Microsoft Store App Management Capabilities Expected To Arrive This Year
Microsoft on Thursday outlined its Microsoft Store on Windows plans, and how its app distribution scheme will work with the various management tools used by organizations.
By "Microsoft Store on Windows," the announcement appears to be referring to the Microsoft Store app that's used for downloading and updating applications. This app works with the "new Microsoft Store," a Microsoft-maintained app repository that was described as launching back in October.
The new Microsoft Store app repository is notable in being able to house other (non-Microsoft) app repositories, such as Amazon and Epic Games app stores. It also can house Android apps, plus older Win32 (Windows 7-era) apps. The new Microsoft Store supports various app frameworks, namely .NET, Universal Windows Platform, Xamarin, Electron, React Native, Java and Progressive Web Apps.
Microsoft Store Plans
The Thursday announcement promised that the Microsoft Store app repository will enable "full access to search for and deploy all the apps that are available to you through the Microsoft Store on Windows." Microsoft is planning to release those search and deployment capabilities in "the second half of this calendar year (subject to change)."
The announcement also described plans to enable so-called "private repositories" in the Microsoft Store, too. These repositories could deliver things like in-house business apps, as well as apps made by a developer for a specific company. However, the private repositories additions currently are a work in progress, with expectations for an "early 2023" release.
Microsoft Store and App Management Tools
In essence, organizations are getting a somewhat new way to distribute apps to end users. The process involves the Microsoft Store app repository for housing the apps, the Microsoft Store on Windows app for downloading the apps, various management tools and a so-called Company Portal app for distributing the apps to end users.
The free Company Portal app is used by organizations for the actual discovery and installation of the Microsoft store apps permitted in their organizations. End users can use the Company Portal app to install the apps themselves. Devices need to be enrolled to use the Company Portal app, per Microsoft's FAQ on Microsoft Store experiences, dated July 28.
Microsoft's Thursday announcement mostly described the integration of the Microsoft Store app with Microsoft Endpoint Manager, which is Microsoft's subscription-based suite of management tools that includes Configuration Manager and Microsoft Intune. It's the Intune mobile management solution that's really being used with the Microsoft Store app, but it's also possible for IT pros to use a third-party (non-Microsoft) mobile management solution with the Microsoft Store app.
Microsoft had also previously indicated that organizations could manage Microsoft Store apps and updates via its Windows Package Manager command-line tool, a free alternative to using a commercial mobile management solution.
The FAQ offered a somewhat murky description on the use of the Windows Package Manager with the Company Portal app, as follows:
An Intune license is required to take advantage of the new functionality and to continue to deploy Store apps directly to user and device groups. The Windows Package Manager platform is openly available to enable custom app installation apps and websites to be built.
It's not clear if that statement above means that Windows Package Manager is an optimal choice for organizations or not. However, the FAQ is loaded with quite a lot of useful answers for IT pros facing Microsoft's coming app distribution management changes.
The Microsoft Store plans are somewhat acute for IT pros since they will be losing the ability to use the current Microsoft Store for Business and Microsoft Store for Education solutions for distributing apps to end users. The use of those Microsoft Store app repositories will come to an end, starting in the first quarter of 2023, Microsoft has previously announced.
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.