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Microsoft Starting To Enable New Windows Store App Distributions via Intune

Microsoft on Wednesday offered a few more details for IT pros about its Windows Package Manager and Microsoft Intune integration, enabling app distributions through the "new Windows Store."

The details, as shown in a "Microsoft Mechanics" video, are important for organizations that are facing Microsoft's end-of-support deadline for the currently used Microsoft Store for Business and Microsoft Store for Education application distribution schemes. Microsoft had explained back in July that the "retirement" of those stores would be expected to occur in "Q1 2023."

Instead of using the Microsoft Stores for Business and Education to distribute apps to end users, Microsoft wants IT pros to use the Windows Package Manager with Microsoft Intune or another "unified endpoint management" solution. Microsoft devised those tools to work with a "new Microsoft Store," which broadens app distribution possibilities.

Alternatively, organizations can just use Windows Package Manager via its "winget" command-line interface. Using Winget is a free option for organizations, but it only works as a standalone tool when organizations are distributing free applications.

The use of Intune or another unified endpoint solution with the Windows Package Manager adds a graphical user interface for distributing apps. It's a bit more user friendly.

New Windows Store Integration Milestones
Microsoft's Wednesday announcement, besides offering a demo on how to actually use the winget tool, conveyed some progress news.

First, the Windows Package Manager now appears to be integrated with Microsoft Intune, Microsoft's endpoint and apps management service. That integration goal had been described by Joe Lurie, senior product manager for Microsoft Intune, in Microsoft's July announcement, with an expected completion date of "H2 2022."

In the Microsoft Mechanics video, Jason Githens, principal group program manager for Microsoft Windows, said that the Intune integration with the Windows Package Manager is getting rolled out now. Organizations will know they have access to it if they see the new Microsoft Store app type appear within the Microsoft Endpoint Manager Admin Center console.

"Once you see the new Microsoft Store app type appear in your tenant, you can follow the steps I demonstrated to start adding your apps to Intune," Githens said.

The apps added to Intune actually stay in the new Windows Store. Here's how Githens explained it:

Importantly, this app package remains where it is and isn't getting imported into your Intune storage. When this app is later installed on a device, Intune is instructing that device to install directly from its defined Microsoft Store location. So it's not moving into your Intune storage allocation.

That aspect also means that that end users will typically get the latest versions of the distributed apps housed in the new Windows Store. Lurie had explained back in July that application updates through the new Microsoft Store would occur automatically, but just for MSIX apps:

MSIX apps from the Microsoft Store will still be automatically updated. Other installer types or MSIX apps distributed directly from Microsoft Endpoint Manager can be updated by Microsoft Endpoint Manager.

Other news that Microsoft seemed to be describing in its Wednesday announcement is the ability to distribute Win-32 applications. That capability also appears to be rolling out.

"It [the new Windows Store] is also expanding to Win-32 based applications, such as in the MSI and EXE packages," Githens stated. "And for your apps that are not in the store, you can easily import your LOB app packages into Intune."

Transition Advice
Microsoft's new app distribution scheme may be causing headaches for IT pros because they soon will have to abandon an approach that worked fine before.

For reference, Microsoft is referring IT pros facing this transition to the URL, https://aka.ms/StoreTransition, which currently defaults back to Lurie's July article.

Lurie's July article includes a FAQ section, plus Microsoft answered some questions from concerned readers in the comments section of it, which may be helpful.

A couple of IT pros have recently described their lab testing work with winget-powered Intune app distributions. For instance, see this description by Simon Skotheimsvik, a senior cloud consultant at CloudWay, as well as this one by writer Jitesh Kumar.

Sam McNeil, an education solution specialist with Microsoft, described Microsoft's winget as being reminiscent of the "Advanced Package Tool from Debian," in a blog post.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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