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Universal Windows Platform powers adaptive Windows 10 applications

The Universal Windows Platform in Windows 10 marks a new generation of apps that can work across a variety of device types.

With Microsoft's Universal Windows Platform, it's easy for developers to build line-of-business applications that work on Windows 10 desktops and adapt to employees' other devices, too. That makes for reduced application management for IT administrators.

When Microsoft released Windows 10, the company also introduced the Universal Windows Platform (UWP), a unified ecosystem for developing and implementing applications that can run across a range of Windows 10 devices.

With UWP, developers can create Windows 10 applications that automatically adapt to their environments. Each app only requires a single development package, so developers can build one app to run on Windows-based desktops, smartphones, Xboxes and other devices such as HoloLens (a holographic computer headset) and Surface Hub (an interactive whiteboard). The apps even work on Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as the Raspberry Pi 2, which runs Windows 10 on the Windows IoT Core.

Microsoft first introduced the concept of universal apps with Windows 8.1. Dubbed Universal Windows then, developers could build apps for Windows desktops and Windows Phones based on a shared code base. Unfortunately, developers still had to build different applications for the different operating systems; they needed one app for the desktop version of Windows and another for the Windows Phone OS, for example. This did not offer many more benefits than traditional app development.

To deliver universal Windows 10 applications, Microsoft brought its various types of Windows operating systems back to a single core version that supports a common set of application programming interfaces (APIs) across all devices, in addition to the APIs specific to the device type. Developers can use these APIs to create apps that work on Windows 10 wherever the OS runs. Because the base of all the device operating systems is the same in Windows 10, developers don't need to build different versions of their applications for different Windows 10 devices.

And UWP is more than just an adjunct to Visual Studio, Microsoft's integrated development environment: The platform defines the entire application lifecycle, and lets developers and admins control how apps are deployed, installed, uninstalled and updated. Administrators and developers can also use UWP to control an app's runtime, manage resources, define the data model and more. And they can make the app available in the Windows Store for distribution and updating.

What UWP means for desktop admins

Although much of the buzz about UWP focuses on the benefits for developers, desktop administrators also have a lot to gain. By providing a platform that controls the entire lifecycle on all devices, the UWP has the potential to substantially reduce the time administrators spend supporting Windows 10 applications.

Because a UWP application is published to the Windows Store as a single package, users can access that app from any Windows device. As a result, administrators no longer need to support multiple versions of the application for different device types. They have a single, trusted delivery and maintenance mechanism for all devices, which eliminates much of the time they once spent on updating different versions of the app for various device types.

In addition, because all device types work with the same core application, the user experience is consistent across devices, which leads to reduced support and training costs. And administrators are less likely to run into -- and spend time addressing -- issues users may have when they switch between devices.

Digging into UWP

A UWP app can run on a variety of devices with different input modalities and form factors. Regardless of which or how many devices they want to run their app on, developers only need to create a single application project in Visual Studio. UWP projects support several programming languages, including Visual C++, C#, Visual Basic and JavaScript. For all but JavaScript, developers can use XAML files to provide users with a full-fidelity, native UI experience.

When building their universal Windows 10 applications, developers can use the rich set of Windows 10 APIs, including Windows Runtime and Windows Library for JavaScript, which Microsoft has combined into a single UWP software developer's kit. Going forward, Microsoft will make all new APIs part of UWP, so most code should be able to run on both PCs and mobile devices.

As part of the app-building process, developers specify one or more device families for their apps to run on. A device family is a set of APIs specific to a device type. At the top of the heap is the Universal device family, which includes a set of APIs available to all Windows 10 devices. Child device families add their own APIs specific to the device type. For example, the UWP includes Desktop, Mobile and Xbox child device families, which are what help the app run with a good user experience on multiple device types.

Developers can pick which device families they want to include in their application packages, depending on where they plan to run their apps. They can choose the Universal device family, one or more child device families, or a combination of both.

The future of Windows 10 applications

Now that Windows 10 is out, Microsoft plans to release the first four UWP bridge toolkits to allow other platforms to integrate with the UWP. For example, Google Android developers will be able build apps that run on Windows 10 smartphones from within their Android development environments. And Apple iOS developers will be able to build UWP apps in Visual Studio 2015 with their existing Objective-C code. The bridges will also allow developers to publish Win32-based apps to the Windows Store and make package websites available through the Store.

Next Steps

How well do you know Windows 10?

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This was last published in November 2015

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Essential Guide

Complete guide to Windows 10 mobile features, apps and devices

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What kind of affect do you think the Universal Windows Platform will have on app development?
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On the surface this sounds like a good idea, but I suspect that because MS is greatly behind the other device curve (with the exception of the XBox) that it will take a while before companies really begin to leverage this.   
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