Microsoft is still keen to get developers to build new mobile-style apps for Windows 10 that are more secure, don't get to do things that affect performance and battery life, can be uninstalled with a single click, and can potentially run on multiple devices. The hope is that developers will write their apps for the Universal Windows Platform and they'll work across PC, Windows 10 on smartphones, and Xbox, too – essentially on every screen size.
There are tools to help developers convert Android and iOS apps, and even desktop PC apps. Businesses can deploy apps from their own versions of the Windows Store. This is all handled from the Business Store Portal, which will manage software licences, centralized payment info and more.
Universal Apps and the new Windows Store
Universal apps are the latest version of what Microsoft was calling Metro, Modern and Store apps in Windows 8. Apps written for Windows 8 will still run, but with the Charms bar and the touch gestures for opening app controls gone, Microsoft has crammed in a rather awkward menu bar of app commands for any apps that haven't been rewritten for Windows 10. Apps that have been rewritten tend to use the hamburger menu, which gets annoying on a desktop PC where there is plenty of space on-screen for navigation but the hamburger menu keeps hiding the options.
Windows 10 is slowly getting more apps: there's a new Amazon app, there's a good VLC app and if you buy a wireless security camera like the Ring you'll find an app here for it. But the Store is still smaller than the iOS and Android equivalents.
In Anniversary Update, the Store gets yet another redesign, full of top picks, featured apps, lists and collections. It feels like there are almost as many ways to look through the apps as there are interesting apps to look for.
Built-in Windows 10 apps
However, the operating system's built-in apps are still improving, and Anniversary Update adds some extras. The new Photos app shows you all the pictures on your PC and in your OneDrive account, with some handy editing tools. It's fast, responsive and easy to use.
The Mail and Calendar apps don't match Outlook – either the desktop or the smartphone versions – but they're perfectly functional and competent apps.
With social media integration gone (Twitter and Facebook wouldn't play along and other social networks don't seem interested), the People app is reduced to a basic address book. You can't even select multiple contacts to delete or link them together (you can only link contacts one by one).
Sport and News stay useful, even if they still feel a little superfluous. They start quickly but you may use them most as live tiles in the Start menu. While diehard sports fans may not get enough information from the Sport app, News is a decent aggregator of stories (the page covering local news sources is especially good). The Money app is handy if you track shares or want to follow the market. You can still get the Reader app from the Store, but it's no longer installed by default.
Maps continues to improve. In Anniversary Update you can see multiple maps and locations on different tabs, view traffic, accidents and traffic cameras – and even draw routes on a map with your finger or a pen, then measure the distance or get directions (which is far easier than right clicking and dragging pushpins to get the route you want).
The Groove Music app (named for the music subscription service you might once have known as Xbox Music) certainly pushes the Groove Music Pass subscription in the new Explore section – but it also works well with music on your PC or OneDrive (it can be slow to index music on a network drive).
Groove has come on leaps and bounds since earlier versions of the app. It finally has a thumbnail media player control that pops up when you hover over the Groove icon in the task bar when there's music playing. In Anniversary Update we particularly like the Your Groove playlists that automatically create various playlists of your tracks – long tracks, tracks that are getting played a lot on the Groove service, tracks you haven't listened to in a while, tracks to help you cope with Monday mornings… they change frequently but you can save them for later.
You can't create your own smart playlists though – something even the Zune Player had and Windows Media Player can do (let alone iTunes) – and if you want to use a favorite artist as the seed for a playlist that streams as a 'radio channel' you need a Groove Pass. Even so, Groove is definitely worth trying for playing your music, if not for managing it.
Another app that's dramatically improved is Skype Preview, which is automatically installed in Anniversary Update and replaces the separate Skype Video and Messaging apps (but you can keep the desktop Skype app too).
If you tried an earlier version of this, don't despair; it now has an excellent set of features and is fast and responsive. It also has the dialler that was missing in early versions, along with video calls and chat (both of which can be one to one or group conversations).
It's very well integrated into Windows 10 – you can reply to chat messages straight from the Action Center notification and you don't need to have the app running to receive calls. You can also try out Skype bots; the Foursquare and IFTTT bots look interesting but these are all still fairly basic.
The Xbox app goes from being an advert for games from the Windows Store and a front-end for your Xbox Live account to something much more powerful. You get a Game DVR for recording clips, and this is how you stream games from your Xbox One so you can play them on your PC.
(To start streaming on your PC, you need to change a setting on your Xbox One – go to Settings > Preferences > Allow game streaming to other devices. Then select Connect > Add a device from the menu on the left side of the Xbox app on Windows 10.)
As the Windows Store is now common across PC and Xbox, this is also where you'll see the new Xbox Play Anywhere games that you can play on both PC and Xbox One.
Ink and pens are nothing new to Windows – we've had them since the Tablet PC and Windows 10 has always let you write words into the touch keyboard, a letter at a time, even with your finger. The universal OneNote app has been the main way to use ink, but Anniversary Update adds the new Ink Workspace to the task bar as a way of making ink more obvious. This brings together all the apps that work with pen and ink, with a list of recently used apps that support Ink (like Paint, Edge, Word and Maps), suggestions for the various Ink-enabled apps you can try out from the Store, plus three new tools.
Screen Sketch grabs a screenshot (no fuss, no keyboard shortcuts) and gives you the tools to draw and write all over it: pens (including a pen you can use to draw with your finger instead of a pen), highlighters, a ruler that you move around with your fingers while you draw along it with a pen, an eraser and a cropping tool, and buttons to copy or share your sketch. It's nothing you won't have seen before but it's handy to have it built-in and just a click away.
Sketchpad has the same set of tools, but without the screen grabbing, so you can draw, doodle, take notes – basically, sketch. If you don't want to be as organised as OneNote is, you can just get a piece of digital paper when you need it.
Sticky Notes are again, just what they sound like – little notes that stick onto your screen in a choice of colors. You can open them from the Start menu and then you get one note, in a normal window, that you can type or write into. Open Sticky Notes from the Ink Workspace, though, and you can only write with your pen, and you see all your notes laid out together. The best thing about Sticky Notes is that they're supposed to recognize your handwriting and turn words like tomorrow or flight numbers into information you can work with using Cortana.
That's a work in progress, but a nice idea for giving you a way to use one of Windows 10's best features with Ink. We just wish Microsoft would stop forgetting about Ink for so long that the company has to keep starting from scratch with these new tools; perhaps as more PCs with pens sell, Windows Ink will really grow up.