Among the many announcements at its Build 2016 developer conference last week, Microsoft revealed the Desktop App Converter, the main component in its Project Centennial bridge to turn Win32 desktop applications into Universal Windows Platform apps.
The company has now released its first preview of the Desktop App Converter, which you can download from its site here.
On its Dev Center site, Microsoft explains exactly what the Desktop App Converter is designed for:
UWP using Desktop Conversion extensions is a bridge that enables you to convert your classic desktop application (like Win32, Windows Forms, and WPF) or game to a Universal Windows Platform (UWP) app or game. For more info, see Guide to UWP apps. After conversion, your classic desktop app is packaged, serviced, and deployed in the form of a UWP app package (an .appx or an .appxbundle) targeting Windows 10 Desktop.
There are two parts to the technology that enables desktop apps to be converted to UWP packages. The first is the Desktop App Converter, which takes your existing binaries and repackages them as a UWP package. Your code is still the same, it's just packaged differently. The second piece comprises runtime technologies in the Windows Anniversary update that enable a UWP package to have executables that run as full trust instead of in an app container. This technology also gives a converted app a package identity, which is required to use some UWP APIs.
Microsoft also highlights some of the key benefits of the tool:
- Your app's installation experience is much smoother for your customers. You can deploy it to computers using sideloading (see Sideload LOB apps in Windows 10), and it leaves no trace behind after being uninstalled. Longer term, you'll also be able to publish your app to the Windows Store.
- Because your converted app has package identity, you can call more UWP APIs, even from the full-trust partition, than you could before.
- At your own pace, you can add UWP features to your app's package, like a XAML user-interface, live tile updates, UWP background tasks, app services, and many more. All of the functionality available to any other UWP app is available to your app.
- If you choose to move all of your app's functionality out of the full-trust partition of the app and into the app container partition, then your app will be able to run on any Windows 10 device.
- As a UWP app, your app is able to do the things it could do as a classic desktop app. It interacts with a virtualized view of the registry and file system that's indistinguishable from the actual registry and file system.
- Your app can participate in the Windows Store's built-in licensing and automatic update facilities. Automatic update is a highly reliable and efficient mechanism, because only the changed parts of files are downloaded.
Be aware that in order to use the Desktop App Converter, you must be running the Enterprise Edition of the latest Windows 10 'Anniversary Update' preview build 14316.
Update: There was a bit of confusion as to whether the Desktop App Converter is available for only Enterprise Edition or other versions as well. As it turns out, there is a bug when running it on Windows 10 Pro, so that feature is coming soon.