Windows 8.1 latent apps

Microsoft reports it has released Windows 8.1 to manufacturing (RTM), but is not supplying Windows 8.1 to anyone but original equipment manufacturers (OEM) before the general availability date. At this stage, Microsoft should be cooperating with manufacturers to issue specialized patches for device-specific problems. I hope it is so, because I have spotted a latent app bug in preview version of Windows 8.1.

Preparing to uninstall

Preparing to uninstall

Today, I am going to use my right of uninstalling Metro-style apps in Windows 8.1 Pro and uninstall them all. I have selected all installed apps and I am poised to press the Uninstall button. What do you think is going to happen?

Latent apps

The first thing to notice is that the uninstallation confirmation dialog box contains far less apps than I have selected: I have selected all 28 apps but the confirmation dialog box contains only 21. So, I am going to go ahead and press the uninstall button.

Seven apps have survived

Seven apps have survived

Seven apps survive: Camera, Desktop, Internet Explorer, PC Settings, Photos, SkyDrive and Store. Mind you, there is a way of removing Internet Explorer via Control Panel but that requires administrative privileges and that is a system-wide removal.

Apart from not being uninstalled the way a Metro-style app does, these seven show other unique features as well: They do not show up on Windows Store dashboard, they rely on shortcuts to display their tiles (just as desktop apps do in Windows 8 and previous versions of Windows) and their program files are not stored along with other Metro-style apps. (Read more on these aspects below.) Finally, if you install Classic Shell, a third-party app for Windows, its start menu shows two main categories: Programs and Apps. Metro-style apps go into Apps category and desktop apps go into Programs. But these seven go into Programs instead of Apps.

I am sure an actual user of Windows 8.1 wouldn’t dream of uninstalling Desktop or Store. But how about SkyDrive, Photos and Camera? Are they so critical? PC Settings is especially something you might want to throw away. After all, what’s the point of having two Control Panels, especially when one is deficient?

Where are they?

Shortcuts of the surviving apps

Shortcuts of the surviving apps

As mentioned earlier, these seven apps rely on traditional shortcut files to put render tiles on Start screen. (Ordinary Metro-style apps don’t.) Deleting their shortcuts causes them not to appear at all. Except Internet Explorer, all shortcuts are located in C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs, and thus they are shared with all user accounts. There is also a Search shortcut which does not show up in the Start screen. Internet Explorer’s shortcut, on the other hand, is located in %AppData%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs meaning that there is one per every user.

I have been able to use these shortcuts to trace the program folders of the latent apps:

  1. Camera is located in C:\Windows\Camera. Its program file is called Camera.exe. (You may not see the “exe” part unless you have previously ordered Windows to reveal filename extensions for known file types.)
  2. Desktop is a special shortcut that refers to a Windows Shell object instead of a file on disk. That has always been the case with Windows desktop. So, please, try not to get it deleted; recreating it would be troublesome.
  3. Photos and SkyDrive are both located in C:\Windows\FileManager. Their program files are respectively called PhotosApp.exe and FileManager.exe.
  4. PC Settings is invoked by the same executable file that invokes Control Panel, i.e. C:\Windows\System32\Control.exe. If you create a shortcut to this file and put it in the Start screen, the shortcut would always invoke PC Settings instead of Control Panel. On Desktop, it will always open Control Panel. The Control Panel shortcut in the Start menu that opens the Control Panel points to a Windows Shell object instead of a file on disk.
  5. Store is located in C:\Windows\WinStore but it does not have an exe file. Its main program file is an HTML file called WinStore.htm. It is a known fact that Metro-style apps can be made with HTML and JavaScript.
  6. Internet Explorer is invoked by C:\Program Files\Internet Explorer\iexplore.exe and it is a hybrid app that can run both as a desktop or Metro-style app. Internet Explorer’s shortcut, however, receives special treatments. If you put two Internet Explorer shortcuts there, only one of them is displayed. Special parameters stored in the shortcut indicate whether it launches a Metro-style app or a desktop app.

Notice that neither of the programs that I uninstalled had a shortcut. Those who have studied Windows 8 development know that Windows 8 relies on additional methods of determining what tile to draw on Start screen and how to do it.

Returning from the dead

Some apps are back from the dead and decided to drop by...

Some apps are back from the dead and decided to drop by…

After a reboots (or just logging out and back in), I observed tiles of uninstalled apps returning. Clicking on them, I found them be in perfect working condition. They could not have come from the Internet because my virtual machine is disconnected from the net. There is only one explanation for this: They were never uninstalled; and when I say uninstalled, I mean completely removed from the system.

Having followed the Immersive cache, I discovered that Windows 8.1’s bundled Metro-style apps are installed in C:\Program Files\WindowsApps. This folder is hidden and protected by special NTFS permissions that prevent ordinary users from accessing it. To see its contents, you need to run Command Prompt or Windows PowerShell with administrative privileges. I tried installing a Background Wallpapers HD app and a Google Search app from Windows Store and both also ended up there. After uninstalling them, Windows moved them to a subfolder called “Deleted”. I suspect there is a caching policy that specifies how long they’ll remain there before being wiped out. Yet, bundled Windows apps seem to be exempt from this rule. They can be updated, but the updates occupy a different folder. Uninstalling updated versions moves their folders to “Deleted” subfolder but the original version remains. In summary, what comes with Windows is never truly deleted.

WindowsApps folder

WindowsApps folder

This behavior is quite to the contrary of what I have been told before. I have been told that Windows 8.0 apps are installed on a per-user basis; that if three users install the same app, the app would literally occupy three times the disk space. If this is a deduplication feature, it is a welcome feature. Nevertheless, when I uninstall an app, I do not expect to see it crop back up in my Start screen unless I explicitly ask.

In general, I hope Microsoft fixes this issue by the time we see the final Windows 8.1.


Posted on 31 August 2013, in Software Review and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Lol, they’re still around in Win10. Forced app on an OS is just mobile bloatware making its way into my content creating PC. No Thanks, sticking with Win7 and/or Linux if need arises.

  1. Pingback: Windows 8.1 Keeps restoring Metro apps - Page 2

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