When Microsoft introduced its new Surface Laptop in May, it also announced the release of the Windows 10 S operating system (OS) for the device. With it comes new opportunities and challenges for developers and testers alike.
This new iteration of Windows 10 not only introduces an updated approach by Microsoft to how apps are installed, but also the way they are developed. If you have developed a Windows app based on Win32, this may be the time to update your code or face a growing risk of losing users.
Most of the software developed for Windows in the last two decades has been based on Win32, the 32-bit API that emerged with Windows NT in the mid-1990s. In the early 2000s, Microsoft released a new programming interface called .NET Framework to replace it, but Win32 remained popular and developers continued to use the platform.
With the release of Windows 8 in 2012, Microsoft introduced its Universal Windows Platform (UWP). Although UWP brought the ability to create adaptive Windows 10 applications, which automatically adapt to devices’ specifications, many developers were content to keep coding for Win32.
While Win32 has done well for many years, it is nevertheless based on an old codebase and not particularly well suited for today’s modern computing. Microsoft is hoping that with Windows 10 S, it may finally start a slow move away from the aging Win32 to the newer UWP.
Transitioning to UWP
Windows 10 S is essentially the same OS that was released in 2015, except that it only allows applications from the Windows Store to be installed. Just like Microsoft did with its earlier Windows RT OS, Windows 10 S won’t run applications that aren’t developed using certain, secure tools.
Since Win32 and .NET applications are not distributed through the Windows Store, this means developers will have to develop a UWP version. Otherwise, they can repackage the software into an app-like package with solutions such as Project Centennial.
However, even if an app is made to run on UWP, there are other restrictions in Windows 10 S that developers will need to be mindful of. For example, an app and its related drivers need a Windows Store signature to run.
This means driver packages cannot include “non-Microsoft UI components or applications”. Apps also cannot be sideloaded, or transferred between local devices, so companies and institutions won’t be able to deploy any in-house solutions they may be using on Windows 10.
Third-party software that uses file system filter drivers, such as anti-virus, disk utility, and backup tools, will not work on Windows 10 S. Instead, device security will be provided by Microsoft’s own built-in Windows Defender client, which could complicate device management for IT administrators used to tracking all devices from a single solution.
Web browsing on Windows 10 S will be limited to Microsoft Edge, at least until Mozilla, Google and other developers create Windows Store versions of their browsers. When using Edge in Windows 10 S, users are also unable to change the default search engine from Microsoft’s Bing.
Certain built-in Windows 10 components will also be blocked from running, which will affect any software that relies on them. These include:
Windows 10 S devices cannot join a Windows domain or be managed by Active Directory. Microsoft’s cloud-based directory and identity management service, Azure Active Directory, is supported instead.
Windows 10 S is currently limited to Microsoft’s new Surface Laptop, but time will tell whether it will find its way onto other devices, both from Microsoft and other vendors. For the time being, the Surface Laptop with Windows 10 S will go head-to-head with Chromebooks running Google’s Chrome OS, typically found in the education market.
The future in apps
For developers, the appeal of the Windows Store lies in it running on a stable operating system, as well as a growing ecosystem that manages to encourage new apps. As Microsoft continues to support and expand the Windows Store, more developers are expected to make apps for it.
According to a survey by User Camp, 70 per cent of developers chose Windows Store for its development platform, programming language, and APIs. Another 57 per cent chose the Store because of their experience in developing for Windows, while 52 per cent chose it because of the user experience, such as lack of competition, easy app installation, etc.
If the Windows Store continues to gain momentum, UWP may one day displace Win32 as the leading software platform. Developers who catch onto this notion will likely start their migration to UWP and the Windows Store sooner rather than later.
If you are building new apps for the Windows Store or have ported existing Win32 software to UWP, you can make use of our compatibility testing services for mobile sites and apps. We can offer testing expertise through every stage of your development process to make sure you deliver an app that will meet your users’ high demands.
Visit our Mobile & App Testing page for more information.