Thursday 9 July 2015
Project Westminster is a way of converting web-based apps into Windows 10 apps. That and three other bridges -- to convert Android, iOS, and Win32 programs -- are part of Microsoft's attempt to create the world's best app store.
Microsoft programmer Kiril Seksenov has published Project Westminster in a nutshell, a short and readable guide to converting web-based apps into Universal Windows Apps that can run on a wide range of Windows 10 devices.
This is just one of the four bridges announced at the Build2015 conference, the others being bridges for Android and Apple iOS apps, and for traditional Windows programs.
What Microsoft calls "Hosted Web Apps" are apps that run mainly on the web, but are packaged and distributed via the Windows Store. This allows for apps that can be updated on the fly (web app publishers just update their servers) but can also exploit local features (such as Live Tiles and Cortana voice commands) and local content.
The main drawback with hosted web apps is that users may try to run them when they don't have an internet connection. However, Seksenov says: "Navigation to a local page can be done using the ms-appx:/// or ms-appx-web:/// protocols, allowing you to load html/css/JS from inside the package for an offline experience."
Seksenov says that Project Westminster is "agnostic" to developer preferences and workflows, as shown by his illustration (above). Programmers can use their favourite text editor, code repository and hosting site. Obviously, Microsoft might prefer it if they used Visual Studio and Azure, but they can use Atom, GitHub and Amazon AWS if they want.
Project Westminster is, as mentioned, just one of the four bridges announced at the Build2015 conference. (DevNet has a more comprehensive guide.) It enables developers to convert web apps and distribute them as Windows Store apps. Presumably it's named afterWestminster Bridge in London.
Project Astoria is a bridge that enables developers to convert their Android apps into Universal Windows Store apps, as described at DevNet. Presumably it's named after thebridge across the Columbia River between Washington, Microsoft's home state, and Oregon.
Project Islandwood is a bridge that allows developers to use their Apple iOS code to create Universal Windows Store apps, by importing Objective-C into Visual Studio. Presumably it's named after the IslandWood Suspension Footbridge, which is also in the state of Washington.
Project Centennial is a bridge that will enable developers to convert traditional (or classic, or old fashioned) Windows programs developed for the Win32 API into Universal Windows Store apps, as demonstrated at Build2015 (video). There are several Centennial bridges. One connects Rock Island, Illinois and Davenport, Iowa, while another crosses the Panama Canal.
So, what's the idea?
Clearly, it would be better for users if all Windows programs were Windows Store apps. These are all available from a known and trusted location, they are easy to install and uninstall, they can easily be updated, they are much better controlled (under Windows Runtime), and they are sandboxed for security. They are, in fact, the Microsoft equivalent of Apple iPad apps, only inherently more flexible and potentially more powerful.
There are only two problems: getting developers to create them, and getting users to use them.
The four bridge projects aim to help with the first problem, by making it relatively simple to convert web apps, Android apps and iOS apps into Windows Store apps.
Getting people to use them is a bit trickier. Microsoft tried presenting users with a fait accompli in Windows 8, where the Start screen put Windows Store apps up front and put old fashioned Win32 apps further away. That didn't work out anything like as well as Microsoft probably hoped. It is, of course, almost impossible for an immature new system to compete with 25 years of established Windows software and user habits, as everyone should have recognized.
But giving users free upgrades to Windows 10 is a good ploy, with Microsoft aiming at around a billion users in three years. This would give developers a huge potential audience for Windows Store apps. Perhaps it just needs one of them to come up with a "killer app" for Windows Runtime to make the whole thing take off.
Sadly, Microsoft really didn't make the advantages of Windows Runtime apps clear to the general audience, which remains almost totally ignorant. As, it seems, is traditional IT, though that's still focused on Windows 7....
Microsoft's new browser may have dropped the 'Spartan' nickname, but if you open it up you'll find that, feature-wise, it's still pretty...spartan.
At the moment (Windows 10 Pro Insider Preview Build 10158), there's not a ton you can do to customize the new Edge browser to make it look and act the way you want. But you can change the browser's theme and customize your start page and your new tab page, so that's something. Here's how to make Edge bend to your will (sort of):
Change the theme
At the moment, Edge doesn't support third-party themes the way Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome do (though this might change in the future). But you can change the look of Edge by switching up Microsoft's built-in theme -- you have a whopping two choices: Light (default) or Dark.
To switch themes, click the ... button in the upper right corner of the window, go to Settings and underChoose a theme click the drop-down menu to choose Light or Dark. The light theme features traditional light grays, while the dark theme turns your toolbars and menus practically black.
Set your start page
What do you want to see when you first open up Edge? Microsoft offers four options: The MSN start page, the new tab page (the same page you see when you open a new tab), previous pages, or a specific page/pages.
To customize your start page, click the ... button, go to Settings, and navigate to the Open with section. Here, you can pick "Start page," "New tab page," "Previous pages," or "A specific page or pages."
If you choose A specific page or pages, a drop-down menu will appear with the options MSN, BingandCustom. To set your own page or set of pages, choose Custom, enter your desired URL in the textbox that appears, and click the plus symbol. To add another page, enter a URL in the textbox that appears and click the plus symbol (and so forth). To remove a page, click the X symbol next to its URL. You can rearrange the order of the pages by clicking and dragging them around.
Customize new tabs
Now that you've set up your start page, what do you want to see when you open a new tab in Edge? You have three options: Top sites and suggested content, top sites, or a blank page. Internet Explorer users might decry the lack of a custom page option (you can't pick a custom URL or have new tabs open with your home page).
To choose your new tab page, click the ... button, go to Settings, and navigate to Open new tabs withand make your selection from the drop-down menu.
If you choose Top sites and suggested content, you can further customize what you see by opening a new tab and clicking customize next to Top sites.
Here, you can choose your language, content and favorite topics, which will dictate the suggested content you see.
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