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Windows 10: Could Progressive Web Apps finally fix Microsoft Store's software shortfall?

Microsoft has announced that the next major update to Windows 10 in Spring will add Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) to the store.

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • Microsoft is updating the Microsoft Store, adding the best Progressive Web Apps from a pool of more than 1.5 million candidates.
  • Progressive Web Apps will be supported in Windows 10 and across all major browsers, and will offer a simpler way of developing cross-platform apps that work very similarly to native software.

Windows 10's Microsoft Store has long been criticized for its rather lacklustre selection of apps.

Now the store's limited software catalog could be about to get a substantial boost, as Microsoft prepares to open the store to a host of new software.

Microsoft has announced that the next major update to Windows 10 this Spring will add Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) to the store.

PWAs are basically web apps that behave like native apps, able to work offline, send notifications and be installed on PCs.

Following the next Windows 10 update, codenamed "Redstone 4", PWAs will start being listed inside the Microsoft Store alongside regular apps, with Microsoft getting ready to add what it considers to be the best PWAs to the store.

"Over the coming weeks, we're also kicking off some experiments with crawling and indexing quality PWAs from the Web to list them in the Microsoft Store, where users can find them just like any other app on Windows 10," said Microsoft's Edge dev team in a blog post.

Well-known services and sites such as Flipboard, Twitter and Trivago already have PWAs, and Microsoft says it is picking out the highest quality web apps for inclusion in the store from more than 1.5 million candidates.

PWAs are already supported in the Chrome and Firefox browsers, on desktops and mobiles, and will be supported in Windows 10's Edge following the Redstone 4 update.

SEE: Windows 10: Streamline your work with these power tips (free TechRepublic PDF)

The browsers' huge combined userbase gives developers an incentive to build PWAs, so could potentially bring apps to the Microsoft Store that would otherwise not be ported across — addressing one of the longstanding criticisms of the store.

The addition of PWAs comes at a time when Microsoft is preparing to elevate the importance of the store, with Microsoft recently announcing that PC makers would be given more opportunity to sell PCs that are locked to using Microsoft Store apps only by default.

Microsoft's forthcoming Teams client app will be a PWA, and ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley predicts that Microsoft will choose PWA over native apps for many other releases in future.

Developers will also be able to submit their Progressive Web Apps to the store. PWAs will look and function the same as any other store app, and will be packaged as an appx in Windows 10 - running in their own sandboxed container.

PWA capabilities will not be limited in scope compared to the Universal Windows Platform Apps found in the store today, and will have access to the full suite of WinRT APIs.

Developers who want to boost the chances of getting their PWAs listed in the Microsoft Store can follow these guidelines, which also includes instructions on how to submit a PWA to the Microsoft Store.

Microsoft recommends that devs who want to differentiate their product on each platform develop native apps, rather than PWAs, but also stresses the cost and time savings of building a single PWA to run across all platforms.

The support for PWAs within Windows 10 is being made possible by Microsoft adding support for newer web technologies to the OS' forthcoming EdgeHTML 17 engine. These technologies include Service Workers, which allows web apps and sites to more easily switch between working offline and online, and the Push and Cache APIs, bringing support for push notifications to web apps.

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Microsoft outlines the simple process for adding PWAs to the Microsoft Store.

Image: Microsoft

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About Nick Heath

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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