Windows 10: Microsoft readies tech to help Universal Windows apps shine

Redmond details plans to make it easier to create better looking and feeling Universal Windows software and web apps for its Edge browser.

Microsoft's vision for Windows 10 is for it to use apps that look and feel comfortable to use whether they're running on a 40-inch monitor or on a HoloLens heads-up display.

These so-called Universal Windows apps are designed to be built once and run on Windows 10 phones, PCs, tablets and IoT devices - adapting their appearance and behavior depending on which device they are running on.

But Microsoft has a problem to solve. It needs more high quality universal apps in the Windows Store. Universal Windows apps have to be built from scratch or ported from existing software and since launching the Universal Windows Platform with Windows 8 Microsoft has struggled to attract the most in-demand apps to the Windows Store.

To help persuade more developers to create these Universal Windows apps Microsoft is refining the technologies available to software makers in Windows 10.

One set of languages used to create Universal Windows apps is HTML, CSS and JavaScript - more familiar as the building blocks of web sites and apps - and creating apps using this trio is about to get simpler according to Microsoft.

Yesterday, Kyle Pflug, program manager for Microsoft Edge, revealed changes that will benefit both Universal Windows apps and Windows 10's Edge browser, using a blog post to detail forthcoming updates to the EdgeHTML layout and Chakra JavaScript engines.

Pflug confirmed that Microsoft will add support for Shadow DOM in an "upcoming" update to its web platform, "likely" followed by Custom Elements and Web Notifications.

Shadow DOM might sound like bruiser lurking in a back alley, but together with Custom Elements it will make it easier to use web languages to build elegant and powerful widgets and reuse them in app interfaces. Support for these two features are among the most requested on Microsoft's web platform site. However, one drawback is that support for HTML Imports - another very useful tool when packaging the web into neat, recyclable components - is currently a low priority for Microsoft's web platform team.

Meanwhile, enabling Web Notifications to be used should provide a way for apps to create useful reminders and messages.

Another important addition to Microsoft's web platform that "will appear in preview builds soon" is support for Microsoft's Object RTC API, which makes it possible to have voice and video chats, and carry out file transfers, without the need for plugins.

These waves of updates, as Pflug describes them, should make it easier to create Universal Windows apps that rival traditional desktop applications - as well as to run native-like web apps in the Edge browser.