Oh dear, Universal Windows Platform: Microsoft says 'no plans to release WinUI 3 for UWP in a stable way'

Focus is on persuading desktop developers to refresh applications for Windows 11

Microsoft's Universal Windows Platform (UWP), once touted as the future of Windows development, will not be getting updated for WinUI 3 according to current plans, software giant said in a community call.

The WinUI Community Call yesterday was conducted on Google's YouTube platform "because Teams wasn't always accessible/allowed in some work environments," said WinUI Program Manager Ryan Demopoulos in the chat. The session began with a quick definition of terms – sorely needed in the confusing world of Microsoft's user interface frameworks for Windows.

"WinUI is the native UI platform for Windows 10 and Windows 11," said Microsoft program manager Ana Wishnoff. She explained that "WinUI 2 is the 2nd generation of the native UX stack in Windows. It's built for UWP apps. WinUI 3 is a new 3rd generation of the native UX stack in Windows. It consolidates the UX technologies previously built into Windows into a single decoupled framework that ships as part of the Windows App SDK, previously known as Project Reunion."

As the docs explain, WinUI 2 has some limitations versus WinUI 3. WinUI 2 does not support .NET 5.0, only an older variety of .NET called .NET Native. It does not support the Chromium-based WebView2 control, but only the old Edge-based WebView 1.x control.

Developers invested in UWP and therefore WinUI 2.x, cannot port easily to WinUI 3 in desktop applications, since the variety of XAML (the XML language used to define the layout) is different, and the UWP application model is different from the desktop application model.

At one time, the story was that UWP developers would not miss out, since WinUI 3 would be available both for desktop and UWP. This was part of the "reunion." That plan has now changed, even though the docs referenced above still say "WinUI 3 support for production-ready UWP apps is currently in preview."

In the community call, Demopoulos said in the chat that "we have no plans right now to release WinUI 3 for UWP in a stable way. We do have experimental builds of this, and plan to maintain that in case we ever decide to target UWP."

"When we started WinUI 3 the plan was basically to make a hard successor to WinUI 2. Our plans hanged, and we're parallel developing now," he added. "We'll be parallel developing for a long time, and intend on having a good story for UWP developers near and long term."

This kind of language will not be reassuring to UWP developers, since it likely indicates that the company's main energy will be going into WinUI 3 while keeping WinUI 2.x somewhat up to date until there are few enough users that it can be frozen. Microsoft has just released WinUI 2.6 and now promises a WinUI 2.7 either at the end of this year or in the first quarter of 2022, presumably to enable UWP applications to have reasonable support for Windows 11, but the long-term future of UWP now looks bleak.

The latest 2021 WinUI roadmap: UWP gets WinUI 2.x, not WinUI 3

The latest 2021 WinUI roadmap: UWP gets WinUI 2.x, not WinUI 3

While many developers prefer the desktop model, UWP does have some advantages. "UWP has two benefits, sandbox and the ability to run on other Windows devices, Xbox, Hololens" said one, while another said that ".NET Native is really nice against reverse engineering, that's why we still use UWP."

During the call, Demopoulos was asked about why WinUI 3 support was no longer planned for UWP. "Our focus is on trying to reach out to the existing very large community of Win32 desktop developers," he said, "who haven't had any good way to access … fluent design and a lot of the controls that WinUI provided. We are still investing in WinUI 2 and will be for quite a while."

Another way of looking at this is that Microsoft tried to get Windows developers to adopt its UWP model but too many of them refused – for all sorts of reasons. The result is that Redmond has had to backtrack, unfortunately at the expense of the keen minority who did adopt it. ®

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