After two years, Microsoft makes up its mind how to call Windows Apps

Martin Brinkmann
Mar 24, 2015

One of the most confusing things I experienced in recent time was to understand how Microsoft called applications installed from Windows Store and the Start Screen interface officially.

So many names were floating around that it seemed that even Microsoft was not sure how to name apps or the new interface.

It all started with Metro apps for instance but Microsoft could not use that term and switched to others as a consequence. Problem here was that the company used several terms instead, for instance Windows Store Apps or Modern UI Apps which was highly confusing.

To make matters worse, desktop apps, that is regular programs not installed from the store and only compatible with PCs, were sometimes referred to as apps as well.

Good news is that Microsoft seems to have learnt from the past. Don Box, Microsoft engineer, announced at WinHEC 2015 last week during his Developing for the Windows 10 Hardware Platform how apps and programs are called in Windows 10.

According to him, there are two terms (well actually three) that Microsoft will use to name and differentiate the two different application types: Windows Apps, which refers to apps created for the universal app platform, and Windows desktop Applications, which refers to programs.

The third term that Microsoft will use sometimes in place of Windows Apps is Universal Apps.

Probably the easiest way to distinguish the two currently is that Windows Apps are installed from Windows Store while desktop applications are not.

The core differences between Windows Apps and Windows Desktop Applications are listed on the screenshot below.

Apps run on all devices running Windows 10 including laptops, desktop PCs, the Xbox, Internet of Things and others while desktop programs are limited to PCs only.

It is clear that Microsoft is pushing towards Windows Apps and somewhat away from legacy PC applications even though those are fully supported on PCs running Windows 10. There is a clear focus on apps as Windows expands to other device types besides PCs and Phones though and I'd expect that push to continue with more force once Windows 10 comes out.

Good news is that we can finally lay Metro, Metro Apps, Modern UI Apps and Windows Store Apps to rest and concentrate on just the two names from now on.

Side Note for devs: Microsoft released a Developer Tooling Preview to Windows Insiders to give developers the opportunity to use new platform capabilities such as adaptive UX or user controls. Adaptive UX for instance enables developers to use a single UI for all screen sizes that adapts to screens automatically while user controls determines how users interact with apps to make available the right controls (e.g. touch or mouse).

I would have picked Windows Programs instead of Windows Desktop Apps for programs running only on PCs as it seems a better fit to me.

What about you? How did you call apps and programs up until now? Would you have picked different names if you were in Microsoft's shoes? (via Paul Thurott)

After two years, Microsoft makes up its mind how to call Windows Apps
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After two years, Microsoft makes up its mind how to call Windows Apps
Microsoft revealed recently how Windows Store apps and desktop programs are referred to by the company.

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  1. James M Singleton said on April 18, 2015 at 8:56 am

    Windows Apps seem to be the best name for Metro Apps. Also, Microsoft has been getting better with naming applications/programs such as Microsoft OneDrive and Microsoft OneNote. I prefer Windows Legacy Apps instead of Windows Desktop Apps.

  2. Dylan said on March 26, 2015 at 11:25 am

    I prefer the way Classic Shell calls it. “Programs” and “Apps”.

  3. Rob said on March 26, 2015 at 3:30 am

    You didn’t even really write this article yourself. You just rewrote the linked article, amazingly lame.

  4. pschroeter said on March 25, 2015 at 4:54 am

    I remember thirty years ago the Apple Macintosh ran friendly sounding “applications” and DOS ran stogy “programs.” Nice of them to finally catch up.

  5. JohnMWhite said on March 25, 2015 at 12:24 am

    After all this they settle on Windows Apps and Windows Desktop Applications which people will, inevitably, shorten to Windows Apps. For goodness sake…

  6. Andrew said on March 24, 2015 at 10:20 pm

    “Windows apps” because that’s not confusing at all… I still think “metro apps” was the best name

    edit: on another thing, im surprised they still call Outlook Web app instead of like “Outlook Online” like the other online apps.

  7. XenoSilvano said on March 24, 2015 at 8:30 pm

    Over my 20 years of experience using computers, I have gotten accustomed to calling software that has been installed on to the computer as a ‘program’ (or just software), I differentiate programs from this new full screen software craze that have been popularised by tablet PCs as apps or applications (which I often associate with diminished functionality, they are for tablets after all). The term ‘application’ in reference to programs has been around for as quite a long time, however, I have always referred to them as programs.

    1. kalmly said on March 25, 2015 at 2:10 pm

      Yes. They should call them PC apps and Tablet apps. Or maybe Adult apps and Minor apps. Or full apps and half-apped. :)

  8. Zeus said on March 24, 2015 at 8:10 pm

    If this is anything like their email service, it’ll go something like this:

    “Windows Apps. Definitely. Wait, no, HOTMAIL APPS! Yeah! That’s the ticket. Unless… Live Apps! Live Apps for Windows! Hotmail Live Apps for Windows! Did we do Hotmail Apps already?”

    *10 seconds later*

    “Outlook apps!”

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on March 24, 2015 at 8:34 pm

      I would not be surprised. Then again, it seems Microsoft is serious this time.

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