I currently have a laptop running windows 8 without touchsceen, apparently I somtimes use 'apps' and more often I use 'desktop programs'. However, I just don't get the point of making this separation.

What have I found

When searching things like 'windows 8 app vs desktop' I cannot really find much that makes a case for using apps, th most relevant diferences that I came across:

  • Apps must come from the windows store (Perhaps an advantage for security reasons)
  • The app and desktop version of a program can be different (Perhaps you can try the other if one is not good)
  • Apps can be pinned (But you can make shortcuts on your dektop)
  • Apps kan be snapped (But you can drag most desktop programs against the side of the screen)

All in all I might underappreciate the former points, but it just does not seem to give apps a significant edge over desktop programs. Hence it feels like i am missing something.

The question

Assuming you have a windows 8 computer without touchscreen, what are the main differences between 'apps' and 'desktop programs', and in particular: what are the advantages of apps over desktop programs?


To the end-user (i.e. non-developers), apps are probably just marketing hype. iPhones have "apps", Androids have "apps", so now, Mac, Ubuntu, and Windows have apps.

To developers, they represent a change in UI design support, as well as making it easier to re-target a PC app to a mobile Windows device, and vice versa.

Probably, in the future, most programs on all commercial operating systems will be called apps, and will likely be distributed from a centralized location. The incentive (to the company) here is that they can have greater control over individual apps, since they control the store from which they are sold. To the user, it means a single place to go looking for an app. To the developer: a more streamlined distribution and/or re-targeting process; meanwhile, developers who don't play along will get left behind, since users will eventually forget to look for other venues.

Disclaimer: I don't do windows.

  • Do you really see this happening for 40GB+ software suites like Autodesk Building Design Suite? – LawrenceC Feb 17 '14 at 11:01
  • You mean, transition to mobile? What about a small utility app that interfaces with the desktop app. Maybe enough to work on a few components and sync them back the full-powered desktop app. – jpaugh Feb 18 '14 at 6:13

Microsoft have re-created the "Microsoft experience" across their fleet - on the XBox one, on the tablet, on the phone, and of course on the PC. This redesign heavily incorporates the "Metro" interface, which runs apps, rather than desktop programs.

Desktop programs ("desktop apps") are run in what Microsoft refer to as legacy mode - the "old" Windows experience you're used to.

Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, but (it appears) Microsoft are likely only going to support legacy desktop apps for a limited number of time - probably the next 1-2 releases. This is similar to how DOS support was dropped.

There's an excellent article comparing the advantages of both here. It is written with developers in mind, but it's reasonably easy to read.

  • When reading this from a user perspective, the only direct advantage appears to be the widgt like 'active tiles'. I suppose that I didn't really miss that much, and that the advantages are supposed to come from better functionality now the developers are forced into the right framework? – Dennis Jaheruddin Feb 17 '14 at 8:58
  • The perspective I take from this is that it's forward compatible, as this is where Microsoft are taking the home PC market. Any advantages that come from the framework functionality are a bonus. – Andrew White Feb 19 '14 at 5:02

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