How to Turn Websites into Desktop Apps in Windows

Transforming your favorite websites into desktop apps comes with real benefits.

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Many web developers today don’t see a tangible benefit in developing Windows apps for their websites since users can access them via a web browser. If you prefer to do things differently, you can easily turn these websites into desktop apps.

Advantages of Desktop Apps

A desktop app takes you to the website faster, and you can conveniently add its shortcut to the Taskbar, Start menu, or desktop. Websites within an app container also take up the entire window frame or, optionally, the entire screen without having any distracting elements like a browser toolbar or address bar.

1. Microsoft Edge

Microsoft Edge offers the fastest way to transform websites into apps, as it comes preinstalled with Windows. When you install a website as an app, Edge will separate the website from the browser, create its own icon and instance on the Taskbar, and remove the toolbar so that the website looks more like an app. In addition, Edge will still power the entire app so that you can use any enabled extensions and auto-fill forms with any data you saved.

  1. In the Edge browser, visit the website you want to transform into an app.
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  1. Click the horizontal three-dot icon on the Edge toolbar (or press Alt + F).
  2. Go to “Apps” and click on “Install this site as an app.”
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  1. Change the name of the app if you want and click “Install” to add the app to the Edge apps list.
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  1. Configure the app permissions as needed, and click “Allow” to apply those changes.
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Pros

  • Quick and easy to set up
  • Works with any website
  • Convenient app menu for launching any converted apps
  • Has access to a sidebar, allowing you to perform Web searches
  • Automatic updates

Cons

  • Consumes more memory
  • Limited to a single session
  • No syncing support

2. Google Chrome

If you do not want Microsoft Edge to power your apps, you can try Google Chrome instead, as the steps to converting are similar.

  1. In Chrome, visit the website you want to turn into an app.
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  1. Click the triple-dot icon on the Chrome toolbar (or press Alt + F).
  2. From there, go to “More tools” and click on “Create shortcut.”
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  1. Change the name of the app if you want, tick the “Open as window” checkbox, and click “Create” to finalize the conversion.
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Tip: this is also the easiest way to create a Gmail desktop app.

Pros

  • Quick and easy to set up
  • Supports Chrome extensions and auto-fill for forms
  • Works with any website
  • Apps sync across desktop Chrome installations through your Google account
  • Cleaner dedicated apps page with larger icons

Cons

  • Consumes more memory
  • Limited to a single session

3. WebCatalog

WebCatalog is a third-party app containing a library of popular websites that you can install as desktop apps. Unlike Microsoft Edge, every app is self-contained in its own browser engine called Photon.

Photon runs on the Chromium-based framework, Electron, which isolates the WebCatalog apps from each other and other browsers while maintaining good compatibility with most websites.

This makes WebCatalog more secure, as any potential compromises on your default browser won’t affect any of the WebCatalog apps since each of the apps has its own cookies, cache and unique sessions. WebCatalog also gives you the option of creating multiple sessions of a website without requiring you to switch browser profiles.

  1. Once you’ve installed the program, open WebCatalog and use the search bar to look for a website you wish to install as an app.
  2. Click “Install” under the website’s icon and let WebCatalog create the app. WebCatalog will also add a shortcut in the “Apps” section of the Start menu.
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  1. If WebCatalog doesn’t list the website you wish to convert in its catalog, click the “Create Custom App” tile to bring up a dialog where you can customize the app.
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  1. Name the app and enter the website’s address in the URL field. Specify an icon of the website using any of the options below the URL field and click “Install” to set up the app.
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Pros

  • Built-in catalog lets you discover new websites and services
  • Isolated sessions
  • No Chrome or Edge tracking
  • Customizable interface
  • Automatic updates
  • Built-in ad and tracker blocker in the full version

Cons

  • Consumes more disk space than Edge or Chrome apps
  • Free version limited to 10 apps and two sessions per app

4. With Nativefier

Like WebCatalog, Nativefier relies on Electron to place websites in isolated containers for better security. However, Nativefier doesn’t offer any graphical user interface or catalog, forcing you to use the command line for converting sites to apps.

The lack of bells and whistles makes Nativefier a good choice for computers with low RAM. Since there is no central hub tying the Nativefier-powered apps together, you get full freedom to place these apps and can copy or move them to a portable storage device. Nativefier is also open source, and you can make as many apps as you would like without paying extra.

Nativefier requires the most steps to install, but once installed, you can make Nativefier-powered apps in a single step from the command line.

  1. Install the latest LTS version of Node.js to your PC.

Note: do not change any settings in the installer.

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  1. Launch the Start menu or Windows Search and search for “Terminal.”
  2. Click “Run as Administrator” on the search results’ side panel to open the Windows Terminal window with admin privileges.
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  1. Click the small arrow pointing downward on the Windows Terminal title bar and go to “Settings” (or press Ctrl + ,).
Websites Into Pc Apps Settings Terminal
  1. In “Startup,” set the “Default Profile” to “Command Prompt,” as this step will simplify the process of making Nativefier apps.
Websites Into Pc Apps Default Profile
  1. Click “Save” to apply the changes.
  2. Press the small “+” icon on the title bar to open a Command Prompt window in Terminal.
Websites Into Pc Apps New Window Terminal
  1. Enter the following command in Terminal to install Nativefier.
    npm install -g nativefier
  2. Wait for Node Package Manager to download the dependencies Nativefier requires to work.
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  1. Launch Windows Explorer and browse to the folder location where you wish to place the Nativefier apps.
  2. Right-click the folder while holding the Shift key and click “Open in Terminal.”
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  1. To create a basic Nativefier app, enter this command using the following format:
nativefier --name "Website Name" https://www.websitename.com

Note: replace “Website Name” between the quotes with the name of the website you are converting and replace “websitename.com” with the site’s address. Wait for Nativefier to download any required files and build the app.

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  1. Go back to the Explorer window and open the folder containing your newly created app.
  2. Launch the only executable file there, then pin the app to the Taskbar or Start menu the same way you would do to any other Windows app.
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Pros

  • Creates as many apps and isolated sessions as you would like
  • No Chrome or Edge tracking
  • Light on resources
  • Completely portable
  • Open-source architecture

Cons

  • No graphical user interface
  • Apps must be individually updated manually
  • Some sites like Google services have compatibility issues
  • Consumes more disk space than Edge or Chrome apps

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I try all solutions on the same computer?

Yes! Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, WebCatalog, and Nativefier can all co-exist in Windows. In fact, you can have four different apps, with each containing the same website with its own separate sessions and cookies.

How can I build a Nativefier app with custom settings?

Open Terminal and enter this command to list all of Nativefier’s command line parameters to further customize the app: nativefier --help.

How do I see all of the converted apps I made?

In Microsoft Edge, click on the three-dot icon on the toolbar, go to “Apps” and click “Manage apps.” In Google Chrome, click the “Apps” button on the “Favorites” bar. If you cannot see the “Favorites” bar or the icon, go to the following Web address instead: chrome://apps/. To see all the apps you made using WebCatalog, launch WebCatalog from the Start menu and click “Installed” on the left sidebar. Nativefier doesn’t keep track of the apps you made.

Image credit: Uxwing. All screenshots by John Ruiz

John Ruiz
John Ruiz

John is a technology writer with more than 12 years of freelance writing experience. He first got into computers learning MS-DOS 3.30 and has used every single version of Windows including Longhorn.

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