Microsoft Abandons OS-Dependent Apps for the Web

Look Ma, no OS required!

Key Takeaways

  • One Outlook will be the same on Mac, Windows, and the web.
  • It will use Electron-like 'web technologies' to 'inspire innovation.'
  • Microsoft abandoning OS-dependent apps is a big deal.
Team of business people in a meeting.
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Microsoft is turning Outlook into a web app that will run on both Windows and the Mac. It will replace the Windows mail and calendar apps, and be called One Outlook. It is a terrible idea.

Software developers love web apps, because they can write one application, and it can run on any computer. That’s because they essentially run inside a custom web-browser. Users, on the other hand, hate them, because they never look or feel right, they are often slow, and they are bloated by design. Mac users especially prefer apps designed to use all the built-in features of the computer. 

"I think OS-native benefits are less important on Windows," software developer and tech CTO Martin Algesten told Lifewire via Twitter. "Microsoft doesn't have the tight hardware integration that delivers the smoothness of Apple's trackpad, inertia scrolling, sound routing, energy conservation, etc. The difference for a Windows user won't be that big."

One Outlook

Microsoft turning Outlook into an Electron-type app is a big deal. It’s an operating system vendor, and it’s saying that OS (operating system)-dependent apps aren’t important. Electron is a programming platform where apps essentially run inside a web browser on your computer.

Take Slack, for example. On the Mac, it doesn’t use standard keyboard shortcuts, and if you right-click on your text, you won’t see the usual Mac contextual menu. These apps are also resource hogs, spawning several invisible apps in addition to the main one, all of which consume more than their fair share of RAM and CPU. 

Still not worried? Then try this: Over at Microsoft’s site, you can "learn about the ‘One Outlook’ vision—inspiring agile innovation, providing IT with tools to meet security and compliance standards, and offering users more value, faster."

Microsoft isn’t using Electron, but the principles of a web app remain. It won’t look or feel right, although Microsoft does plan to at least tie it into existing features.

Someone using a smartphone, tablet, and computer.
Nipitphon Na Chiangmai / EyeEm / Getty Images

"I’m told the app will feature native OS integrations with support for things like offline storage, share targets, notifications, and more," writes Windows Central’s Zac Bowden.

"I understand that it's one of Microsoft's goals to make the new [Outlook app] feel as native to the OS as possible while remaining universal across platforms by basing the app on the Outlook website."

If the basis for the whole design is the Outlook website, that gives you a clue as to Microsoft’s priorities: the web is a more important platform than the computers we use to access it. And remember, this isn’t just an app maker like Slack taking shortcuts to avoid developing proper apps for each platform. It’s Microsoft, the maker of one of the most important platforms, Windows. 

This trend is worrying, if you love the computer platform you use, and if you picked it precisely because of the user experience it offers. Now that experience is being usurped, one app at a time, Still, perhaps nobody really cares in the end.

"Not sure it makes much difference," says Algesten." The people that argue that Android, Linux Desktop, or Windows is 'just as good' as iOS/macOS are generally not sophisticated enough to appreciate the difference. For them it might as well be just a big web browser."

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