Overview of app development options

This article contains all the information you need to get started building apps for the Windows desktop environment.

When you want to create a new app for Windows 11 or Windows 10, the first decision you make is what type of app to build. The Windows and .NET development tools in Visual Studio provide several different types of apps you can build, each with their own Visual Studio project types and different strengths. Each app type includes an app model that defines the lifecycle of the app, a default UI framework, and access to a comprehensive set APIs for using Windows features.

Create a WinUI 3 app

The Windows UI Library (WinUI) 3 is the latest and recommended user interface (UI) framework for Windows desktop apps, including managed apps that use C# and .NET and native apps that use C++ with the Win32 API. By incorporating the Fluent Design System into all experiences, controls, and styles, WinUI provides consistent, intuitive, and accessible experiences using the latest UI patterns.

WinUI 3 is available as part of the Windows App SDK. The Windows App SDK provides a unified set of APIs and tools that can be used in a consistent way by any C++ Win32 or C# .NET app on a broad set of target Windows OS versions.

If you have already installed the required developer tools, you are ready to create your first WinUI 3 app.

Other app types

For more information about the app types you can choose from, see the following tabs.

Win32 desktop apps (also sometimes called classic desktop apps) are the original app type for native Windows applications that require direct access to Windows and hardware. This makes this the app type of choice for applications that need the highest level of performance and direct access to system hardware.

Using the Win32 API with C++ makes it possible to achieve the highest levels of performance and efficiency by taking more control of the target platform with unmanaged code than is possible on a managed runtime environment like WinRT and .NET. However, exercising such a level of control over your application's execution requires greater care and attention to get right, and trades development productivity for runtime performance.

Here are a few highlights of what the Win32 API and C++ offers to enable you to build high-performance applications.

  • Hardware-level optimizations, including tight control over resource allocation, object lifetimes, data layout, alignment, byte packing, and more.
  • Access to performance-oriented instruction sets like SSE and AVX through intrinsic functions.
  • Efficient, type-safe generic programming by using templates.
  • Efficient and safe containers and algorithms.
  • DirectX, in particular Direct3D and DirectCompute (note that UWP also offers DirectX interop).
  • Use C++/WinRT to create modern desktop Win32 apps with first-class access to Windows Runtime (WinRT) APIs.

You also have access to modern Windows platform features and APIs provided by the Windows App SDK. For more information, see Modernize your desktop apps.