue is that universal apps only support Windows Runtime (Windows Store app) targets. Standard Windows desktop apps are not included. This means that Microsoft’s One Windows strategy only makes sense if Windows Store apps become popular. Currently that is not the case.

If you are developing an app for, say, Windows Phone, then a universal app makes sense if it can easily be adapted to run on PCs. Those developing line-of-business apps for Windows PCs face a different decision. Is it better to create a universal app that can easily also run on Windows Phone, a small platform, or to create a desktop app that can also run on Windows 7, a large platform? That sounds like an easy decision, but one which loses the benefit of One Windows.

Hang on, though, are there not other platforms out there? What if the Windows Phone app developer decides also to target the huge iOS and Android markets? Now a universal app will not do. Developers will turn to a cross-platform tool like Apache Cordova (also used by Adobe PhoneGap), which uses web technology to compile apps for multiple platforms, or perhaps Xamarin, based on a cross-platform implementation of Microsoft’s .NET Framework, which targets iOS, Android and Mac OS X.

The bottom line is that even if Microsoft delivers the Windows 10 kernel across all kinds of devices, and improves the commonality between the versions of the Windows Runtime included on those devices, universal apps remain a hard sell.

Other types of development offer a larger market for the same effort. The single Windows platform idea only makes sense if developers and their customers are sold on the specific advantages of Store apps, such as easy deployment and safe execution.

One Windows? One app platform? It is not that simple, and hinges on the difficult task of persuading developers and users to adopt Windows Store apps.

Finally, there is also the question of trust. Is Microsoft now serious about maintaining a consistent development platform for more than a few years? Developers who have been stung in the past will take some persuading. ®

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