When it comes to Windows 10, (or even Windows 8 or 8.1), there are two ways you can download applications. The first is to search for them online, download an EXE file, and install the Desktop app — and the other is to open up the Windows Store, find an app, and install the Store app.
For most of Windows' history, Desktop apps were the only option. That's what most people are familiar with. But as Google and Apple's closed app stores have become more popular, Microsoft has felt the pressure to do the same, giving us the Windows Store.
The confusing part is that some apps have both Desktop and Store versions — so let's take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of these two methods of getting apps.
Why Is There Now a Windows Store?
If you're a long-time Windows user, you might be wondering why you even need an app store. Windows was getting along just fine without it, wasn't it?
Well, kind of.
Windows is notorious for being plagued by viruses and malware, and a large part of that is due to this method of app (or program, as they used to be called) installation. Basically, the problem is security.
Microsoft Has No Control
Apps that are downloaded from random websites can't be vetted by Microsoft in any way. If you search online for a free word processor as an alternative to Microsoft Word, and you find something that looks suitable, how do you know it's not a virus? For larger companies with popular apps, this may not be as much of an issue (unless you get phished), but finding less popular apps could prove dangerous.
With the Windows Store, all apps go through a submission and review process, so Microsoft is able to weed out dangerous programs and ensure that only safe ones are making it onto your system. If you're an Android user, the Windows Store is like the Play Store, and installing EXE files is like sideloading APKs and allowing the installation of apps from unknown sources. If you're on an iPhone or iPad, then the Windows Store is like the App Store, but iOS doesn't allow for installing outside apps.
The most secure thing for everyone would be if Microsoft only allowed for the installation of Store apps, but the downside would be a significantly smaller app selection and a much more limited platform — so, thankfully, that won't be happening anytime soon.
Permissions and Sandboxing
Another downside to desktop apps is their ability to do anything. Desktop apps don't have any sort of permission system and aren't isolated from the system, aka sandboxed, in any way, so anything you install could potentially wreak havoc on your system, destroying personal files, transmitting data, or logging your keystrokes.
Granted, most programs don't do that, but they could.
Store apps, on the other hand, have a very limited list of permissions that you can see before downloading. This is much like the permission system on Android (and sort of like the permission system on iOS). This way, a simple calculator app can't go recording your video or audio because it wouldn't have the permission.
On top of that, Store apps are sandboxed, meaning that they're contained to a certain part of the operating system and can't reach beyond that. Sandboxed apps are limited in the amount of damage they can do because they simply don't have access to the vital parts of your system that non-sandboxed apps have.
Which Is Better: Desktop or Store?
Honestly, the answer to this question depends on your needs and preferences — and most people are going to use some of both.
Interface and Design
While Store apps used to be forced to run in full-screen, they now run in windows, just like Desktop apps. This means that the line between Desktop and Store apps is getting a little bit more blurred, but it's still easy to tell the difference in everyday usage.
For the most part, Desktop apps are going to be designed for a mouse-and-keyboard situation, while Store apps are designed for touch. That means that Desktop apps are going to have smaller, more cramped areas for buttons, and they won't use swiping gestures. The flip side to this is that they will probably be able to pack in more features.
Store apps are generally made for touch, so they'll scroll horizontally with the flick of your finger, they'll generally lack any right-click function, and their buttons will be large and spaced out.
These differences are highlighted even within Microsoft's own apps. Open up the Settings app on your Windows 10 computer, and you'll be able to change a lot of settings with a nice, clean, modern interface. But, for some more complex settings, it will throw you back into the Desktop Control Panel interface.
The only other small design difference you'll notice is if you happen to spend any time in the Start Menu. Store apps can have Live Tiles, or at least fully-colored tiles. Desktop apps are stuck with ugly small icons against a plain-colored square. It's a small difference, but it's one that seems intended to push you towards Store apps.
Availability of Apps
For some apps, you're not going to have a choice. Popular desktop applications like Adobe Photoshop, Calibre, and Steam don't even come in Store versions. In this case, for power users or gamers, Desktop apps will be the way to go.
On the other hand, if you're using a small, light touch-device like a Surface tablet or an HP Envy 8 Note, the designed-for-touch apps of the Windows Store are going to be your friend. No one wants to try tapping on tiny made-for-Desktop buttons on an 8-inch tablet.
What If an App Has Both Versions?
In some cases, you'll run into apps that have both a Desktop and a Store version, including VLC, Dropbox, or Plex. Which you prefer is honestly up to personal preferences, but you'll find that most of the points listed above remain true.
The Desktop version will likely have more features, but be more complicated to navigate, while the Store version will likely have a simpler interface but fewer features. Let's take a look at VLC as an example.
As you can see above, the Desktop version (left) has tiny buttons jammed into a thin bar along the bottom, while the Store version has large touch-friendly buttons across the interface. It should be noted also that Desktop VLC doesn't scale properly to high-resolution displays, so the buttons display extra small on my screen — but that won't be the case if you have a lower resolution display.
The Desktop version does have much more in-depth options for subtitles, audio, and all sorts of other tools that the Store version simply doesn't have. Honestly, for most users, the Store version will work just fine, but if you like getting into the nitty gritty of VLC or other applications, you'll need the Desktop version.
Plex, likewise, runs into a similar simplicity-versus-features scenario. Dropbox behaves entirely like a mobile app in the Store version and only allows for legitimate syncing of files (rather than just manually uploading/downloading) if you have the Desktop version.
What About Web Versions?
A more common occurrence will likely be running into apps that already have a solid web version that you could be using instead, like Facebook, Messenger, Netflix, or Pandora.
Again (shockingly), this will come down to personal preference. For instance, I like how the web version of Messenger collapses down the left column to just profile pictures, while the Store app insists on keeping a preview of each conversation in that column — so I stick with the web Messenger.
However, because I have a touchscreen laptop, the Store version of Netflix (above left) is a good deal easier to navigate. I can just pin it to my taskbar, fire it up, swipe to the show I want, and start watching. I don't have to bother opening Chrome, typing in Netflix, scrolling with the touchpad, and all that.
What Do You Prefer?
Basically, if you're torn between a particular Desktop or Store app, download both and give them a try. If you're curious to see if a Store app is stronger than its web-based counterpart, it doesn't hurt to download it. You never know which version you'll end up liking better. Most likely, you'll end up with a few of both.
Just make sure you don't accidentally download a dead or fake app from the Windows Store.
Now we're curious, which do you prefer? Do you download exclusively Desktop apps, or do you actually enjoy some Store apps? Let us know down in the comments!
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