Microsoft name games continue as 'universal apps' become 'Windows apps'

Microsoft has again changed the lexicon it wants others to use to describe the apps that run on Windows.

In a presentation last week at WinHEC, Don Box, a Microsoft distinguished engineer, spelled out the new labels: "Windows apps" and "Windows desktop applications."

"In Windows 10, we have this notion of a universal app platform," Box said. "And the apps that target it are called 'Windows apps.' Sometimes we say 'universal apps,' but we call them 'Windows apps.'"

Windows apps are those, Box added, that run on any of the numerous device categories that Windows 10 will support, ranging from smartphones and tablets to personal computers, the Xbox video game consoles and specialized "Internet of Things" hardware.

Meanwhile, Windows desktop applications is the moniker Microsoft will use to describe traditional personal computer programs.

"On PCs, we still continue to support the two decades-plus worth of Windows desktop applications, for running them on PCs," Box said. "And so sometimes in a technical session we will talk about a 'Windows app' and a 'Windows desktop app.' 'Windows app' runs on all devices. 'Windows desktop app,' PC only."

The new labels follow a long string of alternatives that debuted more than a year before the 2012 launch of Windows 8, as Microsoft wrestled with describing the new apps that would run -- and at the time, run only -- on the touch-first user interface (UI) packaged alongside the standard mouse-and-keyboard-centric desktop UI.

Initially, Microsoft went with "Metro" as the tag for the touch-first programs. But three months before Windows 8's official release, Microsoft confirmed that it was dropping Metro, claiming then that it had only been a code name.

However, reports had circulated saying that Microsoft ditched the name after Metro AG, a Dusseldorf, Germany-based conglomerate -- and the world's fifth-largest retailer -- complained. Microsoft said that the change had not been a result of litigation, but declined to comment when asked whether the name was abandoned due to only the threat of litigation, perhaps related to trademark or copyright issues.

From Metro, Microsoft went to "Windows 8 style UI," "Modern" and even the generic "Windows 8" as adjectives for touch apps in the new operating system. After the flagship OS's release, the company laid down the law: "Windows 8 Store" was to be the brand.

As Box noted, Microsoft continues to use "universal app" as the nickname for its touch-centric software built to run on multiple device platforms. In a March 23 blog post about a development tool preview, for example, that was the term the company called out.

Two-and-a-half years ago, Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, warned that "Metro" would be difficult to purge, then urged Microsoft to play to its brand strength by using "Windows" in some fashion.

Moorhead proved prescient: Some bloggers, analysts and reporters -- including the latter at Computerworld -- continue to refer to "Metro," preferring that to the less descriptive successors, and Microsoft did, in the end, tap "Windows" in its latest labels.

Box certainly did when he summarized the two names. "Windows apps run everywhere, and we still continue to run Windows desktop apps on PCs," he said at WinHEC.


Gregg Keizer

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