Windows 10 marks a big shift in philosophy from Windows 8. In Windows 10, you’re free to sideload your own universal apps from outside the Windows store — just as you can sideload apps on an Android phone or tablet.
With Windows 8, Microsoft copied Apple’s iPad and iPhone model, forcing you to get your apps from Microsoft’s curated store. Windows 10 shifts back to a more PC-like, Android model — you can get apps from anywhere you like.
How to Sideload Apps on Windows 10 (Including Windows 10 Phones)
This option isn’t even hidden. It’s only a few clicks or taps away, just as on Android. It’s in the new Settings app, which you can open from the Start menu.
Select “Update and security,” and then select “For developers.” Activate the “Sideload apps” option here, just as you’d activate the “Unknown sources” checkbox on an Android phone or tablet.
This option first appeared on Windows 10 Insider Preview build 10122. If you don’t see it yet, you’re running an older build.
This option is also present in the same place on Windows phones. You can now sideload apps on the phone version of Windows 10 — dubbed Windows Mobile — too.
You’ll see a warning, just as you see when enabling app sideloading on an Android phone or tablet. Microsoft doesn’t vet apps you install from elsewhere, so this does technically open a risk.
However, it’s the same risk you face when you download traditional Windows desktop programs from the Internet. You’re getting applications from outside the curated, safe app store environment. That’s your choice, and you accept the risks from doing so.
Yes, Microsoft Allows App Sideloading for Personal Use
If there was any doubt, Microsoft does say this option is intended for average Windows users who just want to sideload apps from outside the Windows Store. Never mind the wording of the Settings application, which insists that “these settings are intended for development use only.”
The official MSDN article on the subject mentions that “You can enable a device for development, or just sideloading.” To clarify, it says that “Sideloading is installing and then running or testing an app that has not been certified by the Windows store.” Microsoft also warns that “If you sideload apps, you should still only install apps from trusted sources.”
In other words, MIcrosoft has designed this option to let any PC user install apps from outside the Windows Store. If Microsoft decides they don’t want to allow emulators, BitTorrent clients, controversial games, or many of the other apps that are blocked on iOS and not allowed in the Google Play Store on Android, you can get those apps from outside the Store. No longer is Microsoft’s new development environment restricted only to software that fits the Windows Store’s policies.
How Microsoft Restricted Sideloading on Windows 8
This is a huge turnaround from Windows 8. In Windows 8, those new apps — named Metro apps at the time, and then Modern apps, Windows 8-style apps, immersive UI apps, and finally Store apps — could only be installed from the Windows Store. If an application didn’t meet the Windows Store’s guidelines, you just couldn’t install it or distribute it to users.
In this way, Microsoft embraced Apple’s closed iPhone and iPad-style app store instead of the more open, PC-style design of Android, which allows you to run any software you like on your own device.
Microsoft did have to open a few holes for sideloading on Windows 8, of course. They allowed developers with an approved developer license to sideload apps for testing, and they also allowed businesses to sideload line-of-business apps on their own computers.
Sure, you could potentially get a developer license and use it just to sideload some apps, but Microsoft warned you that they were watching your use of the license and would revoke it if you used it for another other than developing and testing your own applications:
“Microsoft can detect fraudulent use of a developer license on a registered machine. If Microsoft detects fraudulent use or another violation of the software license terms, we might revoke your developer license.”
With Windows 10, MIcrosoft has turned away from the completely closed app store model pioneered by Apple’s iPhones and iPads. Whether you’re using Windows 10 on a laptop, desktop, tablet, or phone, you have the ability to go outside the store and install any apps you like. All it takes it flipping a quick, easy-to-access setting — just like on Android.
Windows is once again an environment you control, where you can run any software you want on your own computer — whether that’s a traditional PC or a Windows smartphone.