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Microsoft Launches Windows 8.1 Portal Customization Technology

Microsoft announced on Friday that it has "launched" a custom portal technology for organizations called "Windows Apportals."

Apportals (pronounced "app portals") is a Windows 8.1 and Windows 8 portal-creation technology for setting up specialized desktop views within organizations. Users get a conglomeration of links, Windows Store Apps, Windows 7 desktop apps and "embedded" Web apps in a single customized view (called a "Hub View"), based on the user's role in an organization.

Apportals are designed for use by healthcare, sales or various distributed organizations, according to Microsoft's announcement. Any app that can run on the Desktop interface of Windows 8 can be added to the portal. The Apportals technology isn't well known, although it was "first launched in July 2013 for Windows 8," according to a Microsoft spokesperson, via e-mail.

Under the Apportals concept, organizations create an immovable set of Live Tile links (which are called "Grid Tiles" by Microsoft) under various groupings. The technology requires having XAML and C# programming skills, as well as Active Directory and Windows Communication Foundation Data Services experience, to set up the portals.

[Click on image for larger view.] Use of Active Directory in Apportals. Source: Microsoft's "Building a Windows Apportal" document.

User access to the apps and views is controlled through Active Directory. That circumstance also allows organizations to filter the data access based on factors such as the user's job role, department or geographical location, according to Microsoft's announcement.

Microsoft offered few details about Apportals in its announcement today, although documentation is available here (document access involves a sign-up process). Microsoft is planning to talk more about Apportals next week when it kicks off its Worldwide Partner Conference in Washington, D.C.

It's possible for developers with the requisite skills to create Apportals, although doing so requires having a Windows Developer License. Customization of Apportals is a business service offered by both Microsoft and its partners. For instance, Microsoft's "Building a Windows Apportal" document suggests that Microsoft is involved in offering planning services to organizations in scoping out Apportals requirements, as well as in building prototypes.

One partner mentioned in Microsoft's Apportals announcement is Bellevue, Wash.-based Inviso, a provider of business intelligence and software asset management services. Apportals services can be obtained through Inviso or Microsoft Consulting Services, according to the spokesperson. "Since Apportals can integrate anything that runs on Windows, a lot of customers are using them to build rich business intelligence solutions, which generally require a lot of integration work," the spokesperson clarified.

Microsoft's six "World of Marketing" demos, available on YouTube here, include presentations about integrating Apportals with business intelligence capabilities. Examples include linking up Microsoft Dynamics and Power BI applications.

Apportals consist of XAML files that can be housed in a data store on the customer's premises or they can be hosted via Microsoft Azure. They get created using the Windows Apportal Prototype Generator, which is a Windows 8 application. The Windows Apportal Prototype Generator app is automatically linked with an organization’s Active Directory via the Windows 8 runtime, according to the Microsoft spokesperson. Microsoft's document claims that "Apportals are an OS-level construct, [so] there are no fragile API calls to impact stability."

Apps added to Apportals have to be "sideloaded" by an organization to a corporate app store. Typically, sideloading apps requires using either the Windows 8.1 Enterprise edition or Windows 8.1 Pro devices or purchasing security certificate keys from Microsoft (Microsoft describes the details here). However, Microsoft's document didn't list the software or licensing requirements for using Apportals. Costs weren't described either. Those details may get disclosed next week.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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