Windows 10 will treat developers' Web Apps as first class citizens using Project Westminster

Kareem Anderson

Image Credit: Channel 9

It’s no secret the Microsoft has an app problem. Some say the first step to fixing the problem is admitting that one exists. At Microsoft’s developer conference, Build 2015, the company finally addressed the elephant in its room, the app gap.

To combat the stigma associated with an ecosystem seemingly lacking in the app department, Microsoft is pushing forward with its Universal App platform. Universal Apps are intended to bridge the gap between devices, but more importantly, bridge the platform divide Microsoft is facing against competing companies in the mobile universe. During the two separate 3-hour long keynotes, Microsoft spent most of its time discussing the various ways developers could capitalize on the new ‘Universal’ strategy. Much of the reported news centered on iOS and Android app developers bringing over their code to create Windows versions of the same mobile apps. However, Microsoft’s Universal App strategy extends beyond back cataloging mobile apps. Microsoft also intends for web developers to be a part of the tidal wave of potential Universal app development, leveraging Project Westminster.

Kiril Seksenov, an Engineer on the Microsoft Edge Web Apps team, took some time out today to explain what and how Project Westminster could affect web developers. What Project Westminster essentially does is turn responsive websites into downloadable services. Project Westminster developers will have the ability to leverage their existing web development workflow while also publishing their app in the new Windows Store. While the end-user might see them as apps or web apps, Microsoft’s Web Apps team is calling the published websites Hosted Web Apps.

Image Credit: Microsoft

The Web Apps team is keen to the resources, cost and tendencies involved in the development process and Project Westminster attempts to mitigate any further development stipulations. The process of publishing a responsive website into the Windows Store seems rather minimal and intuitive. “Just enter your app’s start page URL and define the app’s scope of URLs in the app manifest to create a Universal Windows Platform app. Continue with platform integration by pushing code to your servers, feature detecting for and directly calling Universal Windows APIs. Once deployed, hit F12 on a Windows machine to test and debug your app,” according to the Web Apps team.

Furthermore, Project Westminster is development environment agnostic. Developers are encouraged to continue their workflow in whatever code editor, hosting service and source control they feel at ease with. Developers can continue to update and push changes through to websites already published in the Windows Store without having to re-submit. Another addition developers have at their disposal is direct integration with the Windows platform. A developers web app can now call into the Windows namespace from JavaScript hosted on their server without needing packaged code, according to the Web Apps team.

Image Credit: Microsoft

Project Westminster is also looking to pallet cleanse the taste Web App navigation Windows 8 and 8.1 left developers. Windows 8 and 8.1 Web Apps navigation was restrictive by nature, needing Web Apps to load two web frameworks when using WebView. In Windows 10, developers can skip that process and use JavaScript app hosting to directly navigate remote pages. Hosted code running the app can also call Universal Windows APIs. No more need for developers to package code to integrate with the Windows platform. Developers leveraging Project Westminster also get support for platform integrated features like Cortana’s voice commands, authentication and platform APIs for their web apps. However, some app users may expect a certain level of offline support for their apps. Developers will be able to utilize a mix of local and remote content to a certain degree.

In conclusion, it looks like web app developers who participate in Project Westminster will find their web apps behaving like first class citizens in the Windows Store. From a user perspective, a web app will retain support for Live Tiles, Cortana, Notifications, Calendar, Contacts and more, given the commitment from the developer. While this Universal App strategy has yet to prove itself, the groundwork for a successful web app push has been established. In previous iterations, Web Apps failed broad acceptance mainly due to their speed, layout and lack of platform-specific features. Since then, Web Apps and responsive websites have become faster and better designed. With Project Westminster, developers can now lean on platform specific APIs that can make Web Apps run and feel like most native apps. Project Westminster has the potential to close some ground for Windows while increasing developer interest in web apps in the Windows Store.