Deploying and managing Windows Store apps

The fundamental dividing line between Microsoft Windows 7 and its successors is the ability of those successors to run a new class of apps, optimized for touch and mobile use and distributed through the Windows Store, in addition to familiar Windows desktop programs.

Windows 10 expands this capability in two important dimensions, thanks to the availability of a unified Windows core that runs on a broad range of devices. The Windows 10 universal app platform allows developers to build apps that can run unmodified on all those devices, from phones and small tablets to PCs and the Xbox game console. It also allows those apps to be delivered in a single package, through a single store, to all those devices.

In the Windows 10 Technical Preview, this new, unified store exists as a beta alongside the old Windows Store. Although you can see hints of what will be available in the new store, the real benefits won’t be available until Windows 10 is released.

For IT pros whose concerns focus on deploying, managing, and securing enterprise apps, the most interesting developments are still to come. Eventually, Windows 10 will include several new features designed to make the store more useful for delivering universal Windows apps and traditional desktop applications in a managed environment through secure business portals.

Because of the fluid nature of the new Windows Store, this chapter is brief and forward-looking.

Introducing the new Windows Store

Although there are superficial similarities between the new Windows 10 Store and its Windows 8.1 predecessor, a closer look reveals big changes.

For starters, the new store offers more than just apps. Figure 5-1 shows the Store (Beta) app in the April update to the Windows 10 Technical Preview, with categories for buying digital content, such as games, movies, TV shows, and music alongside apps.

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FIGURE 5-1 The updated Windows Store offers excellent search capabilities and access to more than just apps.

The new Store also includes a more detailed summary of the current status of downloads and app installs, with the capability to pause, resume, and cancel downloads. Figure 5-2 shows this feature in action.

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FIGURE 5-2 A menu just to the left of the settings icon lets you click to view and manage current app downloads and installs from the Store.

In Windows 8.1, the public Windows store is the primary means for users to acquire apps, using a Microsoft account and various payment options. With the new Windows 10 Store, enterprise options are considerably richer.

Before we get to that story, though, it’s useful to discuss the differences between apps written for Windows 8.1 and the new universal apps.

How universal apps work

Universal apps in Windows 10 have the following characteristics in common with the first generation of modern apps, written for Windows 8 and Windows 8.1:

  • Apps are installed on a per-user basis, using a simple installation mechanism that does not require local administrative rights.
  • Every app has an application tile, which can be programmed to update dynamically, making it a live tile. Apps can also trigger notifications and alerts, using standard APIs.
  • Apps must adhere to a strict set of APIs that prevent them from directly accessing system resources. That limits an app’s ability to perform many functions that are commonplace for desktop apps. The trade-off is those limitations help ensure the security and reliability of the underlying operating system by blocking the most common attack vectors.

Because universal apps can run on various screen sizes and orientations, the user experience is adaptive, with screen layouts and controls that look and work in an appropriate way depending on their size. This advantage is most obvious on phones and small tablets, but you can see the shift in experience on a conventional Windows 10 PC just by resizing a window.

Figures 5-3 and 5-4, for example, show two views of the Settings app, one in a window wide enough to display the navigation bar on the left, and the other resized to be as narrow as possible.

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FIGURE 5-3 The adaptive user experience in Windows 10 allows a universal app to show you more information when screen real estate is available.

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FIGURE 5-4 By contrast, a universal app on a small screen adapts to the minimal space by hiding the navigation pane.

All editions of Windows 10 include a selection of Microsoft-authored universal apps that demonstrate these principles while also performing useful functions: the Calculator and Alarms & Clock apps offer excellent examples of this adaptive user experience.

Universal apps share a common group of user controls that also adapt to how the user is interacting with the app—offering larger targets for touch interaction compared to the smaller targets offered when the user taps with a pen or uses a traditional pointing device such as a mouse, for example.

In the interest of power management, a crucial factor on mobile devices, most Windows Store apps are suspended within a few seconds of when the user switches away from the app. Some apps (music players and apps that need to download files in the background, for example) can be configured for background operation.

Windows 10 universal apps also include support for natural user inputs, such as speech, inking, gestures, and even user gaze.

By default, apps in Windows 10 update automatically, with no user intervention required. The auto-update option can be disabled using the App Updates options available from Settings in the Store. In managed environments, you can use Group Policy to disable access to the Store app.

Distributing line-of-business apps

Enterprises running Windows 10 can develop universal line-of-business (LOB) apps and make them available to users inside their organization. These apps can be deployed in either of two ways: through a custom Business Store, managed and deployed by the Windows Store, or through a process called sideloading.

In addition to creating and deploying apps, administrators can also use Group Policy to control the use of all apps, including those that are built in to Windows 10. For example, an organization might choose to remove the Sports app or prohibit it from running.

The process of distributing a Windows 10 app through a private Business Store requires that an enterprise have Azure Active Directory accounts for each user in the organization. These accounts are used instead of Microsoft accounts. Installation files are managed and deployed by the Windows Store, which also tracks license usage. Updates are delivered via normal update channels—Windows Update or Windows Server Update Services (WSUS).

LOB apps distributed within an organization without using the Windows Store don’t need to be signed by Microsoft, nor do they require Azure Active Directory accounts. They do, however, need to be signed with a certificate that is trusted by one of the trusted root authorities on the system.

In this scenario, installation files are downloaded and deployed using the organization’s own infrastructure. Apps can be installed as part of a custom installation image or sideloaded using System Center Configuration Manager or mobile-device-management software.

I’ll have a much more detailed discussion of these options in the final edition of this book.

Also see

The Windows 10 review and user experience

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