When Microsoft first announced Windows 10 back in early October, it did so at an event that was billed as being focused on businesses. But that wasn't really the case, and most of the short launch event just highlighted some of the user interface tweaks that will make Windows great on traditional PCs again. Since then, however, Microsoft has opened up about its plans a bit more. And one of the big changes coming in Windows 10 is that the firm will allow businesses to customize Windows Store and manage the delivery of apps to their users.
This is a big deal. And when you consider how painfully consumer-focused—and lacking—Windows Store was in the initial Windows 8 release two years ago, it becomes obvious that this change is in many ways an even bigger deal than anything else we've learned about Windows 10. That is, in Windows 8 Microsoft introduced a safe, reliable and consistent apps platform. But it limited the reach of that platform by forcing those apps to only run in full-screen (and not alongside other apps on the desktop), by limiting the interaction these apps could have with desktop apps, and by pushing a touch-first user experience that isolated over a billion users on traditional PCs.
Most of you already know that Microsoft started to break down the wall between these new apps—which Microsoft calls Windows Store apps, though I'm hoping a better name like universal apps or modern apps will gain some traction—and the desktop. In Windows 8.1, it added a title bar with standard controls to these apps, making them easier to use with a mouse or other traditional pointing device. And in the initial Windows 10 pre-release builds, we've seen the next step, where these apps can run in windows on top of the desktop and alongside your other apps.
But the back-end changes Microsoft is now documenting are even more important, I think. In Windows 8.1, for example, users can browse through the Windows Store and find a fairly middling collection of mostly consumer-oriented apps, and while Microsoft does let some desktop applications be advertised in the store, you have to download them and install them from the web, and those apps do not come with the liberal licensing found in Windows Store. Furthermore, you need to use a Microsoft account to even download an app from Windows Store.
Here's what's changing in Windows 10.
First, Microsoft is allowing business customers to use their domain accounts as connected accounts that work just like Microsoft accounts from the perspective of app acquisition and licensing. This means that highly managed businesses that wish to retain control over which apps their users install on work PCs and devices can now do so, and they no longer need to worry about users with their own Microsoft accounts—and connected apps and services—on those machines. (Unless of course they want to do so.)
Second, Microsoft is letting businesses modify Windows Store on their users' PCs so that they see a custom version of the store than highlights work apps and, if desired, those publicly-available apps that the business approves of. There will be a web-based portal for IT administrators that lets them assign apps to users and user groups in Microsoft Azure Active Directory, Microsoft says.
Third, Microsoft is adding Windows Store management capabilities to System Center and Intune, and opening up these capabilities to third-party Mobile Device Management (MDM) solutions. This will allow businesses to manage the installing and uninstalling of apps, app updates, app licensing (including license reassignment), the addition of apps to Windows install images, the deploying of provisioning packages, and the ability to automatically install apps from an on-premises-based server.
These capabilities were hinted at previously, but Microsoft issued a blog post recently, Windows 10: A Store That’s Ready for Business, which is a very general overview of information the firm provided during a TechEd Europe session from late October month. You can watch a video of this session—Windows 10: Management—on the Channel 9 web site if you want more information.
What's not clear is when businesses can begin evaluating these changes. The Windows Technical Preview that is currently providing a pre-release look at Windows 10 is ostensibly aimed at businesses, but Microsoft will be moving on to a consumer preview in early 2015. But Microsoft says that the Windows Store portal and new app distribution and management capabilities will be available "in the coming months."