Anyone been to the Windows App Store recently?
Hands up who has departments that depend on Zoho Invoice, Eclipse Manager or Diagram Painte? Okay I’ve picked some of the more random business applications available in the Microsoft Store for Business, but I’ve not had to leave the home page to do so. Other than the Microsoft applications and a couple of offerings from Citrix there isn’t much there you’d recognise. Because of this the Windows App Store has not so far been a focus for enterprise organisations, but could that be changing?
Microsoft’s attempt to modernise how we install and deliver Windows applications has failed to impress. Continuum was meant to deliver universal applications to run across the entire Microsoft ecosystem, but as good an idea as it was, the developers never came and, so, neither did the apps. That led to the end of Windows phone, while doing nothing to improve the dearth of business content in the Microsoft Store. Terry Myerson, Vice President of Operating Systems at Microsoft in 2015 said “tool kits will allow developers to bring their code for iOS, Android, the Web, .NET, and Win32 to the Windows Store with minimal code modifications. Our goal is to make Windows 10 the most attractive development platform ever”. Apple and Google have their own app stores though and the benefits of moving away from ‘how we’d always done it’ weren’t compelling enough. Windows Desktop Bridge was the last initiative to invigorate the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) and so the Microsoft App Store. This time the focus was on migrating 32-bit MSI (so just Windows) packages to APPX (Universal) ones. However, to gain all the benefits of UWP additional development is required and that is a barrier to organisations adopting it. In 2017 Microsoft released the MSIX package format to replace MSI, APPV and APPX extensions and get around this problem. MSIX has all the features of UWP with more container security options and extra application customisations. To further aid the adoption of the new standard, Microsoft open sourced the entire project on GitHub. MSIX is still in its infancy and has only just gained support in Windows 10 1809. The current format does not support driver installation, Windows service installation or modification, kernel or Explorer modification. Having said that the promise is very much in line with the messaging around Modern Management and the continued consumerisation of the Windows desktop. The abstraction of applications from the OS increases the ease at which feature updates can be deployed and offers the self-service experience users now expect.
The previous lack of a cohesive application strategy has held back the promise of a Windows App Store resulting in the chicken and egg problem: if Microsoft can entice software developers to take up the MSIX format people will use the app store, if people use the app store software developers will develop apps for it. The concept is a seismic shift away from how we Windows applications are delivered. but then Windows 10 demands we consider applications in an entirely different way. As we change the way we manage Windows, so ISVs are having to change the way they develop software to keep up with the moving target that Microsoft is presenting. This ability to distribute software across the globe, through a store, with their latest supported versions immediately available to users as soon as they update Windows is hugely appealing for all concerned.
Whatever platforms and initiatives Microsoft invent they are completely beholden to the developer community and the behaviour of users. A consistent message will go a long way to helping them. The hope is obviously to replicate the consumer experience we take for granted with application update notifications. However, other platforms may not have 30 years of legacy applications to contend with. Business-critical, internally developed applications needing extensive user testing before release, will always be treated differently but ‘Evergreen’ is changing application testing. You aren’t going to test 3,000 apps every six months, so which ones do you really care about? Which will you test proactively and which reactively? The drive to modernise applications continues at pace but plenty of legacy remains that could be adapted to be delivered from a Windows App Store. For now though, we’ll have to wait and see what the uptake of MSIX is, both with the software vendors and internal packagers.
Based on the organisations I speak to, we’ve reached roughly a 50/50 split between SaaS and traditional ones. If we assume that the easy ones get transformed first we’re now into the long Microsoft tail of applications we still have to deploy out to colleagues. To do this we need new solutions and MSIX seems to enable this. Does MSIX spell the end of App-V? Probably. Does this mean the reality of a Business App Store is upon us? Possibly. The demand for, and expectation of, a Windows App Store is certainly there, we just need the applications. Of course, you could be one of the 16 people worldwide who use Zoho Invoice in which case you’re already living the dream.