How to convert legacy Windows apps to Windows 10

There’s a lot of old Win32s, WinForms, and WPF code out there, and now Microsoft plans to make it easy to bring it to Windows 10’s UWP

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Platform transitions are hard, moving from silicon to silicon or operating system to operating system. But there’s one thing that’s harder: moving from one SDK to another. Microsoft is in the middle of a massive transition, away from more than a decade of Win32 code and its various user experience layers to the modern WinRT and Universal Windows Platform (UWP).

That’s a huge project, with billions of PCs and Windows installations of all versions, and with code that’s built using raw Win32, with WinForms, and with WPF. Porting it all to UWP overnight is an impossible demand on an industry that’s focused on supporting existing line-of-business software with only incremental upgrades. And although Microsoft’s Desktop Bridge allows some integration with Windows 10 features, it doesn’t bring them back to software written for Windows 7 or take advantage of new user interface components that have no equivalents in older Windows SDKs.

Improving the UWP desktop UI

With much of the work on delivering the core UWP platform complete, Microsoft is now working on ways of back-porting its features to older SDKs, with the aim of bringing what it calls “modern applications” and desktop applications closer together. Part of that process is a new set of UWP controls that’s more desktop focused, along with ways of embedding those controls in older code and with new deployment models that make it easier to roll out new versions of older applications.

UWP’s window layout inherits much of its control design and spacing spacing from the tablet-first Windows 8 WinRT. With Windows 10’s focus on desktop applications, that’s led to applications with a lot of wasted screen real estate. What might have worked well on a single screen on an 8-inch tablet doesn’t work on a 28-inch monitor, let alone on a 15-inch laptop. If you compare Windows 10’s bundled Mail app with Outlook 2016, you see how much information is lost in UWP layouts.

With the fall 2018 release of Windows 10 Build 1809, a new standard UWP view increases information density by 15 percent. It’s not a huge change, but enough to add a couple more email messages to the Mail list view. And it’s not the only option; there’s also a compact view for UWP controls that lets you add even more information to a screen. You still get access to all the touch and pen affordances in less-dense UWP layouts, but at the same time you can start to replicate the layouts that were possible in older Windows UIs.

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